Tour ’20 – Stages 5&6 – The race takes a rest.

…and breathe.

After all of the drama and controversy in getting the 2020 Tour de France up and running, its been a case of the event and its entourage settling down over the last couple of stages.

Stage 5 saw no breakaway for the first time I can remember in a while and whilst the big teams with GC riders waited for a mistral to blow and create some echeleons, it was more of a headwind and nothing happened (apart from in the referees caravan).

Wout Van Aert added bunch sprinter to cyclo cross star, mountain domestique and classics winner to his CV with a well timed finish.

However despite crossing the line en masse the yellow jersey was awarded to Adam Yates following an illegal bottle for Julian Alaphillippe in the last 20kms.

The rules are clear about feeding inside the races final. It is there for safety reasons as it’s the part of the race that the bunch is moving most rapidly. So whilst its harsh that a mechanic parking on the wrong side of the banner can result in a 20 second penalty for the rider, I agree with the decision and the Frenchman just has to suck it up and use it as fuel for the coming stages.

Stage 6 was brilliant for fans of cycling novel “The Rider” by Tim Krabbe.

The Rider

The book is biographical and Krabbe charts his performance in a bike race describing in great detail the tactics, fatigue and pain of trying to win in the Cervennes mountains.

There was a high quality breakaway today and for a couple of hours I was really excited at the thought of Greg Van Avermaet getting another spell in the yellow jersey. But whilst the favourites never really got to attacking one another they did enough to get the break back to a reasonable distance. Shame!

Alexey Lutsenko was the most patient and strongest in the group attacking and going clear on one of the steps up to the finish at Mont Aigoual. The favourites were shadow boxing behind with only Alaphillippe sprinting clear for one second of advantage.

So a sleepy couple of days on the road in the main with give or take a few seconds, not too much to seperate the favourites.

 

 

Tour ’20 – Stages 3 & 4 – Cousin evokes memories of old

Jerome Cousin of Total/Direct Energie was keen to push on with the stage 3 breakaway to Sisteron. The two other members of the move were more interested in accumilating KOM points and then not contributing so with around 130km to go Cousin pushed on.

His wonderful curly mullet and posh Scott specs make him look every inch the 1980’s retro pro as his long lone breakaway brought back memories of a couple of rides of that era.

Most notably the 1989 breakaway in the first week by Joel Pellier of the BH team. He managed to go the distance and was greeted by his family at the finish. They’d never seen him race as he had a disabled brother who needed constant care and this was the first opportunity for someone else to help out with that and allow his parents to watch the Tour live. It was one of the great stories of any Tour.

Back to 2020 and Cousin managed to stretch his advantage to 4 minutes but the peloton were never feeling generous enough to give him any more of an advantage. Shame.

There were times in his ride where he looked a bit bored riding puppy paws through the lovely scenery. I think he knew from quite a long way out that he would be caught and that didn’t really help his morale.

The catch came in time for Caleb Ewan to fly through the sprinters and take an easy win. It was a great finish to watch from the over head camera and he zig zagged through the group to beat Sam Bennett who left us in no doubt how upset he was by his reaction in crossing the line.

Lot’s had been written about stage 4 and the finish at Orcieres-Merlette. Luis Ocana and Steven Rooks are pretty decent names for a town to have on its palmares of stage winners and in Primoz Roglic 2020 added to that list.

The stage itself wasn’t a classic despite friend of Fendrien Krists Nielands being away until the final climb.

For a mountain stage there were a lot of riders in the group coming into the last 2km. I wonder if this is down to the lack of racing and everyone being at a mostly similar level perhaps?

Jumbo were taking no prisoners and the speed they went into the latter metres of the stage was more than sufficient to deter any attacks. Adam Yates admitted as much in his post race interview.

Sepp Kuss provided the perfect platform for Roglic to outsprint the other favourites and make a real statement of intent for the remainder of the race.

Tour ’20 – Stages 1 & 2 – From high farce to sublime

After all of the issues with Covid-19 and the delay in starting the race, the last thing the fledgling Tour de France of 2020 needed was storms on the tricky descents on the opening stage.

It made the stage 1 a bit of a joke with the majority of GC teams not wanting to race. Conversely, a number of opportunists or medium mountain stage experts wanted to take one of the few opportunities to demonstrate their skill set in this years event.

You had the likes of Pavel Sivakov and George Bennett, key riders for their leader in the coming weeks, on the deck and injured. Miguel Angel Lopez, whose Astana team were one of the few who wanted to go for it in the rain, managed to face plant into a road sign and that was enough to see a general truce until the 20km to go marker.

There was still time for a crash under the 3km banner and that took down French star Thibault Pinot. His morale has always been classed as fragile in the media and it was sad to see him showing his frustration like a three year old in Toys-r-us.

One bright spot however was the win for Alexander Kristoff. Now classed as a veteran, the Norweigan produced a perfectly timed run for line, shutting out all of the madness unfolding behind him to get the yellow jersey.

The organisers will have been delighted to see the warm and sunny conditions for day 2 and they were rewarded with a much better stage as a result.

The main breakaway of the day duked it out for the King of the Mountains points splitting and reforming on the scenic terrain around Nice. Peter Sagan also made an appearance but still seems to be a little way short of his best. There was no smiling and waving when he got dropped. He just carried on waiting to get caught by the chasers.

The famous Col D’Eze was the place that the stage hunters has targetted as key to getting to the front on. It was a bit of a strange few KMs on the run in with Jumbo. who’d been on the front all day, almost seeming to want to keep the break clear to avoid chaos on the climb.

This tactic failed and the first attack that stuck was Julian Alaphillippe who shot out of the pack with Marc Hirshi of Sunweb sticking to his back wheel like glue.

When it became clear that this pair were going to get away, Adam Yates zoomed across from the peloton and the trio remained clear to contest the finish. They got to the final few hundred metres before the messing about started.

It was a good job they did wait until late on to open the sprint as they were almost closed down by a group behind hurtling towards the line.

Alaphillippe would have been thinking about his recent defeat to Wout Van Aert at Milan-San Remo on a similar finish and opened the sprint first this time holding off a late run from Hirschi.

After the farce of day 1, the emotion of the win and yellow jersey for the Frenchman was really important for the race. Having lost his Father during lockdown the first iconic image of this years Tour was Alaphillippe pointing skywards to his Dad and shouting “I did it Dad”.

Like many I am sure, I shed a tear.

Tour preview – memories of the 1980’s

The strange timing of the Tour de France this year means that in England the first week of the race coincides with the return of children into schools (covid permitting). 

Teenage me would have been horrified at this thought having dedicated half of the 6 week holidays from the late 80’s onwards enjoying the big race on television before recreating the stages on the roads of Huntingdonshire the next day.

The 1987 race is the first one I remember following with any degree of genuine interest. 1988 was the first where I recorded each day’s channel 4 highlights and watched and re-watched until the VHS was worn. This was somewhere around the middle of that November.

The voices of Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett were the sound of summer in our house evolving into the Eurosport team as the years rolled on. David Duffield took over that mantle with his insightful appraisal of whatever local area the race was and its appropriate local produce. 

Having not even left England let alone visited France back in 1987, the Tour seemed to be taking place in a wonderful far off land with sunflowers and high mountains. It was broadcast in grainy low res adding to the air of mystique and drama. 

Steven Rooks of Holland was my first real favourite rider and his win at Alpe D’Huez in 1988 started my obsession with that particular stretch of road. His style on the bike was so neat and efficient that I always aspired to look at one with my bike like Rooks did. I also wanted a mullet but my Mum said no.

As I started riding and racing myself that desire to tweak and adjust my position to look like a pro cyclist meant my Falcon team Banana frame was never far away from an allen key in the garage when not out of the road. 

Despite Jean Paul Van Poppel being the dominant sprinter of those late 80’s Tours, Soren Lilholt and Dag Otto Lauritzen came into my thinking as riders to aspire to. That rouleurs desire to hang off the front of the peloton in the last few KMs of a Tour stage really appealed to me as a rider from the fens. 

I even had the mirrored Bolle shades like Lauritzen and the pony tail like Lilholt which made me think I looked pro. The people of my home village of Yaxley may have thought otherwise. 

The final tour of the eighties was the best in the race’s history and to this day whenever people ask me which celebrity or famous historical person I would most like to have a drink with I answer Greg LeMond! 

As much as it was trendy to watch the Australian soap opera Neighbours at that time, in terms of daily drama the ‘89 Tour was way beyond anything Joe Mangel and Paul Robinson could produce. 

First it was LeMond in the yellow jersey, then it was Fignon, then LeMond again, then Fignon… it looked like the Frenchman had got the jersey back for good before his last day collapse in the Paris time-trial.

It was a one in a million race and the memories I have of it are as fresh as the day that Tour finished. Only Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour in 2012 has come anywhere close to equalling that feeling. 

Let’s see what the 2020 race has in store.

Britain to be under-represented at the Tour de France as Ineos duo stay home

The cycling, in fact the whole sports news in the UK today is dominated by Team Ineos’ leaving out 5 Tour de France’s worth of yellow jersey’s at home for this years race.

Chris Froome was (maybe unsurprisingly given he is off to Israel/Start up Nation) the headline name left out of the squad with 2018 winner Geraint Thomas shocked to miss out.

Froome has been part of transfer negotiations all season and at one point there was even talk of him heading to his new team in time to lead them in the race. That would have been a really good option with I/SIN losing Dan Martin last week to a crash in the Dauphine.

However he stayed with the team he joined from Barloworld with Thomas and has been rewarded for his loyalty by being cut. Let’s hope he has a GCN Racepass…

To be fair to Froome he has taken it graciously and accepted an autumn Vuelta as his last outing in the Ineos colours.

Thomas on the other hand was more of a surprise. He had worked well in tandem with Egan Bernal last summer and seemed to be the most ok with sharing team leadership. However the interview he did on TV after the penultimate stage of the Dauphine saw him admit to being 1kg over weight and that he needed to shift it.

He gets to ride the Giro as compensation.

You wonder whether this is a move to keep Bernal happy or whether the performance of the climbing unit in the last couple of stage races has been that poor, Sir Dave Brailsford was moved to shake things up.

Jumbo/Visma have dominated Ineos this season so far and something needs to change for that not to be the case around ‘Le hexagon’ in the next few weeks.

Thomas will have received a boost to his Giro ambitions with reigning pink jersey Richard Carapaz one of the riders called up to help Bernal in the Tour.

Is this the best or craziest move this team has ever made?

Can’t wait to find out.

More questions than answers from smaller tours

As we hurtle full gas towards the Tour de France there have been a number of shorter one week races going on to hone the skills of the multi day rider.

We have seen Primoz Roglic in the Tour de L’Ain and Dauphine (ahead of the final stage!) and Remco Evenepoel in the Tour of Poland. But some if not all of that good work could have been undone by crashes leaving us no further on in terms of indicators of form.

Roglic was great in the northern half of France and but for a spill had seen off Ineos in the Dauhpine. So much so that Chris Froome was sitting up on the climbs, Geraint Thomas was complaining about his weight and Egan Bernal had a back injury that saw him fail to start the last stage.

It could well have been Jumbo’s race with Roglic but he was struggling after a crash and also failed to complete the Dauhpine.

This left the door open for Thibault Pinot to win the race with him leading into the last stage and having a ‘combine’ of the major French contenders trying to keep him at the head of the GC.

However, he couldn’t watch the whole peloton and Dani Martinez of EF Education First/Cannondale snuck off up the road with Tadej Pogacar and held on to win the race. He might have made a few pundits top 10, but I don’t remember anyone tipping Martinez to win the race so this was a real upset.

As well as losing Roglic, Jumbo saw Steven Kruijswijk hit the deck and abandon. So far from seeing off Ineos ahead of the Tour de France and stamping their authority, there are now questions about the teams fitness.

There will also be questions over mentality after the bad crash in the Tour of Poland which was caused by Dylan Groenewegen and left Fabio Jakobsen with every bone in his face broken and in an induced coma.

Whilst the team have been present in most races since, there could be a reaction coming.

The accident in Poland highlighted the danger in the sport and it was in the Il Lombardia classic at the weekend that the Remco Evenepoel run of wins came to an end after he overshot a corner before vanishing over a bridge.

He is young enough to come back physically but will this accident have an effect on his mental ability to push downhill and in sprints?

Only time will tell.

Stay tuned to the blog for more ahead of the Tour de France.

Will Sivakov be the man to end the home nations Tour de France drought?

I had barely started riding and following racing when a Frenchman last won the Tour de France. The world was a different place full of cold war and space shuttles.

A-ha were the pop band of choice and Bernard Hinaut was the yellow jersey.

At that point it would have been madness to suggest that we’d be heading to a quarter of the way into the next century before they won the big one again. It’s at this point I have to mention Andy Murray at WImbledon. Not because I have any great interest in tennis, it’s just the done thing.

Now depsite a number of false dawns through Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot and erm…. Christophe Moreau and Ronan Pensec it could be time for France.

But will it be David Gaudu or Pierre LaTour who gets the hero status and free Pelforth in every bar for life?

Well actually I think not. My view is that it will be the Russian rider on Ineos, Pavel Sivakov who is the man most likely.

Let me explain. Sir Dave Brailsford has long been quoted as saying that once he won the Tour with British riders that getting a French winner over the line was his next ambition.

The team has been linked with a number of French riders in the past including Pinot but Sivakov is clearly an amazing prospect who despite riding for Russia also has a French passport and could well be riding Le Tour for the Tricolore in coming years. He rides for Brailsfords team.

Would he be a genuine winner of the race for the home nation shoud the 2021 or 2022 yellow jersey come home with him? My feeling would be that the French will be so pleased to see their flag raised above the finishing podium that his origins will be forgiven.

I cant wait to see how it plays out and whether he can do it.

Van Aert a class apart as season “commences”

Wout Van Aert has proved to be the main man in one day racing so far in this recommenced 2020 season.

The Dutchman dispatched the remnants of a classy group in Strade Bianche last weekend before playing the perfect game of chicken with Julian Alaphillippe on the way into San Remo to win the seasons first monument.

With all eyes on his major rival Mathieu Van der Poel, the Jumbo man kept his cool on two blisteringly hot Saturday afternoons in Italy and delivered two wins.

In Strade he used his natural cyclo cross skills to out pace his rivals on an down then up sector on the way back into Siena before holding on in the run in despite the chasers getting within 10 seconds of his back wheel at one point.

There was devastation on the white roads with many minutes separating the top 10.

https://www.procyclingstats.com/widgets/result.php?h=90e0446ab8297c077564e27a892708ed133a87bd

Last Saturday though it was all about the ability to keep cool in the final KM when the chasing bunch looked like getting back to Alaphillippe and Van Aert after the French rider stopped collaborating in the last 1.5km.

They gave the reduced bunch behind a real chance of catching them before the man from Deceuninck blinked first and went for the line and the chance of a back to back win.

Van Aert didn’t panic though and held on by just over half a wheel to win.

https://www.procyclingstats.com/widgets/result.php?h=b503f5897eb7707dd02a492270db33b8785a8161

There has been plenty of Jumbo/Visma domination elsewhere in the pre Tour de France stage racing and we will cover than in an upcoming post.

In the meantime enjoy the sun and the return of racing 🙂 .

James