Week 3 – Sleepy final week to the Tour

The final week of the Tour was a total non-event in terms of the general classification leaving many to wonder if the course wasn’t quite balanced enough to promote attacking riding.

Although to be fair when there was a summit finish it was generally either won by Tadej Pogacar or he gained time on his increasingly hapless looking rivals.

If it hadn’t been for Ben O’Connor and Jonas Vingegaard emerging from the shadows and taking the race on we would have been subjected to less action.

Pogacar was so far ahead after the final mountains that he and his team were able to let the latter stages play out with chaos on the road and breakaways ruling the roost.

Ineos Grenadiers had such a disaster with the fading of Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte that Richard Carapaz was their only hope.

Despite a couple of attacks he never once looked like dropping the other favourites.

His team also reverted to type after promising enterprising and attacking riding. They formed a train on the climbs and as mentioned in last weeks post, pretty much armchaired the yellow jersey to within a few kms of the finish on key stages.

I have no idea why they chose to ride in that way. Defensive and stifling they should have left more riders from lower down the top 10 to challenge in the way that Guillaume Martin did.

But they knew that if he hung on Carapaz was likely to get on to the podium and for Ineos that looked enough.

Contrast that with Jumbo/Visma who lost Primoz Roglic at the same time as Thomas faltered. They made sure that Vingegaard became a loose cannon, especially on the Mont Ventoux stage. The second prong to their fork was Wout Van Aert who became a stage hunter in the Sean Kelly, Peter Sagan mould.

Their tour will be a success, Ineos a failure.

I am not sure that the management of Jumbo is such that they showed great agility in adapating their planning. I put it down to the riders being strong on the road and mentality tough.

Despite getting boxed in by the Eddy Merckx mafia of Belgians in Paris (!), Mark Cavendish and Quickstep will be looking at this Tour as a real successs. He equalled the record and if thats as far as it goes then I am sure he will still be happy.

Julian Alaphillippe got his stage win and Cav the green jersey. Job done.

The main blot of the week 3 landscape was the police raid of Bahrain Victorious. This was the culmination of rumours since Rod Ellingworth left the team suddenly and they started winning.

Gino Mader and Mark Padun came from nowhere to win important races before the Tour and during this race Matej Mohoric and Dylan Theuns got wins (although neither was too surprising).

Foul seemed to be being cried over the sudden emergence of Sonny Colbrelli as a mountain climber, which was a little uncomfortable to watch at times.

But until there are charges from the investigation, and that goes for all stage and classification winners, not just Colbrelli, we will take the race and its outcomes at face value.

The good news for those of us who are down in the dumps this week with the race over is that the Tour of Wallonia starts today !

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCIPntTime
11 POGAČAR TadejUAE-Team Emirates100050082:56:36
22 VINGEGAARD JonasTeam Jumbo-Visma8003805:20
33 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers6753407:03
44 O’CONNOR BenAG2R Citroën Team57530010:02
55 KELDERMAN WilcoBORA – hansgrohe47528010:13
66 MAS EnricMovistar Team40026011:43
77 LUTSENKO AlexeyAstana – Premier Tech32524012:23
88 MARTIN GuillaumeCofidis, Solutions Crédits27522015:33
99 BILBAO PelloBahrain – Victorious22521016:04
1010 URÁN RigobertoEF Education – Nippo17520018:34

Tour ’20 – Stages 16&17 – Kamna fulfills the promise whilst Superman flies

After a quiet few days at the start of last week, the Tour de France has been really exciting at the start of this culminating in yesterdays stage finish at the top of a new purpose built cycleway in the sky.

The two alpine stages have been going over new ground and exploring, whilst retaining the tradition of scenary and toughness that makes them the best part of the race (for me at least).

The first of the most recent two stages saw Egan Bernal dropped again before abandoning and Jumbo taking the opportunity to let breakaways go.

In fact the Tour de France 2020 has become the year of the lone winner with the likes of Marc Hirschi, Soren Kragh Andersen, Lennard Kamna and now Miguel Angel Lopez.

Kamna was part of a stage 16 breakaway that included Richard Caparaz and Julian Alaphillippe before he gave the Ecuadorian a fake suffer face and then attacked him.

Villard de Lans will always be about 1989 and Laurent Fignon for me so it was a real trip down memory lane for the race to finish their again.

Kamna was a worthy winner to honour that history pulling away on downhill, flatlands and climbs to make sure he won.

Carapaz and Alaphillippe looked to get over the disappointment by being in the next days breakaway on stage 17 only to be caught by the GC battle.

Meribel put on its finest display for the race arriving and as the Bahrain led peloton sped through the town to get tot the new finish at Col de la Loze it felt like we had the real race back again. For a few minutes there were cheering fans and despite their masks it was a brief moment where covid wasn’t on my mind.

The new bike path looked amazing despite its fluctuating gradient and it had the desired effect on breaking up the GC leaders including Bahrains leader Mikel Landa meaning all their work was not rewarded.

‘Superman’ Lopez got away and behind him the likes of Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran started to fade.

Then it was the leaders turn with Primoz Roglic putting some daylight between him and Tadej Pogacar as the road got over 20% in steepness.

However Pogacar wasn’t gone for good and he battled back to limit his losses to 15 seconds meaning he is 57 down now against the yellow jersey.

This race is most definitely not done and I am enjoying every minute of it. Let’s see what today brings.

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…

Tour ’20 – Stages 7,8 & 9 – Heartbreak for Hirschi as Roglic takes charge

After a sleepy middle to the first week, the Tour de France exploded in the cross winds on Friday with Bora driving the race forward to get Peter Sagan back into the green jersey.

Their plan worked so well however that they had to keep rolling and as more wind ripped into the reduced peloton late on Tadej Pogacar and Richie Porte were distanced from the front group.

It is exactly the sort of stage that every tour needs to make it a classic. There was racing from over 100km out which always makes the favourites nervous.

In the main they all dealt with it really well and despite missing out on the mid stage sprint and the finish, Sagan’s ambush took the green jersey back from Sam Bennett.

Wout van Aert continued to show that he has overtaken Mathieu van der Poel as the man from ‘cross most likely to dominate world cycling with his second stage win ahead of a monster weekend of domestique duties in the mountains.

Saturdays stage was riddled with drama and had a French winner. Something that is always welcome on a weekend mountain stage.

Nans Peters soloed away from the breakaway to prove his Giro stage win was no fluke. He really enjoyed his moment as he was riding up the finishing straight. But the drama was going on behind him.

Pogacar was clearly angry about losing time in the cross winds the previous day and set about getting it back with a series of brutal attacks. He managed to get his deficit back to under one minute and you have to say he looks a good bet to win the race.

Yesterday was even more dramatic with Marc Hirschi out front alone for most of the day before being caught in the last 2km. He still found the energy to open up the sprint and was only just pipped on the line by Pogacar and then Roglic.

It was heartbreaking to see the tears in his eyes as he stood on the podium as the days most agressive rider.

Behind Pogacar and Roglic there was devastation with Adam Yates losing the jersey and the touted French contenders, Julian Alaphillippe and Thibaut Pinot losing all hope.

Both of the home based riders lost big chunks of time both days.

But there remains hope for the host nation with Guillaume Martin of Cofidis still in the podium places and a resurgence for Romain Bardet who is quietly getting better day by day.

So Roglic is in yellow as we head into the rest day on the Atlantic coast, but Pogacar is closing fast and if he can avoid being in the wrong echelon is going to be the winner (there I said it!!).

 

2020 season getting closer…

Even though the end of 2019 doesn’t feel that long ago and the cyclo cross season has been keeping us entertained, despite Mathieu Van der Poel dominating, its now time for the road season to restart with racing in Australia and in the next few weeks Argentina and Columbia.

The Tour Down Under is hurtling upon us with the Australian Nationals now out of the way and the racing starting in 2 days with the Ladies and on the 21st with the men.

I have been quick to criticise the Tour on previous blogs and podcasts feeling its a bit too synthetic and trying too hard.

I am no Richie Porte fan either but you have to say that his brilliant record on the races queen stage to Willunga Hill will be reason enough to pay some interest.

Maybe its my old age but I am starting to warm to the TDU as I have the Tour de Yorkshire. On the dark winters nights there is nothing better than watching some sunshine and bike racing.

It will also give those of us in the Northern hemisphere time to reflect on the terrible tragedy unfolding down under through the bush fires.

I can hardly wait to get going!