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 – Rog and Pog battle royale!

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The 2020 Tour de France is not the usual Tour de France that we love for a whole range of reasons. Face masks are the obvious difference and today we saw no crowds allowed at the top of the Grand Colombier. This is a Tour de France in September, the first Grand Tour of the year and always with a lingering fear of coronavirus halting the race before Paris. It’s also a Tour that has surprised us, the yearly script ripped up, a new team dominating the road and a young man who’s riding out of his skin.

We knew that today’s stage from Lyon to Grand Colombier was arguably the day that decided who would be in pole position to win the Tour – we got an answer. After winning every edition bar three between 2010 and 2019, the dominance of Team Ineos (or Team Sky as they were known) has finally been broke, the elastic holding the team together has snapped. Egan Bernal suffered to lose almost seven and a half minutes to Primož Roglič, his defence of last year’s victory up in smoke and Bernal even finds himself in a battle to reach the top ten let alone thinking about winning the Tour overall.

It is without question that Team Ineos are not as strong as Jumbo-Visma and we’ve known this for a long while regardless of whether this year’s Tour de France isn’t being raced at its usual time. A delayed Tour in September won’t be an excuse. After a back injury from the Dauphiné could that be the reason? Bernal did look good when the race arrived in the Pyrenees but Stage 13 atop Puy Mary saw time lost and today on Stage 15, he won’t be winning back-to-back Tours.

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There’s lots of talk on social media that Dave Brailsford has made a mistake by not taking Geraint Thomas, who’s riding well at Tirreno-Adriatico right now and four-times Tour champion Chris Froome who moves to pastures new for 2021. Both riders were out of form before the Tour so it is hard to read whether Thomas or Froome would’ve ridden into form. Chris Froome probably wouldn’t have been much better but Geraint Thomas considering how he’s riding in Italy right now would’ve been the better rider.

It is now irrelevant what we all say about who should’ve gone where. Even if Geriant Thomas had of started the Tour, Bernal would perhaps be still suffering despite the argument that Thomas could have been the perfect backup. Brailsford has made decision after decision to deliver Tour de France dominance year after year – for 2020 it hasn’t gone to plan. You have to question why Richard Carapaz was brought in to ride the Tour when he’s never ridden the race before and in Andrey Amador yes, he’s crashed on Stage 1 but he has simply not performed as a super domestique.

Team Ineos in decline is Jumbo-Visma’s gain. Since the 2018 Tour de France we’ve known for a while that the Dutch outfit are the best placed to take on Ineos and knock them off their Tour perch. That is exactly what they’ve done at this Tour. Jumbo-Visma have the numbers, the strongest riders and far more experience than the Ineos train. Primož Roglič is in prime position to win his second Grand Tour, his first Tour de France and he’ll be in contention to do it with the best domestiques. Tom Dumoulin isn’t at his strongest but continues to ride well considering his awful injury at last year’s Giro, Sepp Kuss was once again fantastic to watch and Wout Van Aert near enough put on the pace up the entire climb.

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Jumbo-Visma are the best team at this Tour. At times they’ve looked a little shaky but during week one they rode a more conservative race to take the jersey in the Pyrenees and hold it all the way to Paris. It is now Primož Roglič’s yellow jersey to lose but he might be looking nervously over his shoulder as there’s a fellow Slovenian nine years his junior who is riding as though he’s already won the Tour de France already! Tadej Pogačar is a new revelation, a supreme talent, could yet challenge Roglič for yellow, has a stage in the Pyrenees to his name and just like he did in the Vuelta, today beat Roglič to add another stage atop the Grand Colombier – it doesn’t get any better.

You cannot deny that Pogačar will finish at least finish on the podium and take the white jersey unless disaster strikes. The only disadvantage he has is domestiques yet as we saw today, he used the wheels of the Jumbo-Visma train to great effect to edge out Roglič and win the stage. Jumbo-Visma’s gameplan was to leave it to the final kilometres and set up Primož Roglič for the win only for Pogačar to have other ideas. A long way to go but there’s no doubt that a Grand Tour victory will come Pogačar’s way soon.

With Bernal falling out of contention there’s now a tight race for the final podium spot. Egan Bernal wasn’t the only Colombian suffering today as Nairo Quintana lost considerable chunks of time but for EF’s Rigoberto Urán and Astana’s Miguel Ángel López there’s a chance they could take third place. Urán has finished on the podium before, López is riding his first Tour but other GC favourites could scupper their plans. Adam Yates had a go today, is now fifth, still looking for a stage win and Richie Porte is riding well, that elusive Tour podium not out of the question.

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Elsewhere the lead for Benoit Cosnefroy in the polka-dot jersey is now under threat because of Tadej Pogačar’s stage win and Primož Roglič isn’t far behind. The Alps are still to come and that’s also the next obstacle for the sprinters who made the time cut – Sam Bennett in control of his own destiny to keep the green jersey all the way to Paris.

The second rest day tomorrow, week two is done as the Tour moves into the third and final week. Ineos will have to change their plans for the race, Jumbo-Visma just cannot be stopped, Primož Roglič is five stages away from another Grand Tour, Tadej Pogačar continues to make waves and the fight for the podium will intensify further.

Étape of the Day – Slovenia are at it again!

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For each and every rider a rest day will be well deserved after a relentless first week at the Tour de France. The climbing has been non-stop, the crashes have been unfortunate and the sprints breath-taking. Stage 9 saw the finale of the first week in the Pyrénées with a 153 km route from Pau to Laruns via some tough summits including the Col de Marie Blanque before the final descent to the line.

Similar to yesterday we saw a breakaway rider try ever so hard to win the stage. Nans Peters was successful in Loudenvielle, Team Sunweb’s Marc Hirschi however didn’t quite complete the job. The young Swiss rider is having a great Tour despite him not taking the stage, to ride like he did today at his age – lots of great things are still to come from Hirschi who deserves the combativity award.

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Cycling’s new nation of superstars are at it again!

The Tour heads into the rest day with a new race leader. Pre-race favourite Primož Roglič is our new leader in yellow, the perfect position for Jumbo-Visma to be in ahead of the first rest day. The Slovenian was once again on form, took second on the stage to take key bonus seconds and will now do everything in his power to keep yellow all the way to Paris. Roglič has a stage win under his belt, Jumbo-Visma have been the dominant team despite a few moments where domestiques were going out the back. Sepp Kuss looked better today so all in all they’ll be satisfied with how week one has fared after three stage wins and now the lead of the race.

Last year’s Vuelta was a huge historic moment for Slovenia, so could history be made further for the country at the Tour de France? After losing time in the crosswinds on Stage 7 two stages in the Pyrénées have been the perfect tonic for young Tadej Pogačar. At 21 years old he becomes the youngest stage winner at the Tour in the 21st century and has clawed back precious time to move himself up to seventh overall, 44 seconds behind his Slovenian compatriot. Pogačar breathes confidence and he has provided entertainment for us at home. You have to feel for Marc Hirschi riding well and denied the stage win but that’s bike racing – Pogačar now has stage success at the Tour one year on from the Vuelta.

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The GC is tight after week one. Going into the rest day both pre-race favourites are in first and second – Primož Roglič and Egan Bernal. Ineos Grenadiers have not been at their best and that’s not an unfair criticism. The numbers game has been won by Jumbo-Visma but then again, the numbers game won’t matter if you don’t deliver yellow come Paris.

The defending champion Egan Bernal is still in a good position in fact today was his best showing as he attacked twice on the Marie Blanque but couldn’t quite distance his rivals. It’s a hard race, it’s a mountainous Tour, it’s still in the balance for Bernal to defend his title. At this point last year, the young Colombian was behind Geraint Thomas on GC, not excelling on the climbs but still in the mix to make the podium. Bernal has a challenge on his hands, Dave Brailsford always has a plan up his sleeve, Ineos have to find a new way to win the Tour. They are still in the hunt.

Who were the winners and losers from Stage 9? We’ve mentioned Roglič, Pogačar and Bernal so what about the French prospects after Thibaut Pinot’s horror show yesterday? Guillaume Martin and Romain Bardet both lost 11 seconds on GC but Martin himself remains in third overall and Bardet just behind his compatriot. Cofidis haven’t won a stage at the Tour since 2008 – could Guillaume Martin end that drought? We saw him attack yesterday so perhaps he was paying for his efforts today. A long way to go but Martin is turning out to be the surprise package at this year’s race. Romain Bardet also looks a rejuvenated rider. He’s participating in his last Tour de France for AG2R La Mondiale so one more Grand Boucle to make his team proud?

Colombia are once again having an excellent Tour de France. We know that Egan Bernal became the nation’s first Colombian winner of the yellow jersey last year but for 2020 could we see two Colombians make the podium? Nairo Quintana couldn’t close the gaps on the attacks today but still looks fresh ahead of week two and EF’s Rigoberto Urán is once again putting in good performances at the Tour. He may not be able to repeat his fantastic second place behind Chris Froome in 2017 but a top placing on GC isn’t out of the question. One rider from Colombia who didn’t have a good day was Miguel Ángel López who find himself outside the top ten one minute fifteen seconds behind Roglič.

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Mikel Landa is once again shining bright; Richie Porte is in with a shout of a top ten but the big casualties are Movistar’s Enric Mas and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann. Both teams aren’t having the greatest of Tours, Movistar haven’t done much despite leading the team classification and even though Peter Sagan is in green, not much to shout about for Bora either. Buchmann to be fair did suffer from a crash at the Dauphiné so is unsurprisingly suffering.

A final word must go to Adam Yates who found himself in yellow after bizarre circumstances, rode strong to avoid the crosswind chaos on Stage 7, hung onto the jersey after Stage 8 but wasn’t able to follow the wheels today. He’s out of the maillot jaune but has done a tremendous job in honouring the jersey and making more history for British cycling. The objective now changes for Mitchelton-Scott as they’ll target stage wins for Yates and there will also be opportunities in the sprints for Luka Mezgec.

No change in the green jersey standings as Sam Bennett remains seven points behind Peter Sagan. Benoit Cosnefroy still has the polka-dot jersey and Egan Bernal shoulders the white jersey although Tadej Pogačar could be a threat to him in the weeks ahead.

One non finisher today and a blow to Tadej Pogačar himself with key domestique Fabio Aru leaving the race. Never nice to see a rider leave the Tour and we hope to see Aru back at his best in the not too distant future.

Week one is over, the Tour is on rest day number one. There is still the lingering cloud of coronavirus over the race and it’s particularly annoying when you see spectators not wearing face masks properly. The race moves to the Atlantic coast to begin week two – the 107th Tour rolls on…

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