It's almost time. 22 teams, with 8 riders each, prepare to take to the start in Florence on Saturday, with glory on their minds.

And following them once again will be the cameras of the Netflix Unchained crew, as they attempt to document the story of the race for a broad audience, many of whom are invested following the first two seasons.

While the first series of Unchained came under fire for over-dramatising the narrative, perhaps even manufacturing certain elements of storylines to grab audiences, this year’s recently released second season has been widely well-received and praised for its adherence to reality. With the addition of Tadej Pogačar – a missing piece in the first series, through no fault of the show runners (UAE initially refused to take part in the show) – the balance between the protagonists was more well-rounded, though some characters were perhaps foregrounded a little more than their presence in the race warranted (but Ben O’Connor’s emotion-laden storyline was great TV so, we get it). Above all, the treatment of the Bahrain Victorious team’s pursuit of victory in memory of their fallen teammate Gino Mäder was elegantly portrayed, and the humanity of Pello Bilbao and Matej Mohorič in particular, incredibly moving. With the charm of Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphilippe thrown in for good measure. All in all, a step up, and we're keeping our seats for season 3.

Speaking of which, what can we expect from season 3? By which I suppose I mean, what storylines will be front and centre at the 2024 Tour de France? Looking at all 22 teams (with the spotlight thrown on some more than others), it's time to work out what the real stories of this year's Tour are, and what a TV crew might make of it.

Disclaimer: while most of this is at least rooted in reality, there are elements of it that are tongue in cheek (though if they happen, I'll be delighted). (Especially the bit about the sausage dogs and the other bit about the baguettes).

The Headlines

It doesn’t take a genius to work out the main through-lines of the Tour de France itself, or the resulting series of Unchained (disclaimer: if indeed it is recommissioned). There are three, and they are these:

The quest for the double

Tadej Pogačar has been ‘a bit good’ for quite some time now. Since bursting onto the scene in 2019 with three stage wins at La Vuelta, he’s promised a great deal, and delivered even more. After winning the Giro by ten minutes (give or take a few seconds), he’s laser-focused on doing a rare Giro-Tour double, and it will be the central storyline, make no mistake – whether or not the show wishes to focus on him, is irrelevant. With the team UAE are bringing, and the confidence they have, it will be all Pogi, all of the time.

Pogačar Unchained: Following his proper introduction to the public in season 2, after a missed opportunity to win them over in season 1, Pogi will have the crowd on his side as he attempts to make history, and overturn his vanquisher – let’s not forget that for fans who only watch the Tour, and the series, Pogi is actually the underdog, even though those of us who are up to date with the season so far know this does not reflect the current reality.

If the ‘I’m gone, I’m dead’ team radio clip was one of the defining moments of 2023, one of the more amusing ones not shown on Netflix was the team’s comedy strategy based on wild animals (see image below). This year they should really lean into this and plot a long-winded coded plan to throw everyone off the scent, randomly assigning zoo animals to all 21 other teams and sustaining it in post-race interviews. Marc Soler keeping a straight face while discussing the hippos and the giraffes making it tough in the breakaway, while Pogi is busy collecting his 12th yellow jersey, would really be a statement.

Back from the brink

The main story for the defending champion Jonas Vingegaard is simply the fact that he returns to the race following a nightmare spring in which, instead of preparing to be in the best possible condition for the Tour, he was recovering from severe injuries following the crash at Itzulia April.

The story will naturally align with the show as it’s key to creating tension in the GC narrative, following two years of Vingegaard domination. It will also create some sympathy for a rider who was a less vocal participant than Pogačar in season 2, and came in for some rather unfair criticism both at the time and subsequently, for being too media-shy. Whether or not Jonas chooses to engage more directly with the filming process, his storyline is nuanced with the doubt of someone without race fitness, and a body that’s been tested to its limits, alongside a team that has seen more changes than a British rail timetable as a result of crashes and illness. Whether Netflix like it or not, the scales have tipped in Pogačar's favour.

Jonas Unchained: Netflix did a number on Jonas last year with the 'domination' storyline which to be fair, did reflect reality, but may have alienated audiences. This year they may need to pivot and reverse expectation, having him fulfil the role of underdog to Tadej's imperious top dog status. Jonas may be quiet but his warm, family-orientated character and understated, wry sense of humour could easily endear more fans to him given a gentler portrayal, and I think for all the Jonas fans out there it would be great to see more of him just being himself with less pressure.

Either that or he could go the other way, amp up the Danish dynamite reputation and lean into the scandi noir persona that is lurking beneath the surface, complete with black humour and killer one-liners. It's a spin-off series waiting to happen.

Project 35

This one needs no introduction: Mark Cavendish will attempt to become the rider with the most stage wins in the history of the Tour de France this summer, after a scuppered attempt in 2023 when he crashed out. The stars have aligned, Astana have supported him by lining up a crack team around him that he trusts, and the cycling world is willing the Manx Missile to make history. If this doesn't get top billing on the show, then I will eat a cycling shoe. (Or maybe just send a strongly worded letter).

Cavendish Unchained: Let’s face it, the Hollywood ending to this story would be Cav coming close but missing out on several stages, before storming to victory on the Champs-Elysées, at the last possible moment. Probably having dropped his chain 3km from the finish. But the Paris Olympics has scuppered the ending, leaving us with an anti-climactic final time trial in Nice instead of the final day Parisienne parade (at least from the perspective of the sprinters’ narrative).

Instead, Cav can simply flip the script by winning at the FIRST possible opportunity – no I don’t mean stage 3, the first official flat stage. I mean stage 1. He goes in the break, no-one thinks anything of it. He attacks from the break on the final climb, wins solo in Rimini, and stuns the cycling world. 35, over and out. A mic drop finish, he retires immediately from the race and hangs out with the team, cheering Michael Mørkøv to several stage wins instead.

Team: INEOS Grenadiers

The real story: following years of domination, the British team have been relatively quiet at Le Tour of late, to the point where they are not even being mentioned by pundits in GC terms, 'the big four' soaking up all the oxygen and diverting attention from the fact that within their ranks, the team have two former Tour winners, and stage winners in Pidcock and Rodriguez.

There are several stories ripe for televisual exploitation here, including Thomas' final Tour, Pidcock’s mad and varied ambitions, as he travels from mountain biking to Tour to Olympic mountain biking and the road race; Rodriguez, the quietly spoken young Spaniard, who is many people's underdog to achieve highly on GC, and not least Egan Bernal's arduous road to rediscover the form that led him to the overall yellow jersey in 2019, before a training accident set him back and he's been on the road to recovery ever since.

INEOS UNCHAINED: This year more than ever, the inter-team politics will be there for taking in terms of a dominant storyline, but I think INEOS will have a better plan this year. They are quiet underdogs, if such a thing could be said of the joint second-richest team in the sport (apparently), and they will not be prepared to be passengers. Here's the plan: Thomas, Rodriguez and Bernal form a mini-Sky train and take the race to UAE and Visma, and Netflix produces a classic redemption arc around Bernal as he attempts to challenge the biggest names in the sport once again.

Bonus feature: meanwhile, freed from the burden of riding for GC, Tom Pidcock descends every mountain pass with a bidon full of Yorkshire tea and a sausage dog under each arm and still wins by miles. On one wheel. Back at home, everyone is so impressed they decide to install cycling as the national sport and invest millions into the sport at all levels - oh, sorry. Got carried away there. As you were!

It's all fun and games until the inter-French rivalry begins (see: Decathlon Unchained)

Team: Groupama-FDJ

The real story: under-performing for the past couple of seasons, at least in the eyes of the unforgiving French public, Groupama seem to come under fire more than any of their countrymen in terms of expectation versus reality. With no Thibaut Pinot to soak up the attention this year, it was looking set to be another rough one for their mercurial GC hopeful David Gaudu, particularly in light of his recent brush with covid that leaves him a doubt in terms of form. The team seem determined to persist with trying to get their man up high in the GC, in the face of the fact that he's clearly better suited for stage-hunting, but with the wins they've achieved as a collective this season it could be a better year for the Frenchiest of Frenchies, if only they could embrace their more maverick side.

GROUPAMA UNCHAINED: Step in Lenny Martinez. A surprise last-minute call-up, the young star of the team was due to be held back and given another shot at La Vuelta, the race often used as a proving ground for young GC stars in the making. But a stellar season with numerous wins and a media-friendly personality, Lenny is the perfect foil for a team in desperate need of some positive coverage.

With the stoic presence of perennial nearly-men Stefan Küng and Valentin Madouas, moments of joy are fleeting particularly on the biggest stage of them all, but the authentic, fresh-faced angle of the debutant Martinez gives the French public somewhere to direct their latent admiration in the absence of Pinot, and he seems more than ready to shoulder the burden. And given it’s almost guaranteed to be his last season with the team who have developed him from an U23, it seems fair to give him a shot in the biggest race of them all before he departs for pastures new.

Team: Soudal-QuickStep

The real story: the Belgian side have featured in both of the first seasons in very different ways. With Fabio Jakobsen the focus of the first season, while the sprinter was somewhat involved in the second, it was the gift of Julian Alaphilippe that kept on giving, the fractious relationship between everyone’s favourite pirate and his team boss Patrick Lefevre giving plenty of juicy drama. It was mostly fluff without much substance, though Alaphilippe undoubtedly showed himself as the star he is, even without a win to show for it.

This season, the team have very different goals. With Remco Evenepoel making his debut at the race and hoping to go as deep as he can on GC against the heavyweights, while the pressure may be on in the Belgian media, it’s going to be more about just seeing what he can do, particularly given he’s on the comeback trail following his crash at Itzulia.

SOUDAL UNCHAINED: With the departure of Ben O’Connor the third season will be crying out for a character who wears his heart on his sleeve, and Remco is the perfect rider to fill that gap. Remco rides with heart and isn’t afraid to express himself when things aren’t going his way, but he’s generous with interviews and open with the media and let’s face it, the kid is a TV personality waiting to happen. The focus on his bromance with Mikel Landa, and his stunt double Ilan van Wilder, and the adherence to the ‘wolfpack’ brotherhood narrative will underpin the underdog story of a fledgling GC team finding their feet in the biggest race of them all.

Soudal-QuickStep's cute announcement poster (image credit: their Twitter)

Team: Alpecin-Deceuninck

The real story: while it was easy to shape the former ‘Jasper Disaster’ into the villainous antagonist ‘Jasper the Master’ in season 2 of Unchained, Netflix are going to struggle to construct a new narrative around a fairly one-dimensional (if not fearsome) Alpecin side in season 3. With Mathieu playing the role of turbo lead-out man and unlikely to make any waves of his own with his Olympic ambitions in mind, his team’s single-minded goal of supporting Philipsen to a second consecutive green jersey, on paper, should be straightforward.

ALPECIN UNCHAINED: If Netflix are uncertain about how to make anything new out of the Alpecin storyline in 2024, they could engineer a little friction when the inevitable happens and MVDP heads off up the road on a breakaway jaunt with his old pal Wout van Aert. While the two have very different goals for the Tour this time around, they know that they can rely on one another to put in a shift when it comes to taking on a race from the front, and let’s face, after a stalled Classics campaign due to his crash at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, the two frenemies probably miss each other. Cue a ‘clash of interests’ storyline as Wout is set up as the rival to Jasper in securing Mathieu’s services, as he tempts the World Champion to go for any stage that has the possibility of being one for the break.

Bonus feature: bottles of Alpecin sprayed over the unsuspecting crowd instead of champagne for every victory. The hair growth of cycling fans in the flatter regions of France increases exponentially.

Van der Poel and Van Aert debate who can eat more fries in 30 seconds

Team: Red Bull-BORA-hansgrohe

The real story: New name, new kit, new goals – this year’s new-look BORA Hansgrohe is going for the win with Primoz Roglič, after a 2023 edition that started well for Jai Hindley, and resulted in some heartfelt footage for the documentary of team owner Ralph Denk enjoying the success of the Aussie. This year, with their new title sponsor and a GC rider on the hunt for the top prize that he dearly craves, the German team will undoubtedly be front and centre in the race, and while in the past they have suffered from ‘too many chiefs’ syndrome (otherwise known as the Movistar trident), to reach for the low-hanging fruit of ‘internal leadership conflict’ would be a mistake as this year there is no mistaking the plan: all in for Rogla, as he attempts to right the many wrongs of the previous few editions. It’s a redemption story in the making.

RED BULL UNCHAINED: In reality, there’s no manufacturing required on this one – Roglič's ‘this is stupid, uh?’ comment about the Netflix show in season 1 suggests that while he may not be in love with the idea of starring in the documentary, his position as the closest to being considered a serious rival for Jonas and Tadej puts him in the driving seat in terms of viewer engagement, particularly in a team that are dedicated to putting on a show. A show which they could well steal, if the unthinkable happened and Roglič really did get his redemption.

Bonus feature: ‘Redbull Unchained’ already sounds like the title of an extreme sports documentary. The team should lean into this and have Primoz Roglič test the boundaries of his notorious bad luck by stopping by a couple of ski jumping training facilities to tell the unsuspecting public about his past athletic exploits (did you know he used to be a ski jumper?) Endless possibilities ensue for puns based on jumping up the GC standings, leaping over the competition, etc.

Team: Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale

The real story: With Ben O’Connor absent, the show runners are going to have to find a new angle to the French team for 2024, following the ups and downs of O'Connor's GC and the fractious relationship between the Perth native and his team managers which became a central point of focus in season 2. They have plenty to be buoyant about, being the second most winning team of 2024 so far, and having the newly crowned road race French champion Paul Lapeira among their ranks, there's plenty to celebrate.

Another potential source of interest could be Sam Bennett. The Irish sprinter has had a mixed run of fortune over the past few seasons and having recently found his form at 4 Jours de Dunkerque. He will be hoping to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Philipsen, Pedersen and Cavendish and give the team a real option of a state win and even a stint in the green jersey. 

DECATHLON UNCHAINED: With French pride at stake on home soil, the producers of the show might feel this is a good year to really lean into the French rivalry aspect, and amp up the team's competition with Groupama-FDJ, which has the potential to be quite well-matched this year. No. With the might of UAE, Visma and Red Bull to contend with, it's time the French joined forces, in the name of both competition, and a little fun (following last year's criticism of Madiot's team drinking beer by the more straight-laced Visma boss Richard Plugge).

I'm thinking a time-trial head-to-head on BMX'es between Bruno Armirail and Stefan Küng, while former and current French champions Valentin Madouas and Paul Lapeira fence with baguettes and Marc Madiot and Vincent Lavenu down pints against the clock.

Once the show runners convince them they are on the same team really, a spontaneous rendition of La Marseillaise breaks out and they agree to work together to defeat the might of the super-teams. It's what Pinot would have wanted.

Team: EF Education-EasyPost

The real story: The show featured EF early in both of the first two seasons, mainly because their Tours went south relatively quickly both years, Stefan Bissegger crashing on the opening day ITT in Denmark in 2022, and Richard Carapaz crashing out on stage 1 in 2023 effectively ending the team's GC hopes.

This year, the team have stated their aim to target stages and it's a great decision - they are a team with stage hunting at their heart and on paper, they could have the best team for pure stage hunting, combining grit and talent in spades.

Newly minted Italian champion Alberto Bettiol, relentless breakaway terrier Ben Healy, stone cold Rui Costa, and Carapaz himself all have a strong chance of a stage win if the circumstances are right, and then there's young debutant Marijn van den Berg who combines punchy finishing with sprint capabilities and is a real dark horse to take the first yellow jersey in Rimini.

EF UNCHAINED: Without the dramas they’ve been subject to over the past two season, EF could really shine this year. But let’s not let that get in the way of some good TV, right? Look no further than the feisty Bettiol to kick things off, in true Italian style, and with an Italian Grand Depart, the new jersey on his shoulders and a stage 1 finish close to his home town, I’m bidding for a Bettiol episode, hey, maybe even a Bettiol show. He is the perfect combination of affable and open when things are going well, and pure Italian passion when they’re not – what could possibly go wrong?

Bonus feature: Ben Healy dyes his hair a different colour every day; rates the relative aerodynamic qualities of each colour shade.

BONUS CONTENT: The Missed Opportunities…

While Netflix have a set group of teams that are signed up for the series, other teams aren’t on board to share the love with a TV crew and that’s totally fair enough – I don’t think I’d much fancy being followed around by TV cameras while I’m trying to complete one of the toughest physical challenges of my career either – but it means that they’re potentially going to miss some absolute gold when it comes to action and drama. So which teams will be bringing the fire, off-camera?

LOTTO-DSTNY UNCHAINED – none of the wildcard teams feature in the series but they’re missing quality content with the Belgian side. Victor Campanaerts is one hilarious individual, and his Instagram reels with roommate Jasper de Buyst are really worth watching. Let alone the fact that he is a prime agitator, breakaway expert and all-around good guy, the team features the new Belgian champion and pretender to the sprint throne Arnaud de Lie, and young all-rounder Maxim van Gils might be in with a chance to upset the odds and win on stage one, and you’ve got yourself a story.

Bonus feature: with no De Buyst on the squad, Victor goes solo, both in the race and as a broadcaster, doing daily pieces to camera while grinding away on his 60-tooth chain ring.

UNO-X UNCHAINED – another wildcard team with the potential to hunt stages like they’re elk in a Norwegian forest, the Vikings are not coming to make up the numbers, they are planning on a full-scale invasion. They will be able to attack on many fronts too, with breakaway riders, sprinters and climbers, and between the likes of Magnus Cort, Jonas Abrahamsen, Tobias Johannessen and Søren Wærenskjold, you've got some seriously clutch riders, all of whom could make waves.

Bonus feature: drinking horns instead of bidons - the latest in marginal gains

LIDL-TREK UNCHAINED – a team with big personalities and an even bigger fanbase, it's a surprise to many that Lidl-Trek aren't involved in the Netflix series. With feisty climber Giulio Ciccone potentially on the hunt for the polka dots a year after successfully winning the KOM, the team have a number of goals, and without Tao Geoghegan Hart who is sadly not well enough to ride, no real stake on GC. Add to the mix power sprinter Mads Pedersen, and there's plenty to be excited about. Though Mads is not normally one to mince his words with the media, so maybe Netflix were just too scared to ask the American team.

Bonus feature: Don't get Mads, get even - a compilation of Pedersen pranks and outtakes of him tearing strips off of random members of the press.

Presenting your new King of the Mountains - Mads Pedersen helps Giulio Ciccone secure polka dots in 2023

ISRAEL-PREMIER TECH UNCHAINED: After his stage win and GC podium at the Critérium du Dauphiné, all eyes will be on Derek Gee as he shifts in perception from affable nearly-man to 'oh, he's actually really good isn't he?!' and the Canadian might find his debut Tour something of a tougher prospect. He needs to get the knives out, find his fire, and show the world who Derek Gee really is! Also Stevie Williams is in with a decent shout of a stage win.

The smiling assassin: Derek Gee just before his appearance on 'When Canadians Go Bad'

All the other teams in a sentence: big calls, hot takes.

ARKEA-B&B HOTELS UNCHAINED: After being passed over by Marc Madiot in 2023 and leaving Groupama-FDJ, Arnaud Démare stuns the cycling world by showing up in his best form and taking the green jersey at the first possible opportunity.

COFIDIS UNCHAINED: Winning two stages in 2023 and banishing 15 years of hurt, Cofidis will be hoping to keep the streak going - Bryan Coquard is the man to do the job. And he will.

INTERMARCHE-WANTY UNCHAINED: A team of breakaway specialists with a couple of sprinters for good measure, the Belgians have a decent outside shot of a stage win if they play their cards right - Goossens, Page, Rex and Zimmermann somehow all escape and team time trial their way to victory.

MOVISTAR UNCHAINED: Oier Lazkano will win the gravel stage. Enris Mas will finish in the top 5 on GC. New Spanish champion Alex Aranburu won't win anything but will be in a breakaway with Wout van Aert that almost makes it.

TEAM DSM-FIRMENICH POST NL UNCHAINED: Romain Bardet wins a mountain stage solo at his final Tour. Oscar Onley doesn't break his collarbone.

TEAM JAYCO-ALULA UNCHAINED: Dark horse for a stage win: Chris Harper. Michael Matthews to come second at least twice. Simon Yates to heckle brother Adam every time he rides past him.

TOTALENERGIES UNCHAINED: Tired of being the French team passed over by the TV crews and desperate for some screentime, Total will line up a series of stunts that they'll unveil on the quiet flat stages, endearing the cycling world to them, before pulling off a surprise late breakaway win through Sandy Dujardin.

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