Giro 103 – Five contenders for pink

Featured image courtesy of RCS Sport

Rescheduled for October after coronavirus disrupted the season, it is quite bizarre to see the Giro d’Italia take place after the Tour de France. It is something we’re getting used to. The Vuelta will clash as will the Spring Classics which for 2020 will be remembered as the Autumn classics instead. The 103rd Giro may not possess the biggest names in cycling compared to the Tour and it may not live up to the dramatic scenes we saw just two weeks ago.

This is a strange year for a whole range of reasons. A Tour de France before the Giro is one thing but the Tour of Italy taking place in October will be one for the ages. Snow capped mountains in May are the normal images we’re accustomed to, Italy in October, that’s something new for cycling fans.

Italy has been through a lot because of the virus, the first European country that made the rest of Europe sit up and take notice that this virus isn’t a joke. The Giro cancelled was the biggest sucker punch but thankfully pride is restored for a race that shows off the best Italian scenery from island to coast, Apennines to Tuscany and Dolomites to cities.

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A quick note on the route before a look at the contenders for the famous maglia rosa. The route was due to start in Hungary until the virus struck meaning this year’s race is now entirely in Italy. Sicily gets the Grande Partenza with an opening time trial into Palermo, a hilly road stage and then a summit finish atop Mount Etna.

The 2020 route should be a vintage Giro d’Italia. The third week of the race is always hard, Dolomites and Alps galore with Stage 20 to Sestiere the ‘Queen’ stage featuring the Colle dell’Agnello and the Col d’Izoard across the border in France. It is the first and second week that could determine how your challenge for pink goes. Decisive stages in the Apennines and the Tuscan hills mean every GC contender has to be alert to anything unexpected. Unlike the Tour you cannot control the race from start to finish, attacks come from all angles.

Just like last year’s edition, 2020 features three time trials with 65 km in total. Pure climbers versus GC men who can time trial, we await to see who will take advantage on their TT bikes alongside their abilities to climb mountains. The winner of the pink jersey come the final time trial in Milan should belong to an all-rounder.

The full route below.

The 2020 Giro d’Italia route map

So, who are the contenders for pink? Defending champion Richard Carapaz doesn’t start but two former Tour de France winners do begin this year’s race. Among the favourites, three names start with points to prove after previous Giro’s ended in disappointment.

Jakob Fuglsang – Astana

Plans were already set in stone for Jakob Fuglsang to skip the Tour and ride the Giro before coronavirus hit the season. Three time trials and climbs that suit his abilities, this must surely be Fuglsang’s last opportunity to win a Grand Tour. The Dane has the leadership to try something at this year’s race but the one thing he will need is luck.

He crashed on Stage 1 of last year’s Tour and in 2017 he abandoned the Tour after Stage 13 due to a fractured arm. If Jakob Fuglsang can get through the flat stages unscathed then he’ll be a threat to his rivals. The only time he has finished inside the top-10 at a Grand Tour came at the 2013 Tour – there’s a chance he can do the same in Italy.

Jakob Fuglsang also has the backing a strong Astana team. Colombian Miguel Ángel López is one of few mountain goats making the quick turnaround from the Tour to ride in Italy, Spaniard Óscar Rodríguez should add extra power on the climbs and young Russian talent Aleksandr Vlasov is making huge impressions on the peloton, someone to look out for.

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Steven Kruijswijk – Jumbo Visma

If it wasn’t for an unfortunate crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné then Steven Kruijswijk would’ve been included in Jumbo-Visma’s Tour de France selection. After Primož Roglič lost the yellow jersey to Tadej Pogačar on the penultimate stage before Paris this might be the perfect opportunity for the Dutch team to make amends. Last year’s Giro saw Roglič start so well before folding in the final week – more motivation for Jumbo-Visma?

Back from the shoulder injury he suffered from in France, Steven Kruijswijk is perfectly capable of winning the maglia rosa, a steady rider who can climb, time trial and keep his cool on the flat. Since 2016 he has finished inside the top-10 at every Grand Tour he’s ridden since, third at last year’s Tour de France is the evidence you need that Kruijswijk can get close.

But how close will he get this year? Could the shoulder injury hamper his chances? Stage 3 atop Mount Etna will be the first chance to test his legs plus Jumbo-Visma bring both Jos Van Emden and Tony Martin to add engine power on the flat. Consistency is Steven Kruijswijk’s A-game. Let’s not forget that he came close to winning the Giro back in 2016 before that infamous crash on the Colle dell’Agnello which he’ll climb again this year.

The first of three names at the 103rd Giro with something to prove.

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Vincenzo Nibali – Trek-Segafredo

Overall winner in 2013, 2016, four times on the podium and seven stage wins at his home Grand Tour – that’s Vincenzo Nibali folks! Nothing but admiration for the Shark of Messina who makes his ninth start at a race he just excels in every time he races.

Nibali has been quiet and at 35 years of age you do wonder whether his best days are behind him. Experience is the key word in a year where he’s put all his eggs in the Giro basket looking for a third pink jersey going all out for the overall victory.

Last year he did everything he could to disrupt Primož Roglič from winning the Giro except he could not stop Richard Carapaz from taking pink instead. Vincenzo Nibali won’t want a repeat this time and although he may not possess the explosive style of years gone by, his rivals absolutely won’t discount the shark from trying something.

The three time trials won’t faze the Italian, the home favourite who rides among a Trek-Segafredo team that has supreme talent. Italian riders Gianluca Brambilla, his brother Antonio Nibali and last year’s King of the Mountains and stage winner Giulio Ciccone will offer support in the mountains.

There is nothing to suggest that Vincenzo Nibali will have a terrible Giro. Mount Etna is the first test to see where Nibali is at but never stop believing in this remarkable bike rider.

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Simon Yates – Mitchelton-Scott

After Steven Kruijswijk comes the next rider with something to prove. Third time lucky for Simon Yates? We all remember 2018. Three stage wins, in the form of his life, before he cracked on the Colle delle Finestre and Chris Froome did the impossible. Last year he tried to do the same but finished eighth overall nowhere near the pink jersey.

Wearing the pink jersey in 2018 saw some fantastic moments for Simon Yates. It was down to going too deep in the second week that caused all the suffering in the third, a mistake that Mitchelton-Scott won’t want to see again. Let’s not forget that Simon Yates is a Grand Tour winner in the same year he blew up at the Giro he rode magnificently and with style to win the Vuelta.

A second Grand Tour to add to his palmares? It is possible after showing impressive form to win Tirreno-Adriatico just a few weeks ago. Yates has the form, the winning shape and determination from a team that believes in him. Mitchelton-Scott take a decent team to Italy with ever improving Lucas Hamilton, young Italian time trial specialist Edoardo Affini and the ever-loyal mountain domestique Jack Haig included. No Mikel Nieve who misses the Giro for the first time since 2017 won’t be a setback.

Tirreno-Adriatico was the perfect starting point. Just like Jumbo-Visma, Mitchelton-Scott have something to target and make amends – a pink jersey in Milan.

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Geraint Thomas – INEOS Grenadiers

While Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma were left disappointed at the Tour, the same can be said for INEOS Grenadiers – defending champion Egan Bernal was clearly not in shape to win the yellow jersey again. Dave Brailsford has been criticised, the elastic has snapped, the INEOS/Sky dominance at the Tour de France was broken, new challenges lie ahead.

Was Brailsford’s decision to leave Geraint Thomas out of the Tour a mistake? That question is now irrelevant and a question we’ll never know the answer to. Thomas might have ridden into form to possibly win the yellow jersey for a second time but skipping the Tour to ride the Giro could actually turn out to be the best decision.

Geraint Thomas as winner of the Tour de France in 2018 (and could have so easily defended his title last year had it not been for the pesky weather in the Alps), starts this Giro as favourite. A fantastic stage win by Michał Kwiatkowski was the only crumb of comfort for Ineos Grenadiers at last month’s Tour, so a bounce back in Italy? That must surely be the aim not just for the team and Geraint Thomas personally. Can he prove that he’s back to his best at a Grand Tour?

Confidence will be in abundance after finishing second behind Simon Yates at Tirreno-Adriatico and an encouraging fourth place at the worlds in the time trial. An extra month away from the circus of the Tour might turn out to be a huge help to G’s chances of winning a second Grand Tour. The three time trials will be his strength and apart from Stages 18 and 20, this year’s Giro doesn’t go over 2,000 metres, so that could play into Thomas’s hands.

Teammates include British national road champion Ben Swift (starting his third Giro d’Italia), another Brit in Tao Geoghegan Hart (who sadly crashed out at last year’s race), the recently crowned time trial world champion Filippo Ganna and the former two-times time trial world champion Rohan Dennis.

A strong team for Geraint Thomas, the only thing he needs now is luck. 2017 was the year of highs and lows before 2018 saw a brilliant achievement in France. Steven Kruijswijk crashed out in 2016, Geraint Thomas fell out of contention thanks to that stupid motorbike incident in 2017 and Simon Yates cracked in 2018. Jumbo-Visma, Ineos Grenadiers and Mitchelton-Scott are three teams with points to prove.

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Other names to watch?

Polish rider Rafał Majka for Bora-Hansgrohe is unlikely to win the Giro but should finish inside the top-10. He finished fifth overall in 2016 and to be fair his Grand Tour GC placings have been consistent. A stage win might also be on the cards.

After a superb Tour de France for Team Sunweb, attention now turns to two objectives in Italy. Michael Matthews, in what is his last Grand Tour for the German team before moving back to Mitchelton-Scott, will target stage wins but in Wilco Kelderman you have a decent time trialist and climber. Crashes and injuries have hampered the Dutchman in recent Grand Tours but a top-10 isn’t out of the question.

Simon Yates and Geraint Thomas might be the two British riders getting the attention as GC favourites but what about James Knox? His debut Grand Tour at the Giro last year plus his first appearance at the Vuelta brought nothing but sympathy for him last year as he sadly crashed out in Italy and then crashed with one mountain stage to go at the Vuelta. Knox did finish in Madrid but had it not been for the crash on Stage 19 a top-ten in Spain would have been fantastic. Best of luck to James Knox at this year’s Giro.

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We’re relieved to see the Giro take place after what has been a difficult time for Italy indeed the world. The cycling continues…

Imola 2020 – Road race talking points

Featured images courtesy of BettiniPhoto and SWPix

Four days of hard racing in Imola are over. Four rainbow jerseys handed out at the time trials and road races all decided. Here are five quick talking points from the men’s and women’s road races.

1 King Julian

You could not have asked for a more popular rider to become road world champion. Six Grand Tour stage wins, heroic rides in yellow at the Tour de France, Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo, two times winner at La Flèche Wallonne, Clásica San Sebastián and now the biggest prize – a rainbow jersey.

Julian Alaphilippe is a quality rider, winning the world title in vintage Alaphilippe style by attacking on the final climb on the final lap, chased by the pursuers but in the end untouchable. In the same year that he sadly lost his father to long term illness – we’re all in sheds of tears at the amazing talent this brilliant Frenchman shows on the bike.

The French team took up most of the work at the front. It seemed at one point with 40 km to go that their efforts were for nothing with Tadej Pogačar up the road and the Belgian team doing more work, but actually they played the perfect tactical game. Guillaume Martin went away before the final ascent of the Cima Calisperna before Marc Hirschi, Wout Van Aert, Primož Roglič and Michał Kwiatkowski were all left for dead by the man of the moment.

A rainbow jersey, the first Frenchman since Laurent Brochard in 1997 to become champion of the world, Julian Alaphilippe is a history maker. He’s heroic, he brings endless amounts of joy to cycling fans but more importantly he will look terrific with rainbows across his chest.

Chapeau Julian!

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2 Double Dutch for Anna van der Breggen

The first rider since Jeannie Longo in 1995 to do the double at the World Championships, what a perfect two days for Anna van der Breggen. When she made her move you just knew that nobody could catch her, not even her compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten who did incredibly well to overcome a fractured wrist to take silver.

We said before the Worlds, who on earth can beat the Dutch? For the women’s road race and the time trial – no one. The fourth world road race title for the Netherlands, van der Breggen in the form of her life and the most rewarding tonic for a rider who will retire after the Olympics next year.

Overall champion at the Giro Rosa, Dutch road and time trial national champion, now double world champion in both disciplines – all within a month, just magnificent! The non-stop nature of this Covid-19 cycling season doesn’t end yet though with the Classics coming up soon and who will bet against Anna van der Breggen winning more races?

Elisa Longho Borghini as the home favourite was always going to bring Italian optimism but she just couldn’t catch van der Breggen with van Vleuten playing the tactical game to do everything in slowing up the chase. A third place for Longho Borghini isn’t anything to be sniffed at though.

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3 A bright future in the men’s peloton

While Julian Alaphilippe’s victory is nothing more than spectacular you also cannot underestimate how fantastic it was to see the talent just continue to emerge in cycling. Wout Van Aert was the big favourite today, rode the climbs well but could not bring Alaphilippe back, the Belgian team running out of riders to help Van Aert but still did their work to try. His first world championships at elite level, second place isn’t all bad but Wout Van Aert will know that he was beaten by the strongest man on the road.

After impressing at the Tour de France, Marc Hirschi taking bronze isn’t actually surprising. The talent this young Swiss star has is in abundance, for sure Hirschi will be wearing a rainbow jersey at some point at elite level in the future. European and world U23 road champion in 2018, we’ve known the potential, he’s only 22 – much more to come.

Last weekend we were blown away by Tadej Pogačar winning the Tour de France. Surely that would have knackered out the 21-year-old! Not a chance, the young Slovenian attacking with 40 km to try and set up something for the very man he beat to win yellow, Primož Roglič. Full of admiration for the courageous efforts of Tadej Pogačar.

There were also encouraging rides by those staying in Italy for the next three weeks. Michael Matthews and Jakob Fuglsang finished inside the top ten, great prep for the Giro d’Italia starting next weekend. It was perhaps slightly surprising that those with the Tour already in their legs actually excelled at these world championships but then again it is talent that is prevailing in the peloton right now.

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4 Nothing to be disheartened about for Great Britian

British riders may not take any medals at this year’s worlds but there’s still lots to be pleased about. Geraint Thomas finishing fourth in the time trial was encouraging before a Giro d’Italia that he’s definitely riding into form for. Lizzie Deignan for the women and Tom Pidcock in the men’s race were two names to keep an eye on, both in form and looking for success. Deignan did finish in sixth behind Anna van der Breggen, just left to deal with supreme Dutch tactics and others not leading the chase to catch the eventual winner.

Taking three stage wins and overall, at the U23 Giro at the age of 21, Tom Pidcock was a rider that other contenders would’ve marked as a potential threat. Luke Rowe did immense work to keep Pidcock in contention and despite finishing 42nd today, great to see him up among the final thirty or so riders towards the end of the race.

5 Criticism of the UCI bang on

Before the criticism it is important to say hats off to the UCI for managing to hold a world championship during what is a difficult time. Fair play to Imola for hosting in place of Aigle-Martigny in Switzerland but more importantly the Covid-19 protocols have been adhered to. Alexey Lutsenko did fall victim to a positive test and unfortunately, we once again saw spectators on the climbs without face masks. Wear a mask!

But the criticism aimed at the UCI comes attached to the women’s side of our sport right now. After the Giro Rosa had no coverage whatsoever it is 100% correct to point the finger at cycling’s governing body. An exciting edition of the women’s Giro was hard to follow because of no coverage and limited highlights.

The UCI need to step up and take responsibility. The level of awareness international audiences have of women’s cycling is currently poor. Only the last thirty minutes of the women’s road race was shown on BBC Two, the whole race on the red button, but why not on the main channel for the entire race?

Men’s cycling gets the luxury, the women do not and bizarrely the Giro Rosa won’t be a World Tour race next year. The women’s peloton needs more coverage not less. The UCI say they’re helping but not doing enough right now.

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Imola 2020 – Time Trial Talking Points

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The time trials are over, two rainbow jerseys have been handed out with two remaining. Here are five quick talking points.

1 Ganna grabs his big opportunity

You could not have asked for a better stage to become world champion in a time trial. Of course, we should be in Switzerland right now, but in Imola this was Filippo Ganna’s chance and he took it!

A flat parcours definitely suited the Italian going into the 31.7 km route and he delivered with 35 minutes 54 seconds the winning time. Ganna is one hell of a talent after breaking the individual pursuit world record twice last year and now becomes the first men’s elite time trial champion for his country. Ganna also joins Chris Boardman and Bradley Wiggins – winners of the elite world individual pursuit on the track and the time trial on the road.

To do it in his home country is something to behold, a victory not just for Italy but also Ineos Grenadiers. The rainbow jersey stays within the team after Rohan Dennis conceded the title to his team-mate. In fact, three Ineos riders finished in the top ten, Ganna winning gold, Dennis in fifth but in fourth, a fantastic ride by Geraint Thomas (more below).

Ineos decided to keep Ganna, Dennis and Thomas all in the same bubble because of coronavirus and it has worked a treat. Could Filippo Ganna go on to win the opening stage at the Giro next weekend? In the rainbow jersey that would be special.

Elsewhere a few surprises but some exceptional performances. In his first encounter at a world time trial, Wout Van Aert continued to be brilliant and Stefan Küng took the right decision to leave the Tour early to finish in third. Victor Campenaerts, Tom Dumoulin and Pello Bilbao were three names surprisingly off the pace.

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2 Anna van der Breggen finally becomes a TT world champion

The women’s elite time trial indeed the road race to come always presents a strong Dutch squad. Two times time trial world champion Annemiek van Vleuten was a notable absentee (she rides the road race tomorrow though), the Dutch had Ellen Van Dijk and Anna van der Breggen to hand.

Numerous times on the podium, Van Dijk managed to finish third behind the winner of the day – Anna van der Breggen finally becoming a world champion in time trialling. A year out before she retires and moves on to a coaching role with Boels-Dolmans, there isn’t much that Anna van der Breggen hasn’t won, this the perfect cherry on top of the cake.

A rainbow jersey via the road race now one for a time trial, could she do the double at these world championships? Van Vleuten is back tomorrow despite fracturing her wrist at the Giro Rosa recently.

Many congratulations to Marlen Reusser representing Switzerland to take silver, her first worlds podium after finishing third at the European Road Championships in the same discipline.

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3 Encouraging British performances

Geraint Thomas taking fourth in the time trial is a welcome sign that he’s in form for the Giro d’Italia starting next weekend. Three time trials across the three weeks will be a strength ahead of his GC rivals, so it is not wrong to say that Geraint Thomas is a contender for the pink jersey come Milan.

Alex Dowsett’s quest for a podium in his career goes on but he should be happy with his performance against other competitors. For the women both Lizzy Banks and Alice Barnes finished inside the top twenty – two decent results.

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4 Speedy recovery to Chloe Dygert

After a blistering performance to win the time trial in Yorkshire last year, American Chloe Dygert started in Imola as the red-hot favourite to defend her title. She was riding the perfect race, beating Anna van der Breggen right up until she crashed.

She lost control on a corner, hit a barrier and then treated with a laceration to her left leg. An awful crash for Dygert and incredibly heart breaking to see. The crash could’ve been worse for the 10-time world champion on road and track, sad that she obviously won’t be starting the road race.

All we can say is many speedy recoveries to Chloe Dygert, we cannot wait to see her back racing again with those brilliant pink shoes!

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5 Attention turns to the road races

The final two days offer us the road races. British fans will be fascinated to see how Lizzie Deignan fares and for the men there’s one rider on everyone’s lips – Wout Van Aert.

Both races have total elevation gains over 2,000 metres, it is far from easy. Team tactics will be evident but who will win the two rainbow jerseys? Those that can climb and sprint are in contention – we wait to see how two intriguing races unravel.

UCI Road World Championships 2020 Preview

Featured image courtesy of the UCI

While it is disappointing for Martigny in Switzerland not hosting this year’s World Championships, thank goodness we still have some racing to watch. Imola in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy has saved the fight for rainbows not long after the Tour de France and Giro Rosa has just come to an end. It won’t be the same worlds we’re used to with no U23 and Junior races taking place just elite time trials and road races.

Four races in four days starting with the time trials and then the road races. A flat parcours for the TT but the road race features two major climbs of Mazzolano and the Cima Gallisterna perhaps not suited to pure climbers but puncheurs.

Last year in Yorkshire we saw some exciting racing, some controversy and unexpected victories. Imola last hosted the World Championships in 1968 and Italy itself hosted the worlds in 2013 in Florence. So, what can we expect from riders who already have racing in the legs before more races still to come?

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Thursday 24th September – A repeat performance by Chloe Dygert?

Chloe Dygert’s victory in the women’s elite time trial was arguably the standout moment from Yorkshire 2019. From Ripon to Harrogate, nobody could get anywhere near Dygert’s time of 42 minutes in 11 seconds, a dominant performance.

We haven’t seen enough of the American on the road this year to see how she’ll perform in Imola, not even racing in the rainbow jersey she herself won. The usual suspects will seek to take Chloe Dygert’s time trial crown. Anna van der Breggen for the Netherlands has just won the Giro and could win both world titles this week. Her Dutch compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten isn’t expected to race after fracturing her wrist in Italy a week ago.  

Th disappointment of not wearing the rainbow jersey at all from last year’s worlds up until now could be the motivation she needs.

For Great Britain we have Alice Barnes and Lizzy Banks where a top ten finish would be a great result. Barnes is the current British time trial champion and for Banks she’s already confirmed that this year’s worlds will be used as a learning experience.

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Friday 25th September – Ineos riders to dominate the standings?

The men’s elite time trial could be the perfect opportunity for riders who’ve just completed the Tour de France but also those who might be feeling fresh from Tirreno-Adriatico going into the Giro next weekend. Covid-19 has led to a jumbled-up calendar but actually the scheduling of this year’s Worlds suits all the time trial contenders.

Jumbo-Visma pair Tom Dumoulin and Wout Van Aert did everything to support Primož Roglič at the Tour and despite the disappointment in losing the entire race let’s not forget that Dumoulin and Van Aert finished highly on the Stage 20 TT atop La Planche des Belles Filles. Dumoulin as a former TT world champion is back to his best and Van Aert is the most extraordinary talent in world cycling right now – who knows what he can do!

But could three weeks of racing in France have taken their toll? Riders heading to the Giro might carry more momentum such as Britain’s Geraint Thomas plus Ineos team-mates Filippo Ganna and current defending champion Rohan Dennis.

Three Team Ineos riders have a huge chance especially Ganna, the Italian the home favourite, track specialist and a rider with an enormous engine. Wouldn’t it be something for an Italian World Championships to see an Italian win the men’s elite time trial! Australian Rohan Dennis is the current defender of the rainbows but arrives in Imola with unknown form. The length of the TT might favour Dennis more than Ganna but let’s not discount Geraint Thomas too.

Other riders to look out for include France’s Rémi Cavagna who finished second behind Stefan Küng at last year’s European Championships elite time trial, and Victor Campenaerts who currently has the hour record to his name and is very consistent at time trials.

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Saturday 26th September – Lizzie Deignan for the win?

This year’s women’s road race could be the most exciting yet! Great Britain’s Lizzie Deignan is in fine form after winning GP Plouay, La Course and went close to stage wins at the Giro Rosa. World champion in 2015, Deignan will have the strongest support but will be up against the force that is the Dutch team.

While Annemiek van Vleuten is doubtful with her injury the orange army still have Anna van der Breggen who took the rainbows in 2018, Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak in Bergen 2017 and Marianne Vos who is also in the form of her life. Vos is a three-times world champion, so could she make it number four?

Second overall at the Giro Rosa, Katarzyna Niewiadoma will be closely marked as will Italian home favourite Elisa Longho Borghini and don’t forget Denmark’s Cecile Uttrup Ludwig. The American team is also a dark watch with Leah Thomas backed by Coryn Rivera and Chloe Dygert.

The women’s road race will be extremely hard to call but the main question as we’ve asked for the last three years. Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak in 2017, Anna van der Breggen in 2018 and Annemiek van Vleuten in 2019 – who can stop the Dutch?

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Sunday 27th September – The final curtain closer

Who will take the men’s road race? The last of the four-rainbow jersey’s on offer will be hotly contested, the curtain closer and full of talent within the startlists.

You have to feel for Mads Pedersen, the current defending champion who rode a magnificent race last year but will unlikely carry the rainbow jersey into the upcoming Spring Classics held in October. It was meant to be his year wearing the status of world champion at races he’s capable of winning until Covid-19 came along and scuppered his plans.

So, who will become the next world champion?

While Mads Pedersen won’t be likely to win again there’s still hope in the Danish squad for Jakob Fuglsang. He’s heading to the Giro in top form and a rainbow jersey wouldn’t be a bad prize to take into the race next weekend.

Wout Van Aert is the outstanding favourite as he’s a huge talent but could his freedom be limited because of other team-mates such as Greg Van Avermaet? Other stage winners at the Tour de France such as Marc Hirschi for Switzerland, Alexey Lutsenko for Kazakhstan and 2014 world champion Michał Kwiatkowski all start.

The winner of the Tour de France Tadej Pogačar rides for Slovenia alongside the man he defeated to win the yellow jersey Primož Roglič. Julian Alaphillipe for France had a tremendous year going into Yorkshire before fatigue began to tell – less fancied this weekend, Alaphilippe could be a threat.

One notable absentee is three times world champion Peter Sagan. It was not the Sagan we were used to at the Tour, he’s kept his word that he’ll be riding the Giro, so perhaps understandable that the Slovakian doesn’t start.

Italian fans will be hoping for a Vincenzo Nibali victory but who knows? We have no idea who will win the rainbow jersey and that’s we cannot wait for the World Championships to get underway!

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Étape of the Day – The 107th Tour de France

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21 stages complete, the final Étape of the Day for the three weeks as the 2020 Tour de France drew to a close in style. While sad as it is without crowds on the streets of Paris, it remained the Holy Grail for the sprinters, always a lottery to predict who will win on the Champs-Élysées but by now we definitely know who has won the yellow jersey.

It doesn’t get much better for Irish sport than today! Sam Bennett becomes the first Irishman to win the green jersey since Sean Kelly in 1989, the first Irishman to win on the Champs-Élysées and fifth to do it with green on his shoulders and the first Irishman to win multiple stages at the Tour in 40 years – not a bad Tour de France for Sam Bennett!

He has made history for his country; he should be incredibly proud with two stage wins to go with the maillot vert – a special moment in the history of this superb bike race that continues to create stories year after year without fail. Deceuninck-Quick Step gave him the perfect leadout to beat his fellow sprinters including the man who has dominated the green jersey since 2012 – Peter Sagan who finished third. Bennett’s passion to raise his bike aloft loud and proud, we salute him!

Getting over the mountains, taking the race to his rivals, emotions running high, two glorious stage victories and now the green jersey – Sam Bennett could easily do it all again next year. Peter Sagan has a new challenger to the green jersey for years to come now, Bora-Hansgrohe didn’t give Sam Bennett an opportunity at the Tour, Quick-Step did, he thoroughly deserves to be happy as a result.

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It was close but not quite close enough for the world champion Mads Pedersen. The Worlds are fast approaching, the Dane has performed at this Tour despite no stage wins. Because of the pandemic scuppering up the season you have to feel a bit for Mads Pedersen, who unless he wins the road race next Sunday, won’t wear the rainbow jersey at the upcoming Spring (now Autumn) Classics.

Alexander Kristoff, Elia Viviani, Wout Van Aert, Caleb Ewan, Hugo Hofstetter, Bryan Coquard and Max Walscheid rounded out the top ten on the Champs-Élysées.

The night belongs to Slovenia as Tadej Pogačar is crowned winner of the 107th Tour. A huge talent who let’s not forget only turned professional last year! We’ve seen him excel at last year’s Vuelta by winning three stages and finishing third overall, but this is on another level! An outside bet that nobody had even considered.

With Egan Bernal and Primož Roglič arriving with strong teams in Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma, it just proves that the numbers of a team don’t always matter. Pogačar’s team was nowhere near the strength of Jumbo-Visma, a team that was without doubt the strongest but go home without the prize they’d hoped for.

The young man rode isolated but sensibly without losing his cool. On Stage 7 he lost over a minute to Roglič in crosswinds, responded in the Pyrénées to take time back, beating his compatriot on Stages 9 and 15 before the final time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles saw Pogačar in the form of his life! One of the most dramatic editions of the Tour, one we’ll remember for years to come. It is remarkable that he becomes the 12th rider to win yellow on his debut but most significant the youngest winner of Le Tour post-1945 – chapeau! For the next four editions of the race Tadej Pogačar will still find himself in the age range to compete for the white jersey – that’s the scale of this remarkable achievement.

Credit must go to Primož Roglič who’s been humble to his usurper, simply beaten by his younger Slovenian on the crucial stage to seal the general classification. Jumbo-Visma will go home shocked at how they did not win this year’s race but for Roglič himself let’s not forget the trajectory of his career. A ski jumper only eight years ago and in all the years previous he has become a fantastic Grand Tour contender with one under his belt already for goodness sake! Nobody can take away his Vuelta triumph last year, Primož Roglič may not say much off the bike, but on it he’s just a legend.

Legend status also belongs to Richie Porte. A Grand Tour podium for the first time in his career before he returns to Team Ineos in 2021, he didn’t win the Tour but remains one of the best climbers in the world.

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At the end of three weeks this year’s Tour de France feels like a changing of the guard. For two years in a row youth has won the yellow jersey, new sprinters are winning the flat stages, the green jersey has changed shoulders and fresh talent is shining. The most combative rider was awarded to Marc Hirschi who thoroughly deserves the title after his breakthrough stage win into Sarran – Team Sunweb have had a brilliant Tour.

From Nice to Paris under the lingering threat of a pandemic – the Tour de France thankfully made it all the way round. Did it have an impact on Covid case increases in France? Too late now as the race has been and gone. Was it the right decision to hold the race? Again, too late as the race has been and gone. The organisers have done their best to keep riders and staff safe, some fans were irresponsible and for the good of the race reduced spectators at the side of the road would’ve been better.

Coronavirus has mixed up the season, a Tour de France in September that has been an unbelievable to watch. We sincerely hope that next year’s race won’t be held with a pandemic on – we hope and pray for this nightmare to be over. Tadej Pogačar is our champion in the most dramatic of circumstances – we’ll never live down what was the 107th race for the maillot jaune.

Vive le Tour!

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Étape of the Day – From 57 to 59

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A Tour de France held in September during a pandemic is one reason why we will remember the 107th Tour de France for years to come. It has been three weeks of suffering for the sprinters to get over mountains, three weeks of incredible stories and it all came down to a final time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles still with the ceremonial procession in Paris to come.

Saturday 19th September will go down as the most dramatic day of bike racing cycling has even seen, the day a young 21-year-old kid from Slovenia overturned a 57 second deficit to win the Tour by a margin of 59 seconds over a fellow countryman. Tadej Pogačar becomes the youngest post-war rider to win the yellow jersey and he did it in style with an extraordinary comeback that has shocked the world of cycling.

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Pogačar was the fastest at every time split, took a bike change with good effect up the climb and beat Tom Dumoulin by a margin of 1 minute 21 seconds to win his third stage at this year’s race. Before the stage began there, was always a chance, confirmed in our minds that either Tadej Pogačar or Primož Roglič would make history to become the first Slovenian to win the Tour, but did we ever believe that the apprentice would overthrow the master? One of the most unexpected victories and oh so similar to 1989 when LeMond overcome Fignon by 8 seconds, the margin not as tight in 2020 but dramatic all the same!

After taking the yellow jersey on day one with Alexander Kristoff it has been a full circle for UAE-Team Emirates who now have the maillot jaune at the crucial point in the race. To make things better Tadej Pogačar takes the polka-dot jersey off Richard Carapaz and as a reminder to his GC rivals, a youngster in the white jersey – never before has a rider won three jerseys altogether. Huge celebrations in Paris tomorrow, he turns 22 on Monday and this is his Tour don’t forget!

You have to feel so much sympathy for Primož Roglič who has looked untouchable throughout the three weeks. Jumbo-Visma will finish the Tour as the strongest team, Roglič supported by superb domestiques, a stage wins at Orcières-Merlette, two for Wout Van Aert but overall, the prize they were after just slipped through the fingers. Roglič simply did not have the legs and it will beggar belief that he lost the Tour de France after a 36.2 km time trial atop La Planche des Belles Filles.

This isn’t the first time a key time trial at the Tour has gone wrong for Primož Roglič – Stage 20 in 2018 when lost time to Chris Froome and didn’t make the podium. Last year’s Giro was a brilliant showing from him until he faded in week three – Roglič is a fantastic rider but on evidence he trails off at the pivotal moments. So much sympathy for him though, a man who may not have a lot to say when asked questions but on the bike is one of the best.

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What will be hard to stomach for Jumbo-Visma is all the hard work that will feel like a total waste. It is extraordinary that three of their best time trialists were beaten by such an enormous margin. Tom Dumoulin 1 minute 21 seconds down, Wout Van Aert 1 minute 31 seconds and Roglič at 1 minute 56 seconds behind. It was never a course for the pure time trialist but the calibre of names Pogačar beat deserves praise.

Another man who deserved huge congratulations is Richie Porte. So many years of sacrificing himself for Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome when at Team Sky, so many unlucky moments at BMC and now for Trek-Segafredo he will finally be on the podium at a Grand Tour. It is no secret that crashing on the Mont du Chat descent and breaking his collarbone before making the Roubaix cobbles in 2018, we’ve shed a tear for Richie Porte. Now pure happiness for Australian who thoroughly deserved third place overall. It just wasn’t to be for Miguel Ángel López who was simply up against the better time trialist.

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It will be a special day for Ireland tomorrow! Sam Bennett will win the green jersey on the Champs-Élysées and could even win the stage to cap off a great Tour. All the main players for the final sprint in Paris have made to Stage 21 to fight it out for the Holy Grail of all victories for a sprinter.

The most extraordinary Tour de France draws to a close tomorrow in Paris. Every stage covered for The Chain Gang – one more finale to come!

Étape of the Day – Kragh Andersen does it again!

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Stage 19 of the 2020 Tour de France was always going to be straightforward for the GC contenders. Only crashes could have hampered their chances but no such worries for Primož Roglič in yellow, Tadej Pogačar in second and Miguel Ángel López in third overall. Everyone stayed upright, all safe and through to the penultimate stage tomorrow.

Today was all about the stage win, the breakaway and the green jersey. While the team classification determines the number one team (Movistar on track to do so again), it is fair to say that Team Sunweb have been fantastic at this year’s race – tactically spot on, prepared to take risks and now have three stage wins to celebrate.

Søren Kragh Andersen takes his second stage win to go with his victory in Lyon. The Dane attacked 16 km out from a break that included Peter Sagan, Sam Bennett in green, Greg Van Avermaet and Luke Rowe. Kragh Andersen never looked back even screaming at a TV motorbike for a secure time gap on the road – never mind Søren you were well clear!

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Huge credit to Team Sunweb who have emerged from Michael Matthews out of form moving to Mitchelton-Scott next year and Tom Dumoulin sadly crashing out of the Giro – 2019 wasn’t a great year but now put behind them. Marc Hirschi has made an enormous breakthrough, Søren Kragh Andersen taking two stages and getting into the breakaway on numerous occasions. There’s still one more opportunity to go in Paris with sprinter Cees Bol, you just never know what Team Sunweb could do at this Tour.

The green jersey is now all but sealed on the shoulders of Sam Bennett. His main rivals Peter Sagan and Matteo Trentin unsurprisingly got in the break to try and put pressure on Quick-Step but they’ve run out of road to stop Bennett now. The Irishman got into the break himself, scored more points at the intermediate sprint and in Champagnole finished eighth to more points. A total of 319 now, 55 points ahead of Sagan and 69 ahead of Trentin. All Sam Bennett has to do now is finish the time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles, make Paris and wouldn’t it be something if he could win on the Champs-Élysées to seal the deal.

Peter Sagan’s dominance in the maillot vert is over. Something fresh and new has arrived in the form of a serious competitor to challenge your throne. Just like Ineos having to change their thought process going into next year’s Tour, Peter Sagan will have a new challenge to try in 2021.

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Lots of riders in the break and most of them from team who have nothing to show at this Tour unless they try for the two remaining stages. Luka Mezgec, Jasper Stuyven, Greg Van Avermaet and Edvald Boasson Hagen all tried but Mitchelton-Scott, Trek-Segafredo, CCC and NTT plus many more won’t be taking anything from this Tour unless we’re proved wrong.

Two unfortunate incidents today with Pavel Sivakov suffering from a tumble and Bora’s Lukas Pöstlberger abandoning due to a bee sting in the mouth! Such an unlucky Tour de France debut for Sivakov after he crashed on the opening stage in Nice and let’s not forget he fell on the final stage at the Dauphiné – lots of sympathy for him.

The penultimate stage tomorrow as the final weekend sees the 107th Tour draw to a close. A time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles to bring the curtain down on the general classification. Richard Carapaz will be keen to keep his polka-dot jersey, the stage win is up for grabs too and who knows Primož Roglič could take it to end up with the ultimate triumph!

The final word must go to Søren Kragh Andersen. His stage win summed up what has been a pulsating and exciting Tour despite it being in September! We love the Tour; we love cycling and we cannot wait to celebrate the end of the race this weekend.

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Étape of the Day – Arm in arm across the line!

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The Tour de France always creates stories year after year. It excites, entertains and is of course brutal. The power of La Grand Boucle can carry you over the line, give you strength and determination, but most of all pride. So much admiration for Ineos Grenadiers today after a superb double-act secured a well-deserved stage win for a team that hasn’t achieved its aims but will finish the Tour with something to savour.

Finishing arm in arm after going in the break it is no surprise that the stage win for Ineos Grenadiers was filled with emotion. Determination after the death of director sportif Nico Portal on top of smiles at the line as Michał Kwiatkowski wins his first Grand Tour stage – thoroughly deserved for a man who’s sacrificed himself over the years to deliver Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal Tour success. To add further gloss to the Ineos performance they now have Richard Carapaz leading the King of the Mountain classification – a superb day for the team.

To lose their main man just two days ago it is testament to Ineos Grenadiers for trying everything they can to get in a break, go for stage wins and now maybe seal the polka-dot jersey. While it isn’t the result Dave Brailsford and co would have wanted today’s, stage served a reminder that the team still have talent within their ranks. While Tour de France dominance is over, the drawing board changes the team will return.

You must be made of solid stuff to go in the break three times over three days and not take a stage win. To his credit Richard Carapaz has done immense work to try after team disappointment but helping Kwiatkowski to his first stage at a Grand Tour is quite a moment. Carapaz enters the polka-dot jersey but can he keep it until Paris? With Bernal dropping out, the Ecuadorian has been given freedom to attack – it would be a mini triumph for Ineos if he could hold the jersey.

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So many races in one stage today! Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma once again got through the day, Roglič just has one final time trial to get over before Paris. He will be the Slovenian rider happy with the gaps between himself and those behind him, Tadej Pogačar 57 seconds down shouldn’t trouble Roglič much. Pogačar though could still take the polka-dot jersey off Richard Carapaz but for sure he’s guaranteed the white jersey and second overall.

If there’s one rider you have to feel for it is Richie Porte suffering from bad luck once again. Just like his former Sky teammate Chris Froome, he got a flat front wheel on the Glières plateau, but thankfully he didn’t lose any time. He managed to claw back the leaders but it was not the bad luck you want in order to attack. The final time trial does offer up an opportunity for Richie Porte to sneak onto the podium if Miguel Ángel López has a bad day which he has in the past against the clock.

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Great ride by Enric Mas who’s quietly ridden himself up to sixth overall but at the expense of both Adam Yates and Rigoberto Urán who lost significant amounts of time today. Every sprinter made the time cut today except André Greipel who abandoned to become the 27th rider to leave the race. Sam Bennett finds himself in green with three stages remaining – the mountains are behind him so surely; he will make Paris now with green on his back.

A mention must go to Marc Hirschi today. After winning one stage, getting in the break today made it clear that Team Sunweb were chasing more. If Hirschi hadn’t of crashed then his probability of winning the stage could have been higher. Disappointing to see him crash after over-cooking a descent but take nothing away from the young man he’s had a fantastic Tour.

Tomorrow will be an easy day for the GC men. Only one category 4 climb, expect Peter Sagan and Matteo Trentin to get in the break to put late pressure on Sam Bennett but overall Stage 19 should be one for the breakaway. It is a lumpy day not entirely flat but teams who have no stage wins to show should go in the break.

Another day down with Paris on the horizon. A sweet day for Ineos Grenadiers, no trouble for Primož Roglič and great to see Sam Bennett survive the time cut. Days like today remind us that cycling is such a brilliant sport to watch!

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Étape of the Day – Superman surges onto the podium

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You could not have asked for a more gruelling stage at the Tour de France. 170 km from Grenoble over the Col de la Madeleine before a new summit finish at Méribel – the Col de la Loze at 2,304 m above sea level. Stage 17 was the ‘Queen’ stage, a crucial day in the race for the yellow jersey. Lots to play for, the GC positions, the polka-dot jersey changing shoulders and the fight for the maillot vert isn’t quite over just yet.

We are almost guaranteed a Slovenian one two on the podium although today we saw the master outplay the apprentice. Primož Roglič moves ever closer to securing his second Grand Tour title after some impressive tactics by Jumbo-Visma once again. While Tom Dumoulin knows he’s riding back to form after injury last year, it’s the mark of a true gent that he’s sacrificing himself for Roglič, but where the Dutchman is magnificent what about Sepp Kuss! The American made the perfect move to attack, draw out Roglič’s GC rivals and then fall back for his team leader to go on the offensive – it was genius Jumbo-Visma teamwork on full display not forgetting that this is Sepp Kuss’s Tour debut!

Jumbo-Visma are the strongest team in the race, they’ve built up to this moment in the last few years, and today they might have just struck the knockout blow. Three stages to go before Paris, Primož Roglič had the legs to fly away from everyone else leaving a few bike lengths away from his younger Slovenian compatriot. It was the first time we saw Tadej Pogačar in difficulty – losing 15 seconds plus bonuses to Roglič.

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Take nothing away from the effort and determination Tadej Pogačar has shown at this year’s Tour. Debutant, the white jersey will definitely be his come Paris, and there’s still a chance he could claw back some time in the coming days. The time trial coming up serves us a reminder that Tadej Pogačar beat Primož Roglič at the Slovenian national championships to become time trial champion. You just never know what could happen if Primož Roglič has a bad day.

The fight for the podium has also been shaken up after today. Miguel Ángel López is another Tour de France debutant this year. A stage win at his first attempt isn’t half bad – the Colombian now in third overall, a podium place in his sights. Astana will be thrilled to see their team leader now within touching distance of Paris. Third at the Giro and third at the Vuelta in the past – Superman López continues to get better and better. At the moment he’s not quite at the peak to win a Grand Tour overall but still a huge threat to take third and deny his rivals.

Another good ride by Richie Porte today. Trek-Segafredo have been far from quiet at this Tour, Porte himself always fighting and always in and among the climbing elite. Miguel Ángel López might be third at the moment but Porte could steal his place via the Stage 20 time trial. Adam Yates is still behind. He lost some time today, a podium place now unlikely, but a stage win is not out of the question. The big loser today was EF’s Rigoberto Urán conceding 1 minute 59 seconds.

The team that will be most disappointed though is Bahrain-McLaren. You have to admire the guts on display today, the team setting pace up the Madeleine (Sonny Colbrelli what a machine!), keeping the pace on the final climb but then team leader Mikel Landa cracking. Hats off to the Basque rider today, who’s been given free reign at a Grand Tour for the first time in his career, team leadership and should be proud at his teammates today. Bringing in former Team Sky coach Rod Ellingworth as general manager, it’s no surprise that the Ellingworth effect to take risks and have courage was the motivation today. Landa gave it a go even though it backfired – brave move, tried his best, deserves our praise.

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As one Colombian won the stage today another did not start. Egan Bernal has abandoned the race, the defending champion suffering for the past four stages, the reality now that Team Ineos’s dominance of the Tour de France is over. 2014 was the last time the Ineos/Sky machine didn’t win the yellow jersey – that’s now fact and a new challenge awaits Sir Dave Brailsford. Lots of questions about team selection but now Bernal is out of the race, the tactics change to target a stage win. Great to see Richard Carapaz giving it a go in the breakaway again, the current holder of the Giro rightly has that title to his name after holding out for so long on the final climb.

The green jersey fight is almost complete for Sam Bennett. The sprinters all made the time cut and barring them not making the cut-off tomorrow, every fast man should make it to Paris. Benoit Cosnefroy’s hold of the polka-dot jersey is over as Tadej Pogačar now leads the competition.

One final point to make are some idiots on the side of the road not wearing face masks. The President of France Emmanuel Macron was special guest today, so what a stage to show some stupidity from minorities not adhering to guidelines with the Tour held during a pandemic. Wear your face masks!

The final stage in the Alps tomorrow. Expect Tadej Pogačar to attack tomorrow if he can to close the gap on Primož Roglič before the time trial and Miguel Ángel López to do the same. The King of the Mountains competition will be intriguing and Sam Bennett just needs to get over the climbs as well as scoring some further points.

We might have got an answer as to who will win the 2020 Tour de France today. Primož Roglič is almost in sight of the Champs-Élysées, the taste of a champagne procession within touching distance.

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Étape of the Day – Arise King Lemmy!

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This is turning out to be a fantastic 107th edition of the Tour de France. We’re seeing new talent emerging on the biggest stage and today another young gun blew everyone away. The Alps have arrived, the GC race continues – so much to summarise!

Let’s start off with the stage win. A mass break went away including Pierre Rolland and after Egan Bernal’s prospects of defending his title went up in smoke, it wasn’t surprising to see Ineos Grenadiers get in the break too. Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz and Russian Pavel Sivakov went up the road but they were joined by young German star Lennard Kämna, recent stage winner at the Dauphiné, and now at a Grand Tour.

24-years-of-age this is without a doubt Kämna’s biggest moment in his young career with many victories still to come! He had to follow Richard Carapaz’s attack on the penultimate climb and then managed to distance the Ecuadorian to take all the glory. A magnificent ride, a turn up for the books and a huge boost for Bora-Hansgrohe at this Tour. The team have shown some strength in breakaways, they’ve worked hard for Peter Sagan despite he himself not being his best and now Lennard Kämna delivers.

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GC aspirations are gone for Egan Bernal who once again lost time today. You must however take your hats off to the young man who’s been honest that he hasn’t been at his best. It is absolutely the case that this defeat will be a learning curve for Bernal but more importantly it changes the mood of the team. Ineos Grenadiers certainly changed tact today by putting Carapaz and Sivakov in the break – stage wins are now the priority.

One point to make is we’re not seeing the Julian Alaphilippe from both 2018 and 2019. Of course, he has one stage win in the bag after Stage 2 in Nice plus the yellow jersey as an added bonus. Today though he couldn’t follow Richard Carapaz’s attack and Lennard Kämna either. It shouldn’t be too much of a concern it’s just a case of not having the punch to follow attacks.

The race for the green and polka-dot jerseys are enthralling this year. Benoit Cosnefroy’s lead as King of the Mountains is now level with Pierre Rolland, Cosnefroy won’t be keeping the jersey until Paris unless he attacks tomorrow, takes point atop the Col de la Madeliene and wins the stage overall! The Frenchman will have to go deep if he wants to keep the jersey.

Sam Bennett remains in green but he still faces a fight. The terrain doesn’t get any easier and if Peter Sagan can distance Bennett over the coming stages plus the intermediate sprint in Paris as well as the final showpiece – the maillot vert isn’t entirely secure for the Irishman. Add Matteo Trentin going in the break to the equation and that doesn’t make things any easier!

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Two French riders also abandoned today. Lots of respect to Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu who suffered from a back injury earlier in the race plus Jérôme Cousin for Team Total Direct Énergie who went solo on Stage 3 and on numerous occasions found himself in a breakaway.

Tomorrow sees the highest point of the Tour at Méribel with an extra paved road, the Col de la Loze at 2,304 metres in altitude. The GC contenders rode conservatively today probably knowing what is to come, Jumbo-Visma in defensive mode. Tadej Pogačar did accelerate towards the end, Primož Roglič followed but the race for the podium will be interesting as Miguel Ángel López did show his wheel today.

Massive stage tomorrow. Jumbo-Visma have it all to do to keep Primož Roglič in yellow, the battle for the podium intensifies and who will be in the polka-dot jersey? Thankfully the race will make it all the way to Paris with no riders testing positive for the virus. Great to see race director Christian Prudhomme return a negative test after self-isolation, he’s back waving his flag – Vive le Tour!

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