Tour de France: Can Geraint seize the yellow? Thomas becomes a real suitor again

It is time for 184 other prospects to join the inflated peloton that is parading through this scorching sporting summer.

On Saturday, under the gray skies of Brittany, the wheels started to turn on the 108th Tour de France. And from the Grand Départ, the best riders in the world will compete for places.

With the warm-up of Euro 2020 and Tokyo looming on the horizon, these teams have three weeks and 3,414 km to get out of the pack and grab the public’s attention.

The race is fascinating. Two individual time trials, six mountain stages across the Alps and Pyrenees, a brief jaunt to Andorra – and no uncertainty as to who will be sipping champagne in Paris on July 18.

Here Sportsmail reviews some of the main talking points …

Geraint Thomas is capable of regaining glory at the dawn of the Tour de France

Geraint Thomas is capable of regaining glory at the dawn of the Tour de France

A NEW ERA FOR INEOS?

The days of Team Sky smothering rivals with relentless pace up front are now over.

Instead, Sir Dave Brailsford promises a four-pronged ‘fearless’ attack to get the impulses beat – and leave the opponents guessing. “Expect the unexpected,” they warn.

Except, of course, that the strengths of Ineos Grenadiers are hidden in plain sight. They have a formidable field, with 46 laps between their eight riders and four contenders for the yellow jersey: Richard Carapaz, Richie Porte and the British duo Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Richard Carapaz is one of the various threats that Ineos will pose to the Tour de France

Richard Carapaz is one of the various threats that Ineos will pose to the Tour de France

They know that only this new aggression can dethrone the 22-year-old defending champion, Tadej Pogacar.

“He can’t follow us all,” Porte warned.

Uncertainty remains as to who will become their leader, however. Thomas, the 2018 winner and 2019 runner-up, believes the flexibility gives Ineos “some cards to play later.” Ahead of his 11th tour, he said: “Something will happen to someone as always.”

The Welshman emerges as an obvious leader – provided he can stay in the saddle.

CAVENDISH IS BACK

Just over a week ago, Mark Cavendish hadn’t even watched this year’s course. This is how the 36-year-old Manxman imagined his chances of lining up.

“If you had told me 12 months ago that I would be in this Deceuninck-Quick-Step setup on the Tour, I would have laughed at you,” Cavendish told The Telegraph.

Mark Cavendish got a last minute call and is looking to add to his 30 stage wins

Mark Cavendish got a last minute call and is looking to add to his 30 stage wins

But Sam Bennett’s knee injury prompted a last-minute appeal. Now Cavendish is set to add to his 30 stage wins. The record stands at 34 and Cavendish is backed by a team that some believe can provide the world’s best lead for sprinters. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like a teenager anymore,” he said.

But Cavendish has to fend off Caleb Ewan, arguably the fastest man in those few hundred yards.

Cavendish’s first tour was in 2007 and yet it must feel like uncharted waters. The expectation that had harassed him in previous years has largely disappeared. It’s the least pressure I’ve felt in a long time. It’s not on my shoulders, ”he said.

… AND FROOME AS WELL THE EAST

Another surprise return. Four-time winner Chris Froome struggled to shake off the aftermath of an accident in 2019, when he hit a wall and broke his femur, elbow and several ribs.

This is Froome’s first tour in three years after Israel Start-Up Nation paid a lot of money to make him their road captain. He has not kept pace this season and will only support the team manager, Canada’s Michael Woods.

Chris Froome struggled to shake off the aftermath of a 2019 crash, but is in contention

Chris Froome struggled to shake off the aftermath of a 2019 crash, but is in contention

But he insists: “I can’t wait to get home. It has been a tough journey since my accident, but it has been one of my biggest motivations.

Elsewhere, Briton Mark Donovan will make his first Tour start with the DSM team.

SO WHO WANTS TO WEAR YELLOW IN PARIS?

This year, the route includes the longest stage in 21 years – between Vierzon and La Creusot – which has more than 3,000 m of elevation gain. There is also a much anticipated return to Mont Ventoux.

The most difficult day, however, could come when the riders leave France and climb the Pyrenees to Andorra towards the climax of this year’s race.

But nothing should change the fact that there is a small group of contenders, led by Pogacar and fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic, last year’s runner-up.

Thomas is among the other former winners, alongside Froome and Vincenzo Nibali, and no rider should have better support than the Welshman. Her biggest challenges may be to avoid another fall and fend off her internal rivals. Carapaz, Porte, and Tao Geoghegan Hart will all be ready to step in if Thomas falters.

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