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Fuglsang - Yellow in Africa to Yellow in France?

2019-07-02

Jakob Fuglsang and Roel Paulissen of Cannondale Vredestein finished second to Team Bulls in the 2007 Absa Cape Epic. In 2008 Fuglsang returned to the Absa Cape Epic as the reigning Under 23 World Champion, having bested Nino Schurter in an titanic tussle at Fort William, Scotland. The fifth edition of the Untamed African Mountain Bike race attracted an exceptionally stacked field, along with the defending champions Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm. The Cannondale Vredestein dominated from the outset and held a comfortable lead that transformed into a convincing victory over the 966km from Knysna to Somerset West, despite major tyre issues along the way.

Eleven years have passed since Fuglsang and Paulissen stood atop the 2008 Absa Cape Epic podium. In those years the Danish climber has forged a career which has seen him regularly feature in Grand Tour top tens. 2019 though has been an Indian Summer for the 34 year-old as he capped a fine Ardennes classics campaign with victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège before securing his second Critérium du Dauphiné title in June.

Back to the present day; Fuglsang’s Dauphiné win puts him at the forefront of the list of favourites for this year’s Tour de France. In a field bereft of the sport’s most dominant stage racer of his generation, Chris Froome, the Astana rider will in all likelihood never have a better chance of winning a Grand Tour. Not only is the South African educated, Kenyan born Brit out of cycling’s flagship event following a horror reconnaissance ride crash but the majority of Froome’s traditional rivals are absent or out of form too.

Richie Porte, Froome’s erstwhile teammate, struggled with illness in the northern hemisphere spring and failed to live up to his usual high standards in the early season’s week-long stage races. His 11th position at the Dauphiné does not auger well for the Australian. Neither does the 9th place secured by Colombia’s Nairo Quintana. The recent strong showings by his countryman Egan Bernal along with the firepower of Team Ineos indicate that he rather than Quintana is the South American nation’s best hope of a first Tour de France win.

In addition to Porte and Quintana’s malaise, the start list is also without the name of the likeable Dutch star Tom Dumoulin. The Sunweb rider placed second in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France last year, but a knee injury sustained in the 2019 Giro will see him miss cycling’s July showpiece. This opens the door for others to shine alongside Fuglsang. Primarily the spotlight has shifted to the French riders, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. While across the Indian Ocean, Australia’s team Mitchelton-Scott have every right to be excited about the prospects of their British rider Adam Yates. Mitchelton-Scott may well have a second ace to play in the form of the Grand Tour winning Yates twin, Simon. Though he, like Vincenzo Nibali and Mikel Landa have the Giro d'Italia fatigue fresh in their legs.

Other favourites for the overall classification include Rigoberto Uran, who will be backed up by a powerful and dynamic EF Education First squad, and Ireland’s great hope Dan Martin. South Africa’s hopes lie predominantly with Team Dimension Data, Daryl Impey and possibly the 26 year-old Willie Smit.

At the time of writing the final Tour de France squads had not yet been finalised. The reigning South African champion, Impey, is a cornerstone of his Mitchelton-Scott team and is sure to be one of Adam Yates' key domestiques. Smit’s selection for Katusha–Alpecin is less certain but given the Kazak team’s struggles in 2019 the all-round talents of their lone South African could come in handy at the Tour.

 Africa’s World Tour team, Team Dimension Data were in a similar position to Katusha–Alpecin just a few short weeks ago. They had endured a dry start to the year and victories were proving very difficult to come by. The Tour of Norway proved a turning point in the team’s season as Edvald Boasson Hagen won Stage 3 and wore the leader’s jersey for two stages before finishing third overall. The Boss, as the Norwegian is affectionately known, then went on to win the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné; providing the team with its biggest victory of the season thus far. Subsequently Giacomo Nizzolo added to the team’s honour roll for the year with victory on Stage 5 of the Tour of Slovenia. 

Given the very recent exclusion of both Cavendish and Meintjes, the team’s best hopes of strong showings are likely to be pinned on the backs of Boasson Hagen and the ever steady Reinardt Janse van Rensburg.

Back to the analysis of the main favourites; the primary battle for the Tour de France title could once again play out between teammates. In 2018, Froome and Geraint Thomas went head-to-head in the colours of Team Sky. A year on and Team Ineos have a similar problem, Bernal is the squad’s form rider – only behind Fuglsang on Cycling News’ form guide. Thomas however has the Grand Tour know-how and the pedigree as defending champion. Will the intra-team rivalry open the door for Ineos’ competitors? Time and the 21 stages of the Tour de France will tell. Fuglsang meanwhile is sure to be alongside them – putting pressure on Thomas, Bernal and co. – as he looks to add the famous French yellow jersey to the yellow zebra striped jersey he won in Africa back in 2008.

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