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Gazing into the Crystal Ball

Samuel Abt Tekst Samuel Abt Gepubliceerd 20 June 2019

A great many years ago, I attended a lecture uninvitingly titled “Our Friend, the Potato.” The speaker was Professor William Langer, an eminent Harvard historian.  (It’s baffling that I remember his name after all this time, when at my age I can’t remember what I had for lunch today.)

The professor gave a long lecture about the beneficial history of the potato for mankind through the ages, not sparing details about Aztec and Mayan nutrition.  When he finally fetched up, he asked for questions.

Smart-aleck that I was in those days, I recalled something I had read about a movement in 19th-century Ireland that regarded the potato as a dietary catastrophe, a way to build flab, not muscle. So, I asked, “If the potato is such a boon, why did it get its nickname of the spud from the initials of the Society to Prevent an Unwholesome Diet?”

The professor turned ashen. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” he cried. “Where did you learn that tommyrot? The word ‘spud’ derives from the Old Norse word for a spade, an implement used to dig potatoes. Next question.”  Many people snickered.

Even though an expert says it, it may not be true.

Imagine my excitement then, after all this time, when I recently read a book by the eminent philologist Mario Pei, who explained, inter alia, that the word “spud” is an acronym for—you guessed it!—the Society to Prevent an Unwholesome Diet. Up yours, Professor Langer.

I know, believe me I know, that this has been the longest windup in recorded history for a preview of the Tour de France. Before we get there, my point is simply this: Even though an expert says it, it may not be true. (That goes for Mario Pei too, I suppose, but I stand by him stoutly.)

OK, time now to learn what the experts are saying about the coming Tour.

Excluding social media—“Your going to see Thomas win again dude,” “LOL this course is maid 4 Dumoulin,”—the experts are saying—woohoo—almost nothing. The unexpected victory last year by Geraint Thomas seems to have taught them caution.

Mum’s the word, even for such usually willing fortune tellers as Bernard Hinault (he favours fellow Frenchmen, even though he knows not one of them has won the Tour since he did in 1985) and Eddy Merckx (he never favours fellow Belgians, for obvious reasons).

Photo: Cor Vos

Which leaves the field to the professional bookmakers, mostly in Britain. Their opening odds must say something about a Tour favourite, no?

To not much surprise,  the bookies liked Chris Froome to win his fifth Tour. He was rated about a 2.50-1 shot to do that.  Right on his heels was Thomas to repeat at generally 4-1.

After them were chances for a nice payout: Tom Dumoulin at 7-1, Richie Porte at 11-1, and Nairo Quintana at 18-1. The Yates brothers were longer shots, Simon at 26-1 (before his dismal Giro), Adam at 67-1. Among the French riders were Romain Bardet at 40-1 and Thibaut Pinot at 51-1.  Julian Alaphilippe rated 101-1. Sorry, Hinault. 

But that was the early line, established during the winter. Since then, the market has shifted a trifle.

Froome is off the board, of course, after his crash at the Criterium du Dauphine left him a Tour no-show. Dumoulin is now at 5-1 despite a suspect knee after his crash in the Giro.  Even after his crash in the Tour de Suisse, Thomas is holding steady, as is Porte despite his history of illness, crashes and mechanical failures in important races. Adam Yates dropped to 25-1 even before his strong Dauphine. Any one of several Colombians, mainly Egan Bernal, Miguel Angel Lopez and Quintana, is available, starting at 20-1.

Alaphilippe holds steady at 100-1, despite his gaudy spring of nine victories, including Milan-San Remo and the Fleche Wallonne. He’s definitely worth a flutter if you believe he can peak again. Some of us do.  He sparkled in the Dauphine, winning one stage, coming close in another and donning the climbers’ jersey.

Photo: Francesco Rachello / Tornanti.cc

The early Tour route is made for him: If he trampolines from the team time trial nearly into the yellow jersey (either of his Deceuninck teammates Elia Viviani and  Enric Mas could get there before him),  the moderate Vosges mountains fit Alaphilippe’s profile as a rider who won two climbing stages and the overall polka-dot jersey in last year’s Tour.

Although he’s a mediocre time trialer,  races against the clock are limited this year.  Then there’s the morale factor. Alaphilippe has just re-upped for two years with Deceuninck at a big bump in salary. Happy riders can exceed expectations.

So we go with Alaphilippe. Time, finally, for a French winner?

At this writing, there’s still a gap before the start in Brussels. What will the experts think at the last minute?  As somebody has said, it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.