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David L. Stanley

2024 Tour de France Preview:
Point - Counterpoint

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Story of the Tour de France and Cycling Heroes.

David L. Stanley


Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle

David L. Stanley's masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available in print, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

The premise of this post:

Polymath David Stanley and his son Aaron have sent me a set of topics on the 2024 Tour de France to discuss, and then David and Aaron sent me their thoughts about each topic without knowing what the other has written.

Lets get going.

1a) Who is/are the betting favorite(s)?

David: My original lede was something like ‘BET THIS MONTH’S MORTGAGE ON TADEJ AND THE BOYS FROM UAE!!!” I don’t think that has changed. Even though Jumb0-LaB has been sandbagging like the Red River of the North in North Dakota when it’s about to crest over the top of its banks, even an 80% Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert can shake things up. That is the big question, isn’t it? How race-fit, without any race days and following horrific crashes, can JV and WvA possibly be?

Will a truly competitive Jonas Vingegaard be on the start line in Florence on June 29? Sirotti photo

In a prior era, it was impossible to get race-fit without race days. It was just impossible to be that fine-tuned. But in 2024, our ability to track and influence fitness has tossed most of our training truisms right out the window. In addition, the official word from Jumbo-LaB is that just being in the mix is enough, where earlier the word was that JV wouldn’t race unless he was capable of the win. I think Jumbo-LaB is not exactly being forthright. I expect them to be ready to race.
Doesn’t matter. The UAE Emirates Express is loaded for bear. Yates, Almeida, and Ayuso could all lead grand tour teams and win. While Kuss and Jorgenson and WvA are proven, stellar teammates, you still have to like the UAE boys. On the flats, it’s no contest. Wellens and Pollitt are beasts, pure and simple. We’ve not seen a squad like this since the days of the Sky Express, The Postal Blue Train, and Eddy’s Men in Orange. Feel free to bet a reasonable amount of your monthly budget on the UAE squad.

(I hear you from here—“What about Roglic and Geraint?” Those two are exceptional racers, with outstanding palmares, full respect to both. I put them, at this stage of their careers, at the same level as Matteo Jorgenson. Except Matteo is in the ascendancy and Primoz and Geraint are on the other side of the slope. They should finish in the Top Ten, but a podium? I don’t see it.)

A Bike Race Haiku:
This year’s Tour de France
promises much excitement.
My winner? Tadej.

Aaron: You, me, and the bookies would all be remiss in saying any name other than Tadej Pogacar here. He’s on a run of form rarely seen in any sport, he has a loaded roster around him, and he has the aura of a man competing with the sort of joie de vivre that only comes with knowing you’re a generational talent having the time of their life doing the thing they love the most. If offered Pog vs The Field, I’d be taking Pog.

Aaron says Pogacar. Sirotti photo

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1b) Who is/are the sentimental favorite(s)?

David: I have two choices in the sentimental favorites category. One is EF-Easy Post’s Neilson Powless. I love his grinta and panache and sense of humor. He’s got no chance of winning the maillot jaune, but the polka dots remains a very strong possibility for him and for sure, he’ll be in my Velogames Fantasy team. My other sentimental favorite is Tom Pidcock from Ineos. I am in awe at the way Pidders can swap back and forth between cycling disciplines and not lose a bike length to anyone, especially on the true alpine puckering descents. I do believe he has a reasonable chance to grab a podium spot, and again, he’ll be in my squad. The kid is a huge talent, and will only be improving over the next few years.

Neilson Powless in polka dots after stage eight of the 2023 Tour. Sirotti photo

Aaron: Thibaut Pin- oh, sorry, it’s 2024 now. Romain Bardet, then. The tortured poets’ society that is French grand tour contenders will soon add another member to its illustrious list of alumni, as he announced that 2024 will be his final Tour de France and the 2025 Dauphine will be his final road race. Can he win the Tour? Almost certainly not. Can he go out in a blaze of glory, seeking combative prizes and breakaways every chance he gets? That much, I think, sounds doable for the lovable racer who always came up just short of reaching the top step of the podium on the Champs-Elysses.

Romain Bardet descending in stage 14 of the 2023 Vuelta a España. Sirotti photo

2a) Which young guy is likely to have a break-out Tour?

David: This is Ben Healey’s time. He’s 23, had an outstanding year in 2023, and I see him getting into an early break on either the punchy stage 2 or the truly mountainous 4, and if he takes a fair amount of time, he might claim the maillot jaune for several days, perhaps even a week, as Steve Bauer did in 1990 in similar circumstances when he wore yellow for 9 days.

Aaron: Derek Gee will be making his Tour de France debut after finishing 22nd last year at the Giro (in his first-ever Grand Tour, no less) and 3rd at the Dauphine a few weeks ago, complete with a stage win and a day in the yellow jersey. He’ll be at the reins of an IPT squad not short on experience, and with the kind of momentum he’s built up, the sky's the limit – though it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be given a bit of a leash by the true GC favorites if he tries to contest stage victories.

Derek Gee wins stage three of the 2024 Critérium du Dauphiné. Sirotti photo

My honorable mention goes to Juan Ayuso, who’ll play an important role for UAE in the mountains and who already has two top-5 finishes at the Vuelta under his belt. Oh, and did I mention his win at the Tour of the Basque Country, 2nd place at Tirreno-Adriatico, and 5th at the Tour de Romandie this season? Oh yeah, and he’s only 21 years old.

2b) Which American is likely to star? Can he podium?

David: I have to go with Matteo Jorgenson (Jumbo-LaB) as the top US rider. He had an incredible spring, comes into the TdF well-rested and he is ready to prove that he can ride with the very best on the World’s Biggest Stage. If Jonas falters, look for Jumbo to turn to Matteo, with his mix of solid TT riding and faultless climbing. Can he podium? It would be unlikely. Is MJ of that quality? Just about. Is he ready to seize that moment? I hope so.

Matteo Jorgenson wins the 2024 Dwars Door Vlaanderen by leaving his closest chasers a half-minute behind. Sirotti photo

Aaron: Matteo Jorgenson may be in the best form of any rider on a roster that includes Jonas Vingegaard, Wout van Aert, Christophe Laporte, and Sepp Kuss. While he comes into the Tour ostensibly riding in support of Vingegaard, his win at Paris-Nice and second place finish at the Dauphine are proof-positive that he is ready to take the next step when it comes to competing in Grand Tours. A podium might be a tough ask this year, especially given the uncertain status of Visma’s strategy for this Tour, but a top 10 would be a great - and achievable - result.


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2c) Favorite flatlands domestique?

David: Nils Pollitt. End of story. A few months back, I was watching the 23 TdF highlights while riding the trainer. Pollitt was rolling along at 30+ MPH for a while. He shattered his chain riding at a constant speed. Now, I’ve broken chains, but always when I’ve been doing jumps. But to be so freaking strong that you can break a chain that is under constant pressure? That, friends, is beast-mode achieved.

2023 Tour de France stage 19: Nil Politt has just broken his chain.

Aaron: Nils Pollitt on this year’s UAE squad feels like their equivalent to a left tackle in the NFL: not a flashy player like the quarterback (Pogacar) or wide receivers (Almeida, Ayuso, Yates), but quietly one of the most important positions on the field. He’ll be tasked with dragging a roster full of climbing talent through the flat and rolling stages, a largely thankless job that will go unnoticed by many but a role which is key to success in the big picture. Keep an eye out for him at the head of the peloton day in and day out, putting in tireless hours to make sure Pog and Co. are kept safe and sound outside of the high mountains.

3) Cavendish and Astana; will they or won’t they?

David: People forget, Cav is a damned fine bike racer, not just one of the all-time great sprinters. He can do a lot more than ride the wheels until there are 1500 meters to go. He can get into any group and win. He’s not a climber, but he can get over the climbs. He has the finest lead-out guy, Michael Morkov, as his lead-out guy (and it’s always good to have a guy). Does Cav take that stage, despite now longer being one the top speed guys? Yes, he does.

Mark Cavendish heads to the start of stage seven of the 2024 Tour of Switzerland. Sirotti photo

Aaron: Mark Cavendish has not achieved his CVS-receipt-long list of stage wins without some sheer grit and toughness, and knowing that this is his last Tour—and consequently his last chance to break the all-time stage wins record—will only add more fuel to his considerable competitive fire. Is he, at 39 years old, as fast as the Philipsens and the Pedersens of the world? Almost assuredly not. Can he use every ounce of knowledge, strategy, bike handling, and willpower he has to find the lone stage win standing between him and the record books? I think so.

4) Remco; stage hunter, spoiler, or true podium contender?

David: Remco has a problem. Of the top guys, he has the weakest team. He may be 24, but he rides with a very experienced head. That will serve him well as he looks to profit from the battles between Ineos, Jumbo-LaB, and UAE. I believe he’ll win a stage or three, the time trial for sure, and he’ll podium. In fact, I like him to push Jonas down to the third step. Here’s my podium: Tadej, Remco, and Jonas.

Aaron: The needle has swung wildly on Evenepoel over the past year or so, to the point where it’s nearly impossible to predict what’s to come for him – and not through any fault of his own, following the brutal injuries he fell victim to at the Tour of the Basque Country. A podium spot, after seeing how he looked at the Dauphine, seems a distant dream, but a stage win—perhaps at one of the two medium-distance ITTs?—could still be an obtainable goal, with the finishing stage a juicy target should he fall out of the GC picture before the final few high mountain days.

Remco Evenepoel wins 2024 Paris-Nice stage eight.

5) Whither Froomey now?

David: It happens with too many great athletes. They don’t realize that, for them, the band has stopped playing and it’s time to go home. I loved watching Froomey. His ability to spin up from 85 to 110 rpm on a 9% slope, his focus and concentration, his ability to lead the squad, his all-around talent on the bike. Seven Grand Tours. I understand, a horrible crash stole his last productive seasons, and he wants them back. Yet, even without the crash, at 39, he’s past his athletic sell-by date.

Chris Froome time trialing in stage one of the 2024 Tirreno-Adriatico. He was 116th out of 175 riders and finished 1min 3sec behind stage winner Juan Ayuso. Sirotti photo

It happens to athletes in every sport and the list is long. Athletes with the courage to quit near the height of powers are rare. American football’s Jim Brown and Barry Sanders are among those few, and they are revered for their decision. Life in the limelight is addictive and we all want “another one.” Chris, please, enough.

Aaron: Froome is 39 years old, with a palmares that stands among the greats of all time, but the fact remains that he hasn’t had a major result since 2018 and has suffered more injuries than can easily be listed here in the years since. It’s clear that his best years are firmly in the rearview, and one has to wonder if it’s time to move on.

6) More blue kit? Is this necessary?

David: 22 teams of 8 men each, yes? 12 teams (Visma, FDJ, AG2R, Alpecin, Bora, Lidl, Movistar, Quickstep, DSM, Israel-Premier Tech, Astana and Jayco ) clad in some shade of darkish blue. 96 riders out of 176 in total wearing blue. Or indigo. Or cobalt. Or cornflower. Basta! Someone talk to those designers about using all of the color wheel. At least, throw in some splashes of blue’s complement; a bit of orange would be lovely.

Aaron: AG2R. FDJ. Alpecin. Bora. Lidl. Movistar. Quickstep. DSM. Israel-PremierTech. Astana. Jayco. And now, Visma. LAB was one of the few holdouts in a world full of blue uniforms, and now they, too, have bent the knee to the onslaught of navy that has beset the peloton. The beehive is no more; one of a very few team kits that actually stood out in a field awash with ocean hues replaced for this Tour by a pattern that, while unique in its own right, will fade into the obscurity of yet another blue jersey among so many others when viewed on the television screen. Gone are the days of the Mapei dancing Jello cubes, gone are the days of the bright green and yellow Phonak kit. Thank God for EF and their bright pink, at least…

The Visma-Lease a Bike 2024 Tour de France jerseys. More blue.

7) What two stages are likely to be decisive and why?

David: Stages 2 & 4 are co-choices, and stage 7 will seal the deal. Stage 2, 200 km from Cesenatico to Bologne, is proper hilly. Nothing but Classics-worthy up and down, 6 noted climbs from start to finish. The first 60 km are flat, and look for an early average speed of 50 kph+ from the moment the peloton hits the Départ Réel at Kilometer Zero. It’s a perfect opportunity, too, for UAE to put the race in the gutter, split the peloton into echelons, and launch Tadej into an early lead.

2024 Tour de France stage two's lumpy profile

Stage 4, 140 km from Pinerolo to Valloire will see massive time gaps in the true mountains between the contenders and the rest of the field. If Jonas is fit, he’ll have to show his talents here or find himself struggling for the next two weeks just to gain the podium. But the true difference maker is Stage 7, the 25 km flat time trial from Nuits-Saint-Georges to Gevrey-Chambertin in the excellent wine-making region of the Bourgogne. Simply this, if you lose more than about 45 seconds in those 15 miles, you cannot win the Tour. This should be quite the battle between Tadej, Remco (I like him for the win today), and Jonas. Contre-la-montre, pour la victoire.

Aaron: A ferocious final week of racing this year contains the majority of the stages that are likely to be featured, and you could hardly go wrong picking any of them, but I’m going to zig where others might zag and say that I’m very interested to see how stage 4 plays out first and foremost. A 140km stage featuring two cat 2 climbs before the mighty Galibier will be an early opportunity for UAE to put their climbers at the front and challenge Vingegaard’s fitness in the hopes of putting time into him early and allowing Pogacar to gain ground on his biggest rival early.

And here's the stage four profile

After that, all eyes will look to stage 14 on July 13th as what may well be the most important day of this year’s Tour. Fitting the Tourmalet, Ancizan, and Pla d’Adet all in 152km will present an absolutely brutal test to start a final week full of them, and everyone who’s anyone will need to be present and correct on a day that could see massive time gaps if any of the favorites don’t have their best legs. Whether it’s Pogacar, Vingegaard, Roglic, or any of a host of other climbing stars, stage 14 will be one to watch out for.


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8) Who is the green jersey favorite and why is the current shade of green so ugly?

David:It has to be Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) as the overwhelming favorite. He’s tremendously fast, perhaps only Jonathon Milan (Lidl-Trek) has greater top end speed, but Milan, at this writing, is not in his Tour team. Just as important, Mathieu van der Poel, when not stage hunting, has always shown himself willing to be an ace lead-out man for his teammate. Oh, that green? It’s just a bad dream from which there is no awakening. I get that it’s a Skoda color, and I love that Skoda has attached themselves and their deep pockets to the Tour, but for the love of all that looks good on TV, can we maybe do a two-tone, bright cilantro green and Skoda green vertically striped points leader jersey?

Jasper Philipsen took home the green points jersey in 2023. Sirotti photo

Aaron: It feels a little like Jasper Philipsen versus the world in 2024 as he looks to defend his green jersey from last year, but Mads Pedersen has a very strong Lidl-Trek roster around him to challenge the returning champion on a parcours that features few truly “flat” stages. And who’s to say freshly minted Belgian champion 22-year-old Arnaud De Lie can’t make some noise in his maiden Tour de France, or that Dylan Groenewegen (with Michael Matthews as his right-hand man) can’t return to glory? They’ll all be vying for a jersey that, disappointingly, stands out far less than its predecessor; the darker forest green just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi that the old bright green held. It’s sad to say, but the maillot vert lost its aura with the change in color.

Arnaud de Lie wins the 2023 L'Eurometropole

9) Which rider would you most like to hang out with for a bevvy and dinner?

David: Cav. I gave this a lot of thought (no, really, I did) and it’s Mark Cavendish. He’s a grown-up. The man is 39, he’s been through triumph, trauma, near-tragedy. He’s been at the absolute top of the sport. He’s been at the bottom of elite-level cycling. He’s been cast aside. He has family and interests outside of cycling. He’s an Olympic medalist, a World’s winner on road and track, simply one of the best cross-venue champions ever. He’s a thoughtful guy, and he also seems to be a load of fun. It has to be Cav. Maybe take a train with a dining/beverage car around the Isle of Man. A pint of Odin’s Manx Ale alongside some bangers and mash in the dining car with Cav. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Aaron: I think you could learn a lot about what it means to be a professional cyclist - and pick up some valuable perspective on life in general - from spending some time around Matej Mohoric, and if you don’t know why that may be, might I suggest checking out his interview following last year’s stage 19?

Matej Mohoric (right) just beats Kasper Asgreen for the stage win. ASO photo

David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

 

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