I think it's safe to say that the pre-race favourites for the 2022 Tour de France are the Slovenian duo of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, plus, hovering in the background – though not by much – Jonas Vingegaard.
What's more, that thinking ignores the fact that whilst Pogačar may have been a surprise winner in 2020, last year he wasn't at any stage in real danger of losing the yellow jersey once installed in the race lead. One brief hiccup on Mont Ventoux – and it was more of a blip than a bump – was the only moment when his dominance came into question.
There had been talk of UAE Team Emirates not being up to the task of controlling of the peloton, as he strolled his own way to the top of the podium in Paris. But there again, no situation ever developed that was perilous enough for the panic button to be pressed. With that shadow of a doubt in mind, UAE have been busy strengthening in the off-season and they come to the Grand Départ in Copenhagen with a lineup that is certainly capable of covering all eventualities.
Compared to the more flamboyant riders at Jumbo-Visma, they may appear to lack a certain star quality, but that's not the aim of the squad. There's one mission for them and it's to protect Pogačar until the moments when he can do his thing: in other words, the mountain stages, although if there's a chance to eliminate a direct rival before then he's canny enough to ensure it happens.
If there's one thing I really enjoy about watching Tadej Pogačar, it's that he visibly enjoys racing. He isn't afraid to attack just to see what develops. It's a luxury to be that talented and an enigma for the others to have to work out 'just how do we beat this guy?'
Over at Jumbo-Visma, the tactics are a lot more complicated for a number of reasons but mainly because victory at the Tour de France almost always comes down to a contest between two riders. That could become messy if Roglič and Vingegaard are both in with a chance of winning.
The management may have tried to limit the stress beforehand but think back to the tension between Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome at Team Sky in 2012, and it's easy to see it can quickly become political. All teams experience internal disputes and fall-outs – Movistar being the prime example – so keeping both Roglič and Vingegaard in harmony is a task in itself, even before they go head-to-head with Pogačar.
The Critérium du Dauphiné showed that two riders at the very top level can co-exist but the Tour is something else entirely. Here they have a different problem to deal with, and it's the guy who starts with the number one on his back. All the speculation that two Jumbo's will overwhelm one UAE is premature, to say the least.
The best of the rest
What about everyone else, then? If you listen to the media then the podium is already decided, the only thing left to do being to take Pogačar, Roglič and Vingegaard, and reassemble them in order of your personal preference.
It would be foolish indeed to discount the riders who haven't immediately sprung to mind. For example, Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën), who had an excellent Dauphiné and was the only rider capable of keeping the Jumbo pairing in sight. The West Australian has progressed since last year and can't be ignored because he doesn't give up and staying out of the limelight until it matters means way less pressure each day.
Being on a French team comes with extra bonus points in terms of support and encouragement. The home fans will latch onto anything they recognise as familiar and you don't get much more French than a company that spawned the 2CV while team boss Vincent Lavenu's involvement goes back 30 years.
With an increased budget, he's been able to put together an improved squad, one that chased stage wins last year but is now, with the emergence of O'Connor as a podium contender, back in the GC fight. They've been there previously with Romain Bardet, so they have plenty of experience in the matter.
Bardet is another name no one is mentioning, either, which is strange as he was one of the strongest riders at the Giro d'Italia before falling ill. It'll be interesting to see how his and Team DSM's race develops. There's always something going in that team personnel-wise, though it doesn't stop them from pulling out a performance in the end.
Meanwhile, over at Ineos Grenadiers, I'm left wondering what direction their race is going to take.
Geraint Thomas' win in Switzerland promotes him to team leadership – on paper, at least – but I don't think he'd take issue with the notion that a COVID-19 outbreak influenced the result in his favour. Given Aleksandr Vlasov's form and ability, the fact the Bora-Hansgrohe rider withdrew just after taking the race lead changed everything. But a win is a win and Thomas looks to be back to a level somewhere near his best.
Despite there being more than 50km of time trialling on this year's Tour route, Thomas will still be at a disadvantage in the mountains, certainly when Pogacar puts in a big acceleration. The same limitations apply to the other protected riders in the team, Dani Martínez and Adam Yates, though for the opposite reasons. Martínez will climb in the front group and occasionally Yates will too but they'll both lose out in the TTs and Yates needs a lot of shepherding to get through the flat and windy days.
Positioning doesn't come naturally to him so the fifth stage over the cobbles to Arenberg could spell disaster for him. I think the management at Ineos have realised that they no longer have the best GC riders and will need to refocus on stage wins instead.
Hence Filippo Ganna makes the selection to take the 13km time trial around Copenhagen and also to look after the climbers on the cobbles whilst Tom Pidcock goes in the breaks on the road stages. Pidcock's inclusion may seem questionable when you consider Ethan Hayter has been left at home but then the Olympic Mountain Bike champion generates a lot of publicity. That might just be needed if the race turns into an inter-Slovenian battle.
Philippa's predictions for Paris
1. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
2. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-VIsma)
3. Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe)
4. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-VIsma)
5. Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën)
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Philippa York is a long-standing Cyclingnews contributor who provides expert racing analysis. As a professional rider, she finished on the podium at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, as well as winning the mountains classification at the 1984 Tour de France.