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FIVE key Tour de France contenders for the title:
Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe)
A formidable climber with great stamina on the plains and equipped with a powerful frame suited to time-trials. The 26-year-old came fourth in last year’s Giro d’Italia in Astana’s colours and now makes his Tour de France debut for German outfit Bora-Hansgrohe. “I fight to win. I race to win,” the Russian said this week. He has been tipped as the dark horse by 2018 winner Geraint Thomas.
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Geraint Thomas (Ineos/GBR)
Ostensibly a chaperone to Colombian climber Dani Martinez, the former champion is riding his 12th Tour de France aged 36. “Maybe a podium, a top five, or you never know,” he said of his chances at the team hotel in the Danish countryside this week, looking every inch a man relaxed and determined after missing the Tour last time out. Of all the contenders the first week is best suited to the affable Welsh all-rounder, especially the cobbles on stage five and the gravel atop stage seven.
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Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma/DEN)
“Vin-Ge-Gaard, Vin-Ge-Gaard” the crowds chanted in Copenhagen at the team presentation on Wednesday as the former fish factory worker turned climbing phenomenon lapped up the love. He emerged from Primoz Roglic’s shadow last season where he came second, and at 25 is now co-captain of the strongest team in the race.
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Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroen/AUS)
One of just four Australians to finish in a top five position at Le Tour, pure climber O’Connor has plenty of mountain on which to emulate compatriot Jai Hindley’s Giro win in May. “When I saw him win, I told myself I can do it too.” And he can if his win at Tignes last season is anything to go by. An improvement on fourth place last year would put the 26-year-old from Perth on the podium beneath the Arc de Triomphe on July 24.
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Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates/SLO)
The ever improving Slovenian star can not only perform well on all terrain, he stands tall where others wilt and remains calm when others panic. Still only 23, Pogacar said on Thursday he was ready and his team was ready. Quite simply the man to beat and the consensus is that only a fall or a bout of Covid-19 can stop him claiming a third straight title.
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By Garrin Lambley © Agence France-Presse