Featured image courtesy of Tim de Waele/Getty Images
With the first serious mountain stages now behind us, the General Classification (GC) battle continues to unravel, with Primoz Roglič in control in front of an aggressive Tadej Pogacar knocking at the yellow jersey’s door. Let’s examine the main events from the second week of La Grande Boucle.
A Two-Horse Race?Embed from Getty Images
It’s been rare in the past few editions of the Tour to have more than one rider still capable of taking the overall victory at this stage of the race; we’ve been used to Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas holding a commanding lead well before the second rest day.
But here we have a fascinating scenario unfolding between Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglič and the ever-aggressive Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates
Few predicted Pogacar to challenge for the overall win before the race, but the youngster will be evermore confident after taking a second mountain stage win on stage 15, where he used his fast finishing kick to overcome Roglič once again.
Roglič still leads, albeit by a slender 40 seconds. He is yet to drop Pogacar in the mountains, something he will want to rectify on stage 17’s summit finish on the Col de la Loze. Otherwise, he will have to count on his noted time-trialling skills, although his defeat at the hands of Pogacar at the Slovenian national time trial championships will surely worry him.
He will be encouraged by Pogacar’s lack of a strong team however, he only has David de la Cruz and Jan Polanc for support in the mountains, and has been frequently isolated. Not that this has proved detrimental in any way yet…
Fini for Bernal
Egan Bernal’s attempt to defend his Tour de France title came to a sudden end on stage 15, losing over seven minutes after he was dropped 13km from the end of the ascent of the Colombier. He now lies a distant 13th in the GC.
There were several doubts over Bernal’s form coming into the Tour due to his abandonment from the Criterium du Dauphiné with a back injury.
Bernal refused to use this as an excuse however, conceding that he simply ‘did not have the legs’ in a post-stage interview with ITV, and conceding that other riders were simply stronger.Embed from Getty Images
A simple ‘jour sans’ seems an odd reason however, he has hardly looked his best in any of the mountain stages. He just barely held on in the first week, and lost over 30 seconds to Roglič and Pogacar on stage 13’s steep final ascent to Puy Mary.
The Ineos Grenadiers will be scratching their heads as to why their prime contender could have failed so dramatically, given how famous the team are for never putting a foot wrong at the Tour.
Is there an illness within the team, or have they been hampered by the Coronavirus lockdown restrictions, disrupting normal training and racing regimes? Nonetheless, such a huge time loss is surely indicative of a deep-rooted issue.
Jumbo-Visma Dominate as Ineos Grenadiers Crumble
Any hopes that the days of one team controlling entire mountain stages from the front were quickly dashed this week, with the strength of Jumbo-Visma easily neutralising attacks and putting Roglič in a prime position whenever needed.
Nowhere else was this more evident than on the Grand Colombier on stage 15. The Dutch outfit began the 17.4km test with six riders, far outnumbering any other team.
Attacking from the group of favourites proved impossible due to the pace set, indeed just one rider attempted to in the form of Adam Yates, who was swiftly reeled back in.Embed from Getty Images
Worth noting though is that the time gaps were not huge; it was customary for Team Sky in their heyday to simply drop every other rival and leave Froome to attack. Jumbo-Visma were more akin to a sprinter’s lead-out train, setting up Roglič for his customary late sprint to the line (although again he could not overcome Pogacar).
The Ineos Grenadiers were left for dust, with the usually-reliable Dylan Van Baarle and Andrey Amador dropped very early on, quickly joined by Pavel Sivakov and Richard Carapaz. Bernal was left with just Jonathan Castroviejo and Michal Kwiatkowski to painfully shepherd him to the finish.
This Tour has proved a disaster for the British squad, and serious questions will be asked of their preparations for the race, given how high the level of expectation is for them the Tour, and rightly so.
Questions will also be asked of their team selection: Geraint Thomas currently lies third overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, and likely would have proved far more reliable than much of the Tour squad.
One must also ask whether it is time to completely revamp the Ineos Tour de France team; a roster with an in-form Ivan Sosa, Eddie Dunbar, Tao Geoghegan-Hart and Jhonatan Narvaez would surely be more than capable of supporting Bernal.
Sam Bennett Tightens Hold on Green.Embed from Getty Images
Finally, it looks like the green jersey could change hands this year, after a run of poor form has left Peter Sagan unable to take a decisive lead in the Points Classification, something he has managed with ease since 2012 (barring his disqualification in 2017).
On stage 10, Bennett became just the sixth Irishman to win a Tour de France stage, beating Caleb Ewan and Sagan. With it, he reclaimed the green jersey, and was able to strengthen his lead on stage 11 with a second-place finish. Unfortunately this was in controversial circumstances; Peter Sagan had himself finished second but was relegated for dangerous sprinting. Otherwise, he would have been in touching distance of green.
He currently trails Bennett by 45 points, this despite a concerted effort by Bora-Hansgrohe on stage 14 to drop Bennett and take 15 points in the intermediate sprint.
Providing Bennett does not fall foul of time cuts in the mountain stages, he is in a fantastic place to take green to Paris, with another two flat stages. The remaining intermediate sprints are also early enough in the hillier stages that he should be able to contest them without being dropped beforehand.
A Close-Knit Battle for the Podium.
It seems unlikely that anyone can knock Roglič and Pogacar from the top two positions, but there are a whole host of riders in touching distance of the podium.
Third place is currently held by EF Education-First’s Colombian Rigoberto Uran, who looks set to produce his best performance in a Grand Tour since finishing second in the 2017 Tour. He can count on a strong time-trial to overcome his nearest rivals on stage 20.
Trek-Segafredo’s Richie Porte seems the best of the rest, lying in sixth place. However, he will have gained confidence after finishing third on stage 15, just five seconds behind Roglič and Pogacar. He too can produce a decent time-trial when it counts, especially an uphill one.Embed from Getty Images
Elsewhere, Astana’s Miguel Ángel Lopez has quietly ridden into fourth place, just 11 seconds off the podium in his first Tour. Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates lies a further 10 seconds back. Both riders will be hoping they can take time back before stage 20.
Bahrain-McLaren’s Mikel Landa will be rueing his time loss in the crosswinds on stage seven, had he not lost over a minute that day he would be currently lying in third place. It will be a huge ask to take that much time back with the opportunities remaining.
Much of the top-ten are closely matched in terms of climbing ability, and thus it is likely the battle for the podium will come down to Le Planche des Belles Filles on Saturday.