Featured image courtesy of Tim de Waele/Getty Images
With the first nine stages of the 107th Tour de France now complete and the race starting to take shape, let’s look at the key moments and stories from the first week.
A quiet start leads into an explosive weekend.Embed from Getty Images
Let’s be honest, you didn’t miss much if you didn’t watch the first six stages. They were the typical first-week affair, with a mixture of flat and medium-mountain stages.
The first stage was notable for all the wrong reasons: it’s hard to name a rider who didn’t crash on the treacherous roads around Nice, so much so that the riders took it upon themselves to neutralise descents.
Besides an emotional stage win for Julian Alaphilippe on stage 2, there was little in terms of excitement. Quite the opposite in fact, stage five was so dull even a breakaway did not form, and only the most dedicated cycling fan would have dared watched anything more than the final ten kilometres.Embed from Getty Images
The hillier stages did not provide much in terms of GC action: Roglič won stage four but couldn’t drop any other riders, and the favourites all finished together on stage six. Stage seven looked like another inconsequential sprint stage, until Bora-Hansgrohe exploded into life in crosswinds with over 100km to go, decimating most sprinter’s chances and causing the likes of Tadej Pogacar, Mikel Landa, and Richie Porte to lose over a minute.
In recent Tours, we’re used to seeing the GC favourites still very close on time into the second week, but stages eight and nine provided an immediate shake-up of the standings…
The GC battle begins to take shape…
At the end of stage nine, there are still a large number of riders capable of challenging for the overall win. Pre-race favourite Primož Roglič tops the standings with a 21-second advantage over last year’s winner Egan Bernal. It’s worth pointing out that Roglič’s lead is based purely on time bonuses: he is yet to actually gap Bernal, or Guillaume Martin of Cofidis, despite his uphill victory into Orcieres-Melette which was aided by his strong sprint.
Bernal himself has not looked particularly strong in comparison; despite not losing time to Roglič outside of bonuses, he looked ragged on the Col de Peyresourde on stage eight. He displayed much better form on stage nine however, and attacked the group of Roglič, Mikel Landa, and eventual stage-winner Tadej Pogacar on the Col de Marie Blanque, albeit with no time gain.Embed from Getty Images
Behind Bernal and Roglič, Martin is proving to be somewhat of a revelation so far. He lies just 28 seconds from the lead, and is France’s best hope of a podium finish.
Nairo Quintana is showing signs that his former self is back; he lies in fifth but did miss the first group of GC riders on stage nine. Landa recovered some of the time he lost in stage seven’s crosswinds, and could well climb to a top-five finish should he be able to match his climbing ability on stage nine.
Pogacar will be cursing his luck on Friday; if he had not been dropped in the echelons he could be knocking on the door of the yellow jersey. He’s been the most aggressive of the GC contenders, which will worry Roglič and Bernal.
…With some notable casualties.
Another Grand Tour, and another jour sans from Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot. Viewers faced the familiar sight of the French hopeful being slowly shepherded up the climbs on stage eight by most of his teammates, as Pinot is still suffering from a back injury from stage one. His third place in the 2014 Tour remains his only podium in a Grand Tour. He has since hinted that he will refocus his career, presumably focusing on stage wins as opposed to GC bids.Embed from Getty Images
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann lost over four minutes on stage nine, last year’s fourth-place finisher is clearly still feeling the effects of crashing out of the Criterium du Dauphiné last month, in a blow to the German team who had placed more focus on a GC bid this year.
EF Education First’s Sergio Higuita won the Dauphiné, but seems well off the pace here, being over six minutes down having been frequently dropped on climbs.
Any hopes that Movistar’s ‘Trident’ strategy would finally pay off have also been dashed. Spaniard Marc Soler has been effectively invisible, and lies way down in 35th place. Compatriot Enric Mas has snuck into 12th place, ‘snuck’ being the keyword here as he has mainly followed wheels as opposed to making any attacks. The same goes for veteran Alejandro Valverde, who lies in 17th place.Embed from Getty Images
They do now lead the Team Classification, which once again looks like it could merely be a consolation prize for Movistar, who have had a turbulent Tour, and 2020 season.
The most open green jersey battle for years?
Coming into the Tour, Peter Sagan was, as usual, a shoe-in to win his eighth green jersey in the Points Classification. After stage nine he is leading, but his advantage is a mere seven points ahead of Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Sam Bennett, who held the jersey for stages five and six.Embed from Getty Images
Behind him is double stage-winner Wout Van Aert on 111. Sagan can usually count on several stage wins and numerous top-five placings in sprint stages to amass points, but this Tour he has been sub-par. He has failed to finish a stage higher than fourth place.
There are another five stages likely to suit the pure sprinters, which makes Bennett a very strong candidate to challenge Sagan. Van Aert could also take the jersey; unlike the pure sprinters he can cope on all types of terrain and thus could gain points on hillier stages when other riders may be dropped.
Jumbo-Visma vs. Ineos Grenadiers.
It’s round one to Jumbo-Visma in the battle with defending champions Ineos Grenadiers. The Dutch outfit have taken a leaf out of the British squad’s book from past Tours, controlling the race from the front on most stages, outnumbering every other team even deep into the high mountains.
However, for all their strength, it hasn’t made much difference to the General Classification. Roglič’s lead is narrow, and there are still plenty of riders in contention. Their original three-leader strategy has now crumbled to one leader. Tom Dumoulin did not have the legs to finish with the other GC contenders on either stage eight or nine, losing enough time to end a GC bid.Embed from Getty Images
Sep Kuss and George Bennett also took comparatively shorter turns on the front than expected, on stages eight and nine respectively. Jumbo have burned their domestiques with little to show, whilst Ineos have quietly been following the wheels doing little work.
On previous Tours, they [Sky/Ineos] have let some domestiques (usually Wout Poels) take it easy early on and then explode into life in the third week. It seems Andrey Amador and Pavel Sivakov are fulfilling this role. Have Jumbo-Visma played their cards too soon?