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.

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.