The Tour is over…

The first rest day of the 2021 Tour de France has arrived with the race for the yellow jersey well and truly over.

History does warn us that we might see a change of winner of this race in the courts in 2025 but that is me being cynical and as of yet, other than being the best rider, there is no reason to accuse Tadej Pogacar of anything.

We are all just burned by the past.

The race has had so many great memories that even if the overall might be done and dusted (barring accident), we are not able to complain.

The first days steep finish saw Julian Alaphillippe soar from the front of a disintegrating peloton to win with ease.

A new father he took the time to add a baby sucking its thumb into his celebration, such was the dominance.

We were all waiting for Mathieu van der Poel to win that stage but a mistimed incident (not that crash the other one that took out Chris Froome) saw him with too much ground to make up.

He put it right on day 2 with the Mur de Bretagne being climbed twice.

It looked like madness on the first time up when MVDP shot clear only to be caught over the summit. But he had it under control having snatched a hand full of bonus seconds which meant that when he went up the climb the second time attacking in virtually the same spot he knew he could pull out enough of a gap to get the jersey from Julian.

As he flew over the line his arm shot skywards in homage to his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor. Multi times runner up in the Tour without ever getting the jersey.

Having sadly died before getting the chance to see Mathieu compete in the Tour, his grandson shed tears of joy and of grief at the end of the stage.

The other big story to come out of week one has been the resurgence of Mark Cavendish.

He had been long since written off and even threatened retirement in a tough to hear interview with Flemish TV at the end of 2020.

Quickstep rescued him from the Bahrain team and in the early season Belgian classics he was working hard and getting his nose into the wind as training.

He came close on a number of occasions before winning four stages of the Tour of Turkey.

He returned to that road captain, domestique role again for a few weeks before winning the final stage of the Tour of Belgium.

The injury to Sam Bennett opened the door for Cav to make another visit to the worlds biggest race and with 2 stage wins (including the symmetary of a win in Chateauroux where he took his maiden victory), he might not be done yet!

The second weekend of the race took us into the Alps and in protest at most of the famous big climbs being missing it produced some weather that even us Brits who are used to damp summers might complain about.

Dylan Theuns showed his Flandrien heritage by battling through the rain to win in Grand Bornand but the action was behind him with Pogacar romping away from everyone else.

After recent grand tours being settled by seconds, he is now minutes ahead of anyone else who could rival him.

And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he did it again yesterday on the road into Tignes.

So the yellow jersey race might be done, but let’s look forward to some exciting stages in the coming days and hopefully some better weather!

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCITime
11 POGAČAR TadejUAE-Team Emirates2534:11:10
214▲12 O’CONNOR BenAG2R Citroën Team2:01
34▲1 URÁN RigobertoEF Education – Nippo5:18
45▲1 VINGEGAARD JonasTeam Jumbo-Visma5:32
56▲1 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers5:33
68▲2 MAS EnricMovistar Team5:47
77 KELDERMAN WilcoBORA – hansgrohe5:58
83▼5 LUTSENKO AlexeyAstana – Premier Tech6:12
912▲3 MARTIN GuillaumeCofidis, Solutions Crédits7:02
109▼1 GAUDU DavidGroupama – FDJ7:22

Tour ’20 – Stages 14&15 – Is Pogacar the man most likely?

With defending champion Egan Bernal definitively falling away from contention, Tadej Pogacar looks like the only man who can deny Primoz Roglic Slovenia’s first Tour de France win.

A twist or irony being that in doing so, he would also become the first Slovenian to take home the yellow jersey.

The best of the rest are currently Rigoberto Uran and Richie Porte and whilst both are talented and Tour proven, they are approaching veteran stage and wont get enough time back to get ahead of the two riders topping GC.

Sunday saw a flat stage into Lyon that had plenty of excitement and it was Sunweb who again challenged existing tactical norms by almost attacking as a team near the end. In footballing language, Marc Hirschi threw a dummy before the real attack came from Soren Kragh Andersen.

He held on to win in the ‘grand manner’ crossing the line alone before being mobbed by team mates. There is growing interest in their British coach Matt Winston and with the poor showing of our “national” team at this Tour de France it seems only a matter of time before the Ineos cheque book gets waved at him.

I am all for innovative and exciting, open racing so long may he continue in that style whichever team car he is sat in.

Sunday saw an unusual stage in that it climbed the Grand Colombier three times from different routes up.

Pic from Procyclingstats.

To be fair they could have found another two or three routes up and many of the favourites would have been struggling.

First Nairo Qunitana slowly dropped off the back before Bernal popped out of the line of riders following the Jumbo train before losing contact and ground rapidly.

The way that Wout Van Aert rode for kilometer after kilometer on the front was spectacular and as the spring opened up they had pinned the other riders to the gutter so hard that they still had one rider left.

Chris Froome told ITV that their display reminded him of Sky in their prime.

But they are due a bad day and Roglic does have previous of making what looks like a simple run in more complex by having a crash or mechanical or getting caught in the wind.

You would think that despite not having a strong team Pogacar will be much more alert to any splits that might occur. At the moment the two of them are inseperable and it will be down to the final time trial on Saturday in the Vosges.

But will Jumbo be confident enough in their leader not to have to put Pogacar further behind if they can?

I wonder…

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.

2015 Tour memories

Unable to sleep I spent the early hours of day light re-watching stage 20 of the 2015 Tour de France on Eurosport.

Not only were Sean Kelly and Carlton Kirby in brilliant form, the race was exciting and the sun was beating down on the peloton as they headed towards the foot of Alp D’Huez.

But this was a Tour with an undertone. There was a feeling of real hatred towards Chris Froome in the yellow jersey. At times as well it spilled over from feelings into actions which is wholly unacceptable, regardless of what nationality you are and what teams or riders you are aligned with.

This was a Tour, and in the Covid age of masks preventing saliva transfer this seems ridiculous, that Froome found himself spat on regularly as he rode towards Paris.

In fact within the last 4km of the Alp on this stage you saw a clearly drunk man in a free gift polka do jersey lurch into the road to empty his sinuses on the passing yellow jersey.

Despite being in a real battle with Nairo Quintana to keep the race lead, Froome still had time to look back over his left shoulder and clock a look at the perpetrator.

Cycling is the most wonderful, beautiful and positive experience. But as with everything there are those who can’t behave and who let themselves down. This will be important to remember going forward as any indiscretions like that in this autumns condensed calendar will see bad publicity and possibly racing cancelled.

We don’t want that.

Is Froome transfer story for real?

No soon had my post which mentioned how I felt there was a bit of a bias against Ineos at Cyclingnews gone live that the website launched a story saying Froome wanted out, and maybe even before the 2020 Tour de France, should that happen.

Interesting stuff.

Reading the comments on the article shows that many share the viewpoint I have that there is an agenda of some sort at play here.

The comments point to the fact that the article is full of “Cyclingnews understands” and “we believe and agent said”. Of course there is the old adage that there is no smoke without fire and you don wonder how all of the leaders will fit at Ineos. Who will get the front seat of the team bus for example (!). But I don’t see Froome going at this stage of the season.

Ineos don’t release riders unless they feel their performances will be going down. SO for me if Froome does pitch up at Bahrain before any Tour de France sets off, I wouldn’t be betting my last pound on him doing much.

My bikeradar.com Tour de France predictions…

Overall victory: Richie Porte

Points victory: Peter Sagan

Breakaway points victory (see what I did there?): Thomas de Gendt

Best overall under 25: Romain Bardet

Team classification: Movistar

Rider with most number of stage wins: Marcel Kittel

Team with most number of stage wins: Quick Step Floors

Most unlikely stage winner: Albert Timmer

Most attacking rider: Thomas Voeckler

Biggest disappointment: Chris Froomes defence

First of the following riders to DNS or DNF: Fabio Aru