Some 184 of the world’s top professional cyclists will pedal out of Brest in Brittany today for the 108th edition of the Tour de France, one of cycling’s three grand tours, and by far the most prestigious bike race on earth.

Amongst their number are 10 British riders and the all-conquering British registered Ineos Grenadiers team (formerly Team Sky). The Ineos Tour selection is perhaps their strongest ever, and includes 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas from Wales and super climber and 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz of Ecuador, who are expected to be the team’s elected leaders.

Backing them will be Scotland’s Tao Geoghegan Hart (aged 26) and Australian Richie Porte, both potential podium contenders in their own right.

Ineos have more aces in their pack than you’ll find in the rest of Tour peloton. Should the script not go to plan, they have four potential leaders to put into play.

Even so, Ineos will have a hard job handling the Slovenian duo of defending champion Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primoz Roglic (Visma-Jumbo), who finished a close second in 2020.

The Scottish connection

Born and raised in Hackney, London, Geoghegan Hart has mixed Scottish-Irish parentage, with his father Tom being born in Scotland, and he still has family members in Edinburgh. Inspired by watching the 2007 Tour de France start in London, Tao later took up cycling. He soon rose through the ranks and turned professional for Team Sky in 2017.

In the past he has been selected to represent Scotland in the Commonwealth Games, unfortunately other racing commitments prevented him from taking up the honour – something he hopes to rectify for the 2020 Birmingham Games.

2020: a year of change

Last year, due to Covid-19, the cycling season was all crammed into a late summer-autumn slot. Having trained for much of the year on indoor trainers and with the air of uncertainty surrounding sponsorship and even whether or not the races would reach conclusion, cycling took a strange twist for the better.

Late into October 2020 and the Giro d’Italia raced towards its grand finale in Milan. Three tough weeks had led to an unprecedented situation as the race entered the last final 10 of 2089 miles. Two comparative outsiders were leading, and were tied in a dead heat on time, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Australian rider Jai Hindley of Team Sunweb. They had battled each other through the mountains, with Hindley taking one stage victory and Geoghegan Hart two. Despite this it all came down to the last 10-mile individual time trial.

It was the six-foot tall ginger-haired Geoghegan Hart who stole the show as the final curtain was still falling. He became the first-ever Scottish grand tour winner.

Ineos had started the race with Geraint Thomas as their dedicated leader, and with Geoghegan Hart assigned as one of his key support riders.

On stage three, a freak accident took the Welshman out of the race, and Ineos turned to hunting for stage wins. Geoghegan Hart rode a well-paced race and kept himself in the running for a potential top-10 overall finish. In doing so, he found himself at the sharp end of the racing when push came to shove, and he duly stepped up to finish in first place.

Yellow dreams

This year things are a little different, as the riders have had a full and relatively stable season of racing behind them, and some of the traditional order of team command has been restored.

So far the Scot has had a quiet time of things in 2021, and his form is somewhat unknown. The fact that he has been selected for the Ineos Tour team that his stats and numbers are in line, and although he may start as second fiddle, when the going gets tough in the final week of racing through the Pyrenees we could well see him given leeway to do his own thing. That may mean pitching for stage wins on his favoured summit finishes, or even stepping up to the team leadership as he did in 2020.

Scots on Tour

Scotland has had no shortage of grand tour success over the years. It was way back in 1955 that Glasgow’s Ian Steel became the first Scotsman to ride the great race, although he abandoned part-way through.

The 1980s & ’90s were, of course, the era of the great Glaswegian climber Robert Millar (now Philippa York), who took three Tour de France stage wins during his career. He also took the King of the Mountains title and a best overall finish of fourth place in 1984. In 1987 he finished second in the Giro d’Italia, and was twice second in the Vuelta a Espana. Following on from this David Millar flew the Tour flag for Scotland from the late Vuelta a Espana ’90s through to 2014. He scored five stage wins and a selection of yellow leaders jerseys along the way, as well as five Vuelta and two Giro stages during that time.

Tokyo calling

On June 21, British Cycling announced their selections for the Tokyo Olympics. Their roster includes six Scottish riders, with Geoghegan Hart due to compete in both the road race and individual time trail. These take place on July 24 and 28 respectively, just days after the Tour finishes.

The four-man road race team includes the Lancashire born Yates twins (Simon and Adam), Thomas and Geoghegan Hart. The 145-mile race takes place on a very hilly circuit, and all four riders are potential medal candidates.

Four days later comes the 27-mile ITT, which is on a flat-rolling course. Thomas and Geoghegan Hart will represent Great Britain. Both can potentially look to a good result, although the powerful time trial specialists are most likely to reign supreme.