You walk up the hill from the carpark towards the cathedral, you and all of the others emerging from all corners into the square. You’re all arriving in fits and starts, two here, three there, and you feel alone arriving by yourself until you see them in the cafe, until they see you, until she walks across to hug you. The hug last forever, because neither of you want to be the one to end it: if you end it, maybe it will be real. Maybe you will actually be here for the funeral.
It ends, because it has to, and neither of you thinks you ended it, and neither of you mentions it, because that way no one need wear the blame, because like most things after all these years it can go unsaid. And then you talk, or maybe she does, and it doesn’t matter either way because, after that heinous weekend all that matters is you’re together, you and everyone, to think and reflect and deflect all of the detritus that has fallen on your all since that day.
But you’re all early, too early, and you have to stand around and wait for the sign to turn and enter the cathedral, you have to wait for what seems like an eternity, you and everyone slathered in black under the last of the summer’s sun, absorbing the steaming heat without comment because it seems the least you can do, all things considered.
It’s not until the sun starts to drop behind the buildings encircling the cathedral that people begin to walk towards their places inside, family on that side, drivers and officials on this: you lead some of the younger ones across, the ones who were in the same racing programme and who didn’t know where to look, and you meet a few of the older ones, the ones who you used to work with, the ones who are men now but still look as stunned as the boys behind us.
Hello, you say to them, willing yourself not to say how are you, because you already know. Hello, they reply, how are… they start, choking on the words before completion, the PR training from the big paddock, and from us before that, shutting down a questionable quote regardless of the audience. You all walk around to the south entrance in silence, knowingly, until you get to the big door and there are some other drivers milling around, trying not to say the wrong thing, trying to absorb a little comfort by proximity with each other.
Misery loves company.
You walk in and find your seat, the first one in the fourth row, and the silence drops on you like a tarpaulin as everyone makes their way to their place and waits for what none of us wants to happen.
Eventually you hear a noise, a bell in one tower, then another, and another, and another. The sound peels in turn around the cathedral, sounding like it’s from another church entirely, and a lonely dog barks in the distance for comparison.
And then, nothing.
The bells stop, but nothing happens. A cough from the front row, a wordless request, but nothing more until the priest starts to speak, the cadence unchanging, and then, almost by surprise, the coffin appears, surrounded by its carriers, who bring it to the centre of the cathedral and leave it on the stand. Someone surrounds it by whatever those curtain things are called, and places four large candles around the coffin. At least it looks aerodynamic you think, and then wish that you hadn’t.
And then his helmet is placed on top of the coffin, and suddenly it’s real. The tears come before you even notice.
The priest speaks, calm and steady, and he calls the others up to talk. His father is first, a slow, deliberate cadence as he wills himself against all reality to get to the end without breaking, a challenge he could never overcome. He asks for applause, not for himself but for his beautiful son, and the cathedral almost falls over itself to comply, to give some relief from the pain from what is happening before itself.
And then his girlfriend steps up. She starts to speak but the pain is too raw, too enormous to contain within the frame of a small human, and the tears break upon the shores of her words. You were crying too, almost silently, not wanting to upset his team boss in front of you, but when the heaving sobs hit the back of your head from your friend behind you there is nothing you can do to keep it inside: full, fat tears rolling down you face as you merge with the pain flowing all around you.
Jesus, you think, imagine how much worse it would be if you could understand French.
The drivers in the front row, the famous ones who were following you to press conferences not so long ago, sit there rigid with shock. They don’t know what to do, you think, and you wish you could walk over and give them a hug to make them feel better, or feel confused, or just to make them laugh again, like the old days.
They know all too well already what cameras see. Cameras see everything. Even when they’re not pointed at you.
Julie gets an awful, well-meaning but bone-gauging round of applause too, unrequested but delivered in love, an aural hug for comfort, and she can’t go on. The speeches from here go smoother, more polished, with a sombre Prost speaking for the racing family as the real one wept in the front row, the two portraits of their lost son looming over everything.
You try not to look at the helmet, because you know it will make you cry. You fail.
The drivers carry his other helmets up to the altar, placing them in front so carefully one by one before scurrying back, happy to have played a part and not to have messed up their responsibilities, and we all wait for the priests to finish their roles, to let us approach the coffin, to let us escape.
Eventually, timelessly, you’re allowed to join the queue, one side to see the family, the other to bless the coffin. You pull to the right automatically, and before you know it you’re there, touching that drenched French flag, and you feel the electric shock of recognition of where you are, of what you’re doing. You’re moved to the right to allow the others through, and then pulled back across to the left, watching as others hug the family.
And then his brother looks at you, unseeing through sheets of tears, and thanks you for coming as the magnetic force pulls you together for a hug, your eyes unable to contain themselves once again.
The rest happens in a blur: outside, talking unhearingly to the others you hadn’t seen before, the coffin removed for burial as the media buzzes wordlessly behind the barriers, the walk to the wake, asking the drivers to write in the condolence book and explaining they should just write what they would say to him if he was here, pretending not to notice the tears as their pens hover unmoving over the page, waiting until they’re collected again before going over to make a joke, to break the ice, to bring everyone back.
Drivers write as slowly as writers drive, you offer. They laugh, mirthlessly but appreciatively, finishing their paragraphs before letting the others take over.
Eventually it’s time to go, time served, time to head to her place for the evening. Come on, she says, there’s nothing more we can do here, let’s go and have a drink. It’s another hour in the car but it’s almost unnoticed after the emotional tsunami of the day.
Her baby daughter is there, the perfect distraction asking who this stranger is invading their house, and her husband escapes unannounced before returning bearing pizzas. The bottle of wine is already opened and soon consumed, a brandy each to chase it, but both of you are already falling asleep, too tired to consume the volumes of drinks you promised each other. Within thirty seconds of getting into bed in the guest house you’re already asleep, the messages unread as your phone rises and falls on your chest with your breath.
It’s not until lunch that you can finally speak about him, in that tiny restaurant opposite the church which was open when the one she wanted you to see was closed. It’s just that he was living the way he dreamed of living since he was a kid, you start, that he found a way to do what he always wanted, despite not really having the means to do it.
But he was always the clever one, she replies, he could always see the things the others couldn’t.
He had to, you revert, he never had the resources of the others. That’s what was so impressive about what he did.
Yeah, she sighs, but we’ll never know what he could have achieved, now.
We won’t, you agree, but maybe that won’t matter, after the pain is gone. He was an example for us all: he knew what he wanted to do, and he knew how hard it was to get there, and how few people actually made it, but he was trying anyway. And all the steps he made were deliberate, were for a bigger cause, were steps on the way to his ultimate target.
I don’t want to say that he was living his perfect life, that it was alright to die in that life, because that’s bullshit: it was not alright, it will never be right. But he was doing what he had to do to achieve his ambitions, and how many of us can say that? You and I have been in this little world for a long time, we know how hard it is to get to the big paddock, and how hard it is to stay there. And maybe he wouldn’t make it, who knows, but is there anything he didn’t do towards his goal?
No, she concurs, and more than that, he was still him. All of the work he was doing this year, all of the planning he was putting in for next year, all of the people he had to see, all of the work he had to do with his team, and he was still … him.
Exactly, you blurt out a little too loud. He was living this perfect life, for him, and he refused to allow it to change him. He was still sharing all of his data with his teammate, because he wanted her to be better, because he knew it could only reflect well on him. He was living his life, and he was like a perfect beam of light, a shining example for all of the rest of us.
Because we all forget what it is we really want from our lives, we all compromise and do things we wish we didn’t have to do, because we need money to support our lives or our families, or to pay the mortgage, or any number of other grown up things we need to do.
And now he’ll never need to do these things. He’ll never need to compromise, he’ll never let us down, he’ll always be an example of how you can live the life you want, as long as you decide what it is you want to do, and then give everything you have to achieve it.
I can’t imagine not missing him, she gulps.
Me too, you sigh, avoiding her eyes, but maybe that’s the incentive we need to live a better life, a life more in line with the ambitions we always held but let go of when times get tough. Maybe his example can make all of our lives a little better.
You look at your watch and you know it’s time to go. You hug again, wanting it to never end, but you know it has to. Because the rest of your life is waiting, and you need to show him that you can live it to the full too.
Or at least try.
Anthoine Hubert has died after succumbing to injuries sustained during the Feature Race at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The BWT Arden rookie was 22 years old.
The Frenchman, born 22 September 1996 in Lyon, was a well-loved member of the paddock, staking his place in the FIA Formula 2 Championship this year on the back of his previous two years in the sister GP3 Series, culminating in a thrilling title win last year at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi with ART Grand Prix.
Hubert grew up in a motorsport loving family, with his father François competing in rallies in France before Anthoine took the inevitable step into karting, initially in the French Cadet championship before moving up to the CIK-FIA U18 world championships, finishing 3rd in 2011 and 2012, the latter year just behind Henry Easthope and close friend and rival Charles Leclerc.
The following season a step up into cars was an instant success, with Hubert easily winning the French Formula 4 Championship, claiming 11 wins from 21 races to dispatch countryman Jules Gounon on the way to the title. The proud Frenchman, a member of the FFSA Academy, looked set for a glorious career as he turned his attention to Formula Renault in 2014.
The season was to be a difficult one, although a follow on year in the category saw Hubert pick up 6 wins in 2015. A move to the FIA Formula 3 European Championship with Van Amersfoort was promising, although a difficult season saw the Frenchman claim a single win and 2 more podiums in a championship dominated by Lance Stroll, Maximilian Günther and George Russell.
With budgets difficult to find, 2017 needed to show an upward trajectory, and a seat at the GP3 Series reigning champions ART Grand Prix promised to give Hubert the boost he needed. Sharing a team with George Russell, Jack Aitken and Nirei Fukuzumi could have been the downfall of many drivers, but the Frenchman set to the task with his usual intelligence and determination, showing the team and his rivals that he was going to push as hard as he could.
Hubert claimed 3 podiums to finish 4th behind his teammates, and if it was clear that bad luck and the lack of a win frustrated him, it was equally clear that the consistency he showed across a difficult season would hold him in good stead in a return to the series.
2018 saw the Frenchman return to work with his countrymen at ART, and a new affiliation with the Renault F1 which promised the potential of a full-time membership of their junior programme was all the incentive he needed: Hubert claimed 2 glorious victories, at home at the Circuit Paul Ricard and at the Silverstone Circuit, along with 9 more podiums to bring home the GP3 Series title, the last man to win the championship ahead of a merger with the FIA Formula 3 Championship for 2019.
The Renault junior deal helped the Frenchman step up to the FIA Formula 2 championship, signing with BWT Arden ahead of pre-season testing. Hubert as always worked diligently with his new team and engineers to learn the car, and to let them know what he needed for the new season.
His talent was clear from the outset: in Race 1 in Bahrain the Frenchman lost his radio link to the team, but nonetheless put in a superb drive in blazing conditions to grab P4 on his debut, stunning his team and their rivals and laying down a marker for what was to come.
Hubert’s ability to absorb information and apply it in the limited track time before the races helped the Frenchman bring home 2 wins, in Monaco and once more at home in Paul Ricard. Up until now, he is the sole rookie to have achieved such an accomplishment. His consistency was on display again with 9 points finishes across 16 races this season.
If it was this consistency and fierce intelligence, allied to strong speed, which was the benchmark of Hubert in the car, it was his sense of humour, loyalty and easy going nature out of it which drew everyone in the paddock to him, and what makes his loss so difficult to comprehend for his friends and rivals alike.
Bruno Michel, the FIA Formula 2 CEO, noted “Everyone in the Formula 2 family is heartbroken at the loss of Anthoine. He was a joy to work with for these 3 years, and I will miss his constant smile and his sharp intelligence that made every encounter with him enjoyable, and our hearts are with his family and the BWT Arden team.”
Teams and drivers from across the world have also paid tribute to the French racer, showing the depth of emotion felt across the motorsport world at the loss of this talented and extremely likeable young man. Today’s Sprint Race has been cancelled out of respect for Hubert, who is survived by his father François, his mother Nathalie, and his brother Victhor.
It turns out that you can stare at a blank page for far longer than you thought. Because the alternative is writing this, and if you write it then it must be true. If you don’t write it, does that mean it didn’t happen? Have a drink and start. You know that’s it’s true, as much as you want to believe that it’s not.
Anthoine Hubert died today, in Race One at Spa-Francorchamps.
Sometimes life just seems so unfair. Today is one of those times. Anthoine, that funny, smart, engaging, incredibly shy, resolute, slyly sarcastic, seriously quick, faultlessly polite, kind, determined, beautiful little French maestro is gone at the age of just 22, and like everyone who knew him I’m just head-foggily numb at the prospect of trying to understand that fact, and that I won’t get to see his smiling face again.
I missed the start, it doesn’t matter why, and then I saw a message saying there’d be a crash, a bad one, and I checked to see what had happened. These are still my guys despite being out for a while, and I had to make sure they were okay.
They were not okay.
The last, best, memory I have of Anthoine is in the green room behind the podium in Abu Dhabi after Race One of last year’s GP3 Series, just after he’d won the championship at the end of a long, fractious seasonat ART, the win silencing all the noise and leaving him aloft in radiant peace.
The (fake) champagne had been sprayed, the public display of emotion was done, the other drivers had headed back to the paddock and Anthoine sat there, alone, trying to absorb the enormity of what he’d done. Alexa and I stood just inside the doorway, not wanting to intrude, but how do you not ask how it feels to have achieved such a monumental life goal?
“I don’t know,” he replied, candidly, “it’s … too much, you know? Amazing, but … it’s a huge emotion. Probably I will take it all in, but…” Alexa came over to break the ice, asking “so, can we get a photo with the last ever GP3 champ?” and he beamed, his face radiant as he pulled us in, and a little piece of what it meant seemed to fall into place.
I first met Anthoine the year before, when he formed a corner of that famous ART quartet in 2017. George Russell, Jack Aitken, Nirei Fukuzumi and Anthoine Hubert. It’s easy to see now, and probably even then, that it was going to be a tough year for the Frenchman: he’d managed to land a seat in the best GP3 team, and yet it was hard to see how he would even make the podium at the end of the season.
And so it proved, but in a year that would be difficult for any driver with teammates of that calibre Anthoine still held his head high: the lack of a win rankled, and those of us who saw him behind the scenes could see how much it hurt, particularly with the bad luck that befell him over the season, but the talent that saw him claim the F4 title was still clear to see.
2018 had to be his year, and despite new teammate Nikita Mazepin claiming that he was gunning for the title in his rookie year the smart money was on the Frenchman. He got the monkey off his back with a fine win at home in Paul Ricard, got another one in Silverstone, but it was 11 podiums that formed the spine of his title winning year.
I saw him again, on the grid of the last race and at the party afterwards, but it’s that time sitting alone with his thoughts that will stay with me: so quiet, contemplative, and then that smile, so pure, so true.
Most people thought he’d stay with ART for the step up to F2, but the racing world doesn’t work like that. I admit I hoped he’d do better than where he ended up, at an Arden team that was on a low ebb from a brighter past, but he got his head down and went to work, pulling every splinter of information he could from testing before the start of the season.
And, frankly, 2 wins (in Monaco and again at home in Ricard) in that car is an astonishingly good return, and it shows again how clever Anthoine could be: if he can’t get the best seat in the championship then why not go further back, where expectations are smaller and the spotlight of publicity that bit dimmer? If he does well in such circumstances it can only show all the brighter the talent he had in spades.
But motorsport can be so heartbreakingly cruel, and now we’ll never know how far he could have gone.
In my old job it was hard not to like most of the drivers: it was my job to make them look good after all, and the ones who didn’t need much help in that regard made my life that little bit easier. And every year we had drivers with who it was just easy to get along, who were fun to work with, who just made our lives a bit more interesting.
Anthoine was one of those drivers, the rarer ones, who had everything you need to push for the heights of the motorsport world: he was fast, he was clever, he learnt from everything he did, and he had an easy manner and effortless charm that brought everyone in his circle a little bit closer.
I saw the crash, and I tried not to think the worst: over 15 years in the paddock I’ve seen crashes, bad ones involving drivers I liked, and the fates have somehow prevailed to keep them safe. I saw the news on Twitter, an F1 journalist wanting to beat his rivals to a scoop, and I tried to believe that it wasn’t true. And then I saw the FIA confirmation, and I just wept.
I’ve thought of Anthoine all night, his face and his beaming smile circling around my head the whole time. I thought of that photo, and then when I saw it I cried again. I didn’t get to see him in Silverstone: I walked down to Arden and thought I saw him sitting out the back, and I smiled and waved until I got a bit closer and realised it wasn’t him.
“Anthoine’s brother? Yes, I guess I look like him…” Victhor beamed at the fact that someone had confused him for his big brother.
His poor family. The thought of their pain is simply pulverising.
I’ll catch up with him later, I thought, either here or at another track. And right now, I can’t imagine how I won’t. But Anthoine, that shy French lad with a winning smile and a talent bigger than we’ll ever know, has been taken from us far, far before his time. And writing those words the tears in my eyes, and the pain in my heart, tell me that I’m starting to believe that it’s true.
I miss you already Anthoine. Rest well, my friend.
It's bullshit, of course it is, but realistically what could they do? The weather gave the organisers no choice but to call off the stage, and the need for a result of some sort meant rolling back to the last time zone, but no one was racing to that spot and the result, such as it is, could probably satisfy nobody but one man alone, the man who was handed the overall win on a plate.
It was a stage of disappointment throughout. Pinot fans, including myself, were heartbroken (if not entirely surprised) when Pinot stepped off the bike and led sobbing to the car after a thigh injury meant one of the overall favourites was out before the stage really got going. Nibali attacked, as Nibali does, but no one believed it would amount to much, probably including lo squalo, and it was only a matter of time before he was brought to heel by the peleton.
Thomas, learning from the advantages he'd given Bernal by allowing him to attack early in other stages while the Welshman was stuck babysitting Alaphilippe and unwilling to tow him back, thought he'd go himself and put some hurt into the legs of his rivals: it made sense as an attack, and it had the result he wanted when the Frenchman started to pedal squares, but when everyone else deserted the leader and started to chase the Ineos leader it started to look like a miscalculation.
If Bernal had been sent up the road first he would have been a little more tired than the others, but would have been able to rest a little as he waited for Thomas to arrive, exactly as they'd planned on previous stages. But the cards were reversed and when the GC group arrived the Welshman was unable to stay with his young teammate and could do nothing but watch as he left, with Yates in tow.
As they headed towards the top of Col de l'Iseran Bernal grabbed the bragging rights for hitting the highest summit first: if it was the Giro he'd have the Coppi prize, but it's the Tour and it meant nothing but a huge decent ahead of the final mountain of the stage. Two options were now on the table: with Geraint coming back Bernal could play the team game and wait for his leader, with the pair putting more time into Alaphilippe and the rest, or he could look out for himself, do a deal with Yates to take the stage while he put himself in yellow, and deal with the fall out in the team when he returned to the bus.
But then the rain gods descended, causing chaos (and landslides), and the race had to be neutralised, with the result taken from the top of the world.
Yates was unhappy, as he was conserving energy at that stage ahead of the final climb.
Thomas was unhappy, as he too was conserving energy and waiting to comeback on Tignes for yellow.
Alaphilippe was unhappy, because he thought he might have been able to comeback, despite all evidence to the contrary, and because his dream was over.
Kruijswijk and Buchmann were unhappy, because they probably believed they'd be in with a shot on the final climb, as they've been there every other time, and maybe this would be the stage where they could attack.
Pinot was unhappy, because he was back in the bus when his rivals were wondering if they could bunny hop a landslide.
Nibali and Aru and Martin and Porte were unhappy, because their inability to do anything of note in this Tour meant their careers were heading downhill.
Only Bernal was happy, because he'd just been handed the yellow jersey on a plate. He smiled his tiny, shy smile as they put the jersey on him, and later wept with happiness when he realised what had happened. There was one stage left to survive, the only rider who could possibly take the jersey from him is his teammate and therefore will be unable to attack, and from nowhere the little Colombian was joining the pantheon of legends.
The final week is here, and have we ever had as exciting a Tour as this one has been? Not as I can recall, and I do spend a bit of time thinking about this sort of thing. At the second rest day there are 6 riders from 5 teams in with a genuine chance of being crowned champion next Sunday, and no one predicted that at the start of the whole thing.
Particularly not me. Let’s pretend I made no predictions at all: that would give me another chance to get everything spectacularly wrong all over again. Here’s the runners:
1 Julian Alaphilippe Deceuninck - Quick-Step 61h 00' 22''
2 Geraint Thomas Team INEOS +1' 35''
3 Steven Kruijswijk Team Jumbo - Visma +1' 47''
4 Thibaut Pinot Groupama - FDJ +1' 50''
5 Egan Bernal Team INEOS +2' 02''
6 Emanuel Buchmann BORA - HANSGROHE +2' 14''
Obviously Juju has been the revelation of the Tour, setting the thing alight despite no one (including himself) giving him any chance of winning anything other than a stage or two, along with our hearts. Getting the yellow jersey was a beautiful bonus, but should he still be wearing it? To be honest he would have been better off giving it up at the TT, allowing him to recoup his strength and then push for another stage win, but no one’s going to give him that chance now.
And he’s probably exhausted. Which doesn’t mean he’s going to give up – he clearly doesn’t know how – so the rest of the GC teams are going to have to attack him. And they will.
Led, presumably, by Ineos. By their standards this Tour has been a bit of a dud, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to win it. Geraint is in P2, and if everyone is writing him off because of a slightly off day on Saturday then that’s probably the way he likes it. The Alps suit his riding style more than the Pyrenees, and he will sit and wait and watch when we get back to the mountains. And then he will attack.
Bernal has been attacking his “team leader” under the auspices of the other GC favourites getting away on a few stages this year. This won’t be forgotten by Thomas, and the long, grinding mountains will suit the Welsh rider more than the Colombian, even if the latter lives at altitude.
Pinot will be ruing his echelon disaster before the last rest day even more now, on the heels of 2 incredible mountain stages to recoup his lost time. He’s clearly the strongest climber in the tour right now, but can he really ride a grand tour without a jour ans? We’ll find out this week.
Kruijswijk has done everything he has to in his effort to banish the painful memory of that Giro snow bank, but has he done enough? He has 2 strong riders in Bennett and De Plus, with them arguably both stronger than their leader but losing time earlier that they’d dearly like to have back. The Dutchman doesn’t seem to have done much work so far to justify his GC position, but he will be tested in the week to come. And maybe the rest will work in his favour.
Buchmann. No one has discussed him, but he’s there. He stayed with Bernal when he was tested, and he’s clearly been stronger than anyone gave him any credit.
So now, to the stages to come.
Stage 16: one for whatever sprinters remain. Remember when we used to look forward to sprint stages for the variation? That’s so 2018. Might be windy, so FDJ will punch anyone who even looks like saying the word echelon.
Stage 17: So many teams have got nothing out of this stage that it must be one for the breakaway riders, including big names like Nibali, Yates and the like. Can a GC team throw a spanner in the works and attack? You’d have to think they’d be crazy to do so, but this Tour proves that crazy is simply a preview of the news. And Landa will be wanting to get onto the podium, so why wouldn’t he attack now? This stage will cause some sleepless nights.
Stage 18: Col de Vars. Col d’Izoard. Col du Galibier. If Alaphilippe isn’t already broken there’s little doubt that the others will attack today. Should suit Pinot (who still needs to find some time) and Thomas. Buchmann will probably sit on their wheels all day, scaring the shit out of them as he looms constantly, or might jump over to Bernal as he attacks his leader again on Galibier.
Stage 19: Col de l’Iséran. The highest point of the Tour. Bernal will need to attack, but will he have help from Landa or one of the other teams looking to save their Tour with a stage win?
Stage 20: Val Thorens. Should be a Thomas style climb, but frankly who knows what condition everyone will be in by then. It’s the last chance to find some time, so everyone will attack: there’s no other choice. Whoever survives this will be a rightful winner.
Stage 21: Should be just a photoshoot and a trundle to the Champs Elysees. Which means that, because it’s the 2019 Tour, it will be a full gas attack between the 3 remaining riders who have 10 seconds between them at the top of the GC…
My heart wants it to be Pinot, my head thinks it will be Thomas, but frankly if the remaining stages are as good as the previous ones then I don’t care who wins, I will simply enjoy the spectacle and drink to their good health.
So it’s time for the Tour once again, and if it’s been a somewhat underwhelming build up given the injuries to the presumed favourites it’s still the bloody Tour, right? Once it kicks in we’ll all be hooked once again. Here’s a quick start list with a few comments of mine: feel free to add yours below.
Astana Pro Team: everyone is talking up Fuglsang because of the injuries to Froome and Dumoulin (and because he won the Dauphine, to be fair), but he’s got no real form for a grand tour (best result 7th), and he’s probably a bit old. Angel Lopez would have been a better call, but they figured he had a shot at the Giro, and we all saw what happened there. They are a formidable squad though, so I wouldn’t be surprised by a few stage wins and maybe a career defining podium for Jakob.
SÁNCHEZ Luis León
Bahrain Merida: I mean, Nibali. Just … Nibali. Who knows, but it would be a massive surprise if he could pick it up and run with it after his exertions at the Giro, but as ever he’s an enigma. Dennis will be targeting the TT, Teuns will be targeting breakaways, and Colbrelli will targeting P5 in the sprints.
GARCÍA CORTINA Iván
Team Sunweb: Jesus, they must be gutted. Guess they sit behind Bling for the green jersey, with Wilco to try and pick up the Tom sized pieces and Haga to aim for the TT again. Nice that Nico won’t have to sit on the couch and talk about it, for once.
KRAGH ANDERSEN Søren
Team INEOS: Jesus, they must etc. Can’t really feel sorry for a team that rich though: it’s like feeling sorry for Mercedes that they didn’t win in Austria. Geraint to go for yellow, with Bernal also a protected rider, but is the Welshman fit enough? Time will tell. And they have an incredible ability to pick up big rider injuries, so nothing is assured. But look at those engines to pull them up the hills if the big two stay healthy.
VAN BAARLE Dylan
BORA - hansgrohe: Sorry Buchmann, but everyone is looking at Sagan to get the green record. And maybe Poestlerger to nick a breakaway win again.
UAE-Team Emirates: God, imagine if Aru was ARU again. That would be amazing. Instead they’ll have to rely on Dan Martin until he has his jour sans, and then it’ll be all over for them for the season.
BYSTRØM Sven Erik
LAENGEN Vegard Stake
Team Dimension Data: Some punchy potential stagewinners in Boasson Hagen, Cummings and Valgren, but how sad is it that there was no room at the inn for Cavendish? Too sad, that’s how sad.
BOASSON HAGEN Edvald
JANSE VAN RENSBURG Reinardt
BAK Lars Ytting
AG2R La Mondiale: Bardet. If not this year, then when? Hilliest tour in years, one little TT (and a TTT), no Froome or Dumoulin to smash him apart in the TT, and probably the best team he’s ever had behind him. Time to shit or get off the pot, Romain. I kind of hope he can do it.
Lotto Soudal: Here for Ewan to get sprint wins, and De Gendt to piss everyone off with breakaways on the other stages.
DE GENDT Thomas
DE BUYST Jasper
Groupama - FDJ: Pinot. If not this year, then when? I love Thibaut, the Frenchest Frenchie on the circuit, but he doesn’t do well with pressure, does he? And there’s no worse pressure for him than being the lead Frenchman at the Tour de France. I expect him to implode on an early stage, perhaps on purpose, so that he can ride his own race and attack on the later stages without the GC group getting in his way. But I’d love for him to prove me wrong. If he is still in the lead group after Le Planche he might make me eat my words.
Movistar Team: I really hope they try to reuse that whole trident thing again. Or bring Soler into it and claim it’s a … I don’t know, a shovel? But really, Quintana is already done, Valverde is too old, Landa is on the back of P4 at the Giro (and may be pissed off, but also likely tired), and Soler is too inexperienced. So now they’ll grab the whole podium just to prove me a liar.
Team Jumbo-Visma: Bet they wish they’d held back Roglic now. Still, Dylan might get some sprint wins.
VAN AERT Wout
JANSEN Amund Grøndahl
DE PLUS Laurens
CCC Team: I love Van Avermaet as much as the next guy, but it’s hard to see them getting much out of this tour.
VAN AVERMAET Greg
DE MARCHI Alessandro
Deceuninck - Quick Step: They don’t even need to win anything at the Tour this year, so successful has they’re year been to date. So expect 4 stages, and the polka dot for Alaphilippe.
Mitchelton-Scott: Everyone seems to think it’s Adam Yates’ year, but who knows: he got sick at the Dauphine, which isn’t a great start, and his brother will likely be tired. Turbo Durbo will be as strong as ever, and Juul-Jensen will write the best stories from the Tour. A great team, and on for the TTT, but I can’t see them winning.
EF Education First: Best kit in the peleton, fact. And they’ll be fun to watch, but Uran is getting old and Van Garderen is not up to it. Bet Phinney does something stupid/cool though. As always. Maybe Woods is an outside bet for top 5?
VAN GARDEREN Tejay
Team Katusha Alpecin: Hard to know why they exist really, other than there are Russians with too much money. Maybe Zakarin can nick a mountain stage after dropping out of the GC.
WÜRTZ SCHMIDT Mads
Wanty - Gobert Cycling Team: Breakaway fodder.
DE GENDT Aimé
EIKING Odd Christian
VAN MELSEN Kevin
Trek - Segafredo: Porte. If not this year, you know the rest. I really, really, really want to believe. But I really don’t. Please prove me wrong, Richie.
DE KORT Koen
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits: Not even breakaway fodder. Maybe Laporte can go top 5 in a sprint.
Team Total Direct Energie: Breakaway fodder than might get a win or two.
Team Arkéa Samsic: Also competing.
So there you go, a Tour review that can’t even pick a winner. I hope you can do better.