Bookmakers are Disrespecting & Underrating Tadej Pogačar
Opportunities & oddities in the 2021 Tour de France odds
The 2020 cycling season was notable for a few reasons. We had the racing calendar shut down and reshuffled due to a global pandemic and three grand tours decided by a total of two minutes, but in my mind, the most notable development was the rise of young riders, and in particular, the dominating performances of Tadej Pogacar. The Young Slovenian showed immense grand tour potential by finishing third at the 2019 Vuelta a Espana due to an incredibly strong third week, and the 2020 season saw him cemented as the best grand tour rider in the world. The Slovene won the 2020 Tour de France at the incompressibly young age of 21-years-old by throwing down one of the best time trial performances in Tour history on Stage 20 , while also nearly winning Liège–Bastogne–Liège, before being nearly taken out by Julian Alaphilippe in the final sprint. His raw strength, bike handling skill, racecraft, and versatility means the sky is the limit and he is showing no sign of slowing down in 2021 and beyond.
This is why I was shocked to find nearly every sportsbook having Pogacar as an underdog for overall victory at the 2021 Tour de France. I assume most oddsmakers set initial odds for fairly obscure events like the Tour de France by copying each other, so most of these odds are in lockstep across nearly every book. He is currently sitting at +275 odds (bet $100 to win $275) on BetMGM, and +325 on Bet 365 and SkyBet. These are absurdly cheap odds for a rider who displayed such physical dominance and will only likely get stronger in the coming years. For reference, Roglic was a -334 favorite with a week left in the Vuelta a Espana when another rider, Richard Carapaz, was still leading the race.
Not only has Pogacar been snubbed, but the rider who he unceremoniously relieved of the Tour lead on the final day of real racing, Roglic, is currently favored ahead of him at nearly every sportsbook. I love Primoz Roglic, likely too much that it clouds my judgment at times, but this is absurd. While Roglic did just win his second-consecutive Vuelta a Espana, proved to be the most consistent rider in the world during the 2020 season and won the highly prestigious 2020 Vélo d'Or (I’m kidding, nobody cares about this award, including Roglic, who hadn’t heard of it before he was presented with it), he should, without a doubt, be a long-shot to win the Tour de France in 2021. He is 31-years-old and isn’t getting any faster while Pogacar has demonstrably proved that he is already better while still riding the physical upslope.
But What About the Sophomore Slump?
Most Tour de France winners, especially young ones, seriously struggle in the following offseason due to increased fame and the commitment that goes along with that. This is why only eight riders in the 117-year history of the race have ever won the Tour the year directly following their first victory (this includes Lance Armstrong who’s wins have technically been stricken from the record). Geraint Thomas famously struggled with fitness in the season following his 2018 Tour de France win and specifically cited media engagements and soirees as interfering with his training, which ultimately kept him from repeating as champion in 2019. The eventual winner of that 2019 edition, Egan Bernal, likely struggled with the same phenomenon, especially as he emerged as a national hero in his home country of Colombia. After a flat showing at the early-season Tour of Colombia in early 2020, Bernal put together an absurdly difficult training block during the forced racing break from COVID to make up for lost training in the offseason, but then ultimately succumbed to a back injury that was likely aggravated by this overtraining.
An interesting wrinkle here for Pogacar is the chaos sown by COVID. The young Slovenian is currently riding out a strict European lockdown at home in Monaco and as far as I can tell, the only travel he has performed since ending his 2020 season is going to his mom’s house in Slovenia. The inability to travel and be pulled far and wide by post-Tour publicity events will actually help him immensely when the 2021 season rolls around. He literally can’t be distracted from his training since his training is all he can do.
A Time Trial-Heavy Tour Plays to His Strengths
Prior to the 2020 Tour de France, I would have thought a route like the 2021 Tour features, with 58-kilometers of individual time trials, would favor riders like Thomas and Roglic and disqualify Roglic, but if we look at the time splits during that Stage 20 TT a the 2020 Tour, Pogacar was the second-fastest rider in the first 40-minutes of that TT, only a second behind Tom Dumoulin on flat-to-rolling terrain. It doesn’t matter if he isn’t considered a world-class time trialist, the evidence says otherwise, and there is nothing to make me assume he won’t be even better in 2021.
With this favorable route and the current COVID restrictions forcing Pogacar to focus on training, he should be considered the overwhelming favorite for the overall Tour de France win in 2021. There are no sure-things in cycling, since flats, crashes, etc. can derail anyone at any time, but these are certainly the best GC betting odds I’ve seen for such a dominant rider.
Carapaz Disrespected & Evenepoel Overrated
Just glancing at those odds, a few other oddities stick out. In addition to the lack of disrespect shown to Pogacar is the disrespect shown to Richard Carapaz. When I previewed the 2021 Tour de France route, I considered Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart to be the two best GC riders currently on the Ineos roster. This may seem crazy at first glance, but if we look at Bernal’s serious back injury forcing him to go into intensive physical therapy in an attempt to correct a slipped disc and pinched (possibly severed?) nerve in his spine at a time when he should be heavily training for 2021 and Thomas’ advanced age and lack of climbing form over the past 12 months (Getting 2nd at Tirreno–Adriatico doesn’t count as a good performance. He was beaten by Simon Yates, and nobody in their right mind a bonafide grand tour contender) it becomes clear that Ineos’ best odds for Tour de France victory lie elsewhere on the squad. As such, it seems crazy to me that Carapaz is currently the third most likely Ineos rider to win the Tour according to the betting odds. Filippo Ganna signaled yesterday that both he and Geoghegan Hart would be returning to the Giro d’Italia in 2021 to defend Ineos’ title, so I fully expect Carapaz to be the leader of the 2021 Ineos Tour team. It is worth noting that while I expect him to be Ineos’ best shot at victory, I don’t consider him to have the skills necessary to win at a race that favors time trial ability above all else if riders like Roglic and Pogacar can avoid mishaps.
Possibly the biggest oddity on this list is that Remco Evenepoel currently has the third-best odds to win the 2021 Tour de France despite having never ridden a three-week race and suffering a fractured femur this past August. The 20-year-old Belgian is certainly talented and possesses the right skills to win the Tour; world-class time trialing and climbing, but this assumption that he will simply be able to slot into the biggest race in the world is absurd. We, nor he, has any idea how his body will react to three weeks of daily racing, or if he will even be able to make a full recovery from his horrible crash in August at the Giro di Lombardia. As far as I am aware, no rider (except, of course, the winners of the first-ever three-week races), has ever won a three-week race in their first attempt. Betting on Evenepoel would be betting on a major long-short without getting long-shot pricing. Long story short, don’t do it.
Other oddities on this list are Thibaut Pinot currently having the 8th best odds to win, despite being lucky to simply finish grand tours. His 29th place overall in 2020 was the first time he finished the Tour since 2015. Also, Aleksandr Vlasov may be a talented rider, but alas, he has the misfortune of being hit with the *BTP Young Russian Curse. Also, he has never finished inside the top-10 at a grand tour, so it seems absurd that he currently has the 9th best odds to win the race.
*Any young Russian rider whom I pick to win a race is automatically disqualified from any future race wins, or ever having good luck at a race ever again. Sorry guys.
What is Going on With Qhubeka-ASSOS?
Qhubeka-ASSOS, formerly NTT Pro Cycling has announced a few new signings in the past few days, but the only problem seems to be that none of the riders seem to be able to deliver consistent results at the WorldTour level. The highest-profile incoming transfer so far has been Fabio Aru from UAE-Team Emirates. This is really bad. If this was 2016, this would be a blockbuster signing. The Italian won the 2015 Vuelta a Espana, but unfortunately, that is as good as it got.
Since then, Aru has struggled immensely to match those results, and in recent years, he hasn’t performed at the level you would expect from a member of a WorldTour team. Despite being paid as a team leader at a UAE, he hasn’t won a single professional race since 2017 and it is clear his best days are far, far behind him. However, as in everything else, the judgment of whether this is a good or bad decision all comes down to price. If they offered him the UCI minimum of around $48,000 to race in 2021, and from the makeup of their signings so far, this does seem to be what they are offering most riders, this could be a worthwhile reclamation project. If they can turn him around, they have a world-class rider at an extremely low price, and if he continues to flop, they are simply out a few thousand euros and a roster slot while still getting plenty of publicity at every race Aru starts.
I will be sending out a deeper-dive on Qhubeka-ASSOS, their finances, and looking at how ASSOS could possibly afford to fund the team to premium subscribers tomorrow. If you are interested in receiving this, as well as additional newsletters, participating in members-only discussion threads (coming in 2021), and getting discounts on select brands (coming in 2021) please consider becoming a paid subscriber.