• Michael Matthews won the Green jersey for Team Sunweb last year, but happily flew the flag on the podium in Paris. (Getty)
With the current pandemic of World Cup fever sweeping the globe, it may have slipped plenty of minds that the largest annual sporting event is right around the corner. Yes, it’s nearly time for the Tour de France.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

7 Jul 2018 - 10:16 AM  UPDATED 7 Jul 2018 - 10:29 AM

There's value in looking at successful things and working out what makes them better than the rest. In the World Cup’s case, the history and standing of the event go a long way to making it the special experience it is.

The stakes are so high for every team and its fanbase. Seeing that pressure impact the sporting drama playing out on the field is where the World Cup is at its best.

The Tour de France has that as well, a rich history and appreciation of what it means to be the final winner of the race has athletes competing at the top of their game. Rather than playing out in giant cauldrons, the Tour de France champions write their dramatic story on roads and landscapes too beautiful for words.

The other thing that really attracts the attention to the World Cup is the brilliant sets of supporters. It’s something you only get with the parochialism of supporting your own country. Nigerian mystics predicting World Cup matches, Iranian women getting to watch their national team play for the first time and hordes of Mexican fans descending upon South Koreans to thank them for helping get them out of the group stage.

The Tour de France has a little of that, certainly plenty of supporters by the sides of the roads are supporting a nation’s riders, but it could be clearer. So, to attract more of the tribalism and celebration of culture that is part of what makes the World Cup great, here’s what  a re-imagining of the Tour de France as national teams.

The good news, Australia might actually stand of winning this version of the World Cup!

Australia

Leading the squad is arguably the favourite for the Tour de France, both in real life and for this exercise. Richie Porte would have a very good team pursuit squad, a team that could protect him on the flat and some of the world’s best climbing domestiques at his disposal.

Caleb Ewan and Michael Matthews get a gig in this line-up to freelance for some stage wins and in this fictional universe Adam Hansen keeps his run of consecutive Grand Tours going!

A talented group of youngsters as climbing support should give Richie one of the stronger climbing squads, enough to fight off all but the most concerted attacks.

  • Richie Porte (BMC)
  • Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb)
  • Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott)
  • Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal)
  • Rohan Dennis (BMC)
  • Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott)
  • Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott)
  • Damien Howson (Mitchelton-Scott)

Left Out:

Ben O'Connor (Dimension Data), Robert Power (Mitchelton-Scott), Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Merida), Simon Gerrans (BMC), Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data), Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin), Mat Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott).

 

Italy

A split squad for Italy - they are based around the push for yellow with the Shark of Messina, Vincenzo Nibali, and stage glory with Elia Viviani. Hard to leave either out to focus solely on the chances of the other - Viviani has arguably the best results of any of the quick men this season and Nibali's palmares in Grand Tours demands respect.

Very strong in climbing support and sprint leadouts, but not really the favourite to take a lot of results.

  • Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida)
  • Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Diego Rosa (Team Sky)
  • Gianni Moscon (Team Sky)
  • Fabio Sabatini (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott)
  • Damiano Caruso (BMC)
  • Giulio Ciccione (Bardiani-CSF)

Left Out:

Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale), Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), Daniel Oss (BMC), Alessandro de Marchi (BMC), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida), Simone Consonni (UAE Team Emirates), Jacopo Guarnieri (Groupama FDJ)

 

Spain

Climbing talent is oozing out of this squad and they would be disappointed with anything less than a podium from one of their leaders. That top rider could be Alejandro Valverde, Enric Mas, Mikel Landa, Marc Soler or even Ion Izagirre, but it’s hard to stray too far from the experience of Valverde.

The second most exciting squad to the Colombians on paper, expect to see plenty of forays in the mountains from this supremely talented group. They’ll need to use their strength in numbers on the climbs as they’ll be very vulnerable in the early flat stages, the cobbles and the team time trial.

  • Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
  • Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Imanol Erviti (Movistar)
  • Mikel Landa (Movistar)
  • Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar)
  • Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida)
  • Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida)
  • Marc Soler (Movistar)

Left Out:

Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott)

 

Belgium

For one of the most successful nations in Tour de France history, the Belgians haven’t turned out many contenders for the maillot jaune in recent years. That said, they can field a diverse squad of talented riders who will be the dominant force in breakaways and on the cobbled stage to Roubaix.

They also lack a really fast sprinter… Sean de Bie and Jens Debusschere will have to fight it out for top dog status. There's been talk of Tim Wellens turning into a general classification rider for the Grand Tours as well after some promising showing in one week races. He'll have a chance to show his abilities here, albeit with threadbare support.

  • Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing)
  • Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal)
  • Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal)
  • Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal)
  • Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Sean de Bie (Verandas Willems-Crelan)
  • Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal)
  • Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal)

Left Out:

Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Dylan Teuns (BMC), Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors)

 

Netherlands

This was a really tough one, but in the end it was too hard to fit in both Dylan Groenewegen and all the top climbers that the Dutch boast into the same squad. Tough on the fast youngster, who has been one of the best sprinters this season.

They’ll win the team time trial by a big margin and will have one of the most dependable squads in the high mountains. Not quite sure who will be the team leader, Tom Dumoulin is the only one to have won a Grand Tour but comes in with a lot of work in his legs after an epic edition of the Giro d'Italia.

Very hard to beat.

  • Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
  • Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)
  • Wout Poels (Team Sky)
  • Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto NL-Jumbo)
  • Lennard Hofstede (Team Sunweb)
  • Jos van Emden (Lotto NL-Jumbo)
  • Sam Oomen (Team Sunweb)
  • Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky)

Left Out:

Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto NL-Jumbo), Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb), Danny van Poppel (Lotto NL-Jumbo), Moreno Hofland (Lotto Soudal), Timo Roosen (Lotto NL-Jumbo), Koen de Kort (Team Sunweb)

 

France

The French haven’t won their home race since 1985 and this team is entirely built around upgrading Romain Bardet’s two podium finishes to a first. The climbing stock is very solid, but they're not the strongest on the flat and will rely on a lot of domestique work from Vichot and Gougeard.

Thibaut Pinot gets sidelined as he looked dead by the end of the Giro and would struggle to back up here.

No space for sprinters here as it’s all-in for Bardet.

  • Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale)
  • Arthur Vichot (Groupama FDJ)
  • Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale)
  • Julien Alaphillipe (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale)
  • Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic)
  • Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky)
  • Guillame Martin (Wanty Groupe-Gobert)

Left Out:

Alexandre Geniez (AG2R La Mondiale), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ), David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ), Axel Domont (AG2R La Mondiale), Mickael Cherel (AG2R La Mondiale), Arnaud Demare (Groupama FDJ), Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac), Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale), Bryan Coquard (Vital Concept), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R La Mondiale), Axel Domont (AG2R La Mondiale)

Colombia

The best part of this fantasy was salivating over the prospect of the Colombians creating absolute mayhem in the Pyrenees and the Alps. There wouldn’t even need be a leader for this group, simply say that one of Lopez, Bernal, Quintana, Henao, Chaves or Uran will try a long-range move each day and either they win by minutes or get brought back and someone else attacks.

Fernando Gaviria is left to his own devices in the sprints, he’s been far too good this year to leave out, but unfortunately there aren’t many top drawer Colombian leadout riders.

  • Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
  • Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
  • Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Egan Bernal (Team Sky)
  • Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott)
  • Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac)
  • Sergio Henao (Team Sky)
  • Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates)

Left Out:

Jhonathan Restrepo (Katusha-Alpecin), Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Winner Anacona (Movistar), Alvaro Jose Hodeg (Quick-Step Floors)

 

Germany

This is more of a traditional Tour de France roster, an entire squad based around the singular goal of delivering one rider to the line first. Marcel Kittel gets the ride as the main man through his past Tours rather than his recent form, but none of his competition has really been beating down the door so the shampoo model gets the nod.

Buchmann, Schachmann and Geschke will have a chance to do their own thing on the stages where Kittel won’t be able to drag his large frame over the hills.

  • Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin)
  • Roger Kluge (Mitchelton-Scott)
  • Max Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Nikias Arndt (BORA-Hansgrohe)
  • Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-Hansgrohe)
  • Rudiger Selig (BORA-Hansgrohe)
  • Simon Geschke (Team Sunweb)
  • Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin)

Left Out:

John Degenkolb (Team Sunweb), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin), Max Wahlscheid (Team Sunweb)

 

Slovenia 

Slovenia have perhaps the least history of the cycling nations on this list but they go in with significant potential to upset the applecart. Primoz Roglic has been the best one-week stage racer this season, he just needs to convert that form into success under the bright lights of the Tour.

Solid climbing support and help for the flats. Also the youngest rider on this made-up race in Tadej Pogacar, who’s touted as the next big thing.

  • Primoz Roglic (Lotto NL-Jumbo)
  • Simon Spilak (Katusha-Alpecin)
  • Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates)
  • Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates)
  • Tadej Pogacar (Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum)
  • Luka Pibernik (Bahrain Merida)
  • Jan Tratnik (CCC Sprandi Polkowice)
  • Kristijan Koren (Bahrain Merida)

Left Out:

Domen Novak (Bahrain Merida), Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott)

 

Denmark

As we descend down the rankings, the teams get a little less specialised and over-powering. Denmark is evidence of this, it’s a team of quality riders who have a number of big wins under their belt this season but maybe lack a guy who has a history of leading a team in a Grand Tour.

Jakob Fuglsang could well do a good general classification run, but this team’s strength is in its versatility.

  • Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana)
  • Christopher Juul-Jensen (Mitchelton-Scott)
  • Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo)
  • Soren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb)
  • Michael Valgren (Astana)
  • Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
  • Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal)
  • Michael Morkov (Quick-Step Floors)

 

Great Britain

In the World Cup, this team would be split up in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but they stand a better chance of winning this way, so it will be Team GB for this exercise. Simon Yates is left out as he’s puffed from his Giro d’Italia performance, but even that doesn’t really affect this team’s strength in the mountains or against the clock.

No Cavendish as they are choc-full of top-tier riders who could either support Froome or make their own tilt at yellow. Whatever you think of Froome, he remains the rider to beat in every Grand Tour he enters.

  • Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
  • Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
  • Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data)
  • Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Sky)
  • Peter Kennaugh (BORA-Hansgrohe)
  • Ian Stannard (Team Sky)
  • Christopher Froome (Team Sky)
  • Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin)

Left out:

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Scott Thwaites (Dimension Data), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac)

 

USA

A rebuilding squad from the USA as they look ahead to what appears to be a pretty bright future. Brandon McNulty and William Barta will get the valuable opportunity to learn behind a seasoned leader in van Garderen, while a solid squad should put out a respectable showing. Maybe a stage win and a top-10 for van Garderen.

  • Tejay van Garderen (BMC)
  • Brandon McNulty (Rally)
  • William Barta (Axeon Hagens Berman)
  • Chad Haga (Team Sunweb)
  • Lawson Craddock (EF Education First-Drapac)
  • Nathan Brown (EF Education First-Drapac)
  • Ian Boswell (Katusha-Alpecin)
  • Joe Dombrowski (EF Eduaction First-Drapac)

Left out:

Sean Bennet (Axeon Hagens Berman), Brent Bookwalter (BMC), Jonothan Brown (Axeon Hagens Berman), Alexey Vermeulen (Interpro Stradalli)

 

There are many reasons that we won't ever see this done at the Tour de France, so cycling fans will have to be content with their imaginations and the World Championships at the end of the season.

If you have got a team from a country that missed the list, or want to complain about botched team selections you can find me on twitter, @Fishys_CP.