The Tour is Set. Until Kilometer Zero of Stage 10

Starting the second week of the 2020 Tour de France, order appears to be restored. Heavy pre-race favorite Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma has the yellow jersey. Perennial green-jersey dominator Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe has the green jersey. But even if the surface appears calm and predictable, the race is full of surprises.

While I feared that the Tour had designed a course either too-hard or too easy, with the opening stage in Nice effectively neutralized until the final kilometers, the Fifth Stage to Privas had no breakaways, even the Sixth Stage to Mont Aigoual appeared to be more about shadow boxing than throwing down. It was unclear what the racers were waiting for.

Then Stage Seven began. It was a fight from Kilometer Zero, with Bora-Hansgrohe drilling it at the front as if their entire Tour rested on them blowing the field to pieces before the intermediate sprint, which was only 58km into a 168km day. While they did blow the field apart, it didn’t work as perfectly for Bora as expected. Sagan got beat at the intermediate sprint, and then had a mechanical in the final meters, allowing Wout Van Aert of Jumbo-Visma to win and Sagan could only limp across the line in 13th place, netting a measly four points. The only thing that saved the day from being a disaster for Bora was the fact they distanced all the big sprinters early and none could benefit from Sagan’s mechanical.

The stage also did some sorting of General Classification (GC) favorites, but most had made the split early and only came to grief in the crosswinds of the final kilometers, losing 1:21 to the favorites.

Stages Eight and Nine did more sorting. More importantly, the favorites, who appeared to be saving themselves in the opening days, finally came out to play. Perennial hopeful Thibaut Pinot, a guy I’d love to see finally put it all together, had his back injury from Nice destroy his overall hopes. Roglic proved the pre-race favorite tag worthy, as he went on the attack and rode into yellow. Neophytes Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Emirates) and Marc Hirshi (Sunweb) put in some amazing rides.

Stage Eight was remarkable for how Pogacar seemed to have been able to go to the limit of human performance in his climbing.   Stage Nine was an unexpected blast, as the attacking started from Kilometer Zero and the race was boiling until 58km in, when the 11km long, 8% grade Col de la Hourciere was reached.

But, for me, the biggest story is that the two pre-race super-teams, Jumbo-Visma and Ineos, the team of defending champion, Egan Bernal, were not as dominant as expected. Both teams came to the Tour with two possible leaders. The understudies on both teams, Tom Domoulin on Jumbo and Richard Carapaz of Ineos, appear to have taken themselves out of the running. Of the two, Dumoulin’s is more surprising. He might not have his best form at the moment, but he took himself out of contention by driving the pace on Stage Eight when he didn’t have to. His effort dropped some outside favorites, but it didn’t dent the heavy favorites, and having Dumoulin close later in the race could have added a tactical card for Jumbo to play. The remaining six riders of both teams seemed unable to put on the race-crushing show of Sky in recent years past, though Jumbo seems the stronger of the two.

I think this is a great thing. Without a team maintaining an iron grip on the race, there can be more attacks, more chances, more uncertainty. Better, more exciting racing.

As mentioned, while Roglic is in yellow, and is looking pretty good. It’s hard to see him having an easy time the rest of the race. Pogacar, seventh overall because he lost time in crosswinds, is climbing and sprinting better than Roglic. Bernal is lurking, sitting second overall, though he doesn’t have the form to attack at the moment. A minute separates Roglic from eight place, and every rider in there—third Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), fourth Romain Bardet (AG2R), fifth Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), sixth Rigoberto Uran (EF), seventh Pogacar, and eighth Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)—are all showing their best form in years. While Yates says he’s going for stage wins after his stint in yellow, it’s hard to imagine he’ll want to lose a top ten placing unless a mishap occurs.

As for the Sagan’s grip on green, it’s looking less secure than ever. He leads Sam Bennett of Decunick-Quick Step by a mere seven points, and Sagan isn’t showing the same savvy or burst of speed of previous years. It was shocking to see him out of position for the sprint into Privas on Stage Five, which seemed to be perfect for his skillset.

Another surprising turn was seeing EF Pro Cycling leading the team competition until the end of Stage Nine. Spain’s Movistar squad is the team that makes a run at this by getting in long breaks in the mountains, but EF managed that feat better than Movistar and might be able to continue doing so, though they might need more than rookie Neilson Powless doing all the work.

The King of The Mountains lead is held by Frenchman Benoit Cosnefroy of AG2R. It’s a great ride by the young racer. In many respects, the race for polka dots is the most wide-open in the race, with the points system making it hard for people to target the competition. This, in many respects, makes it harder to follow, as no one is a favorite going in, and thus there’s little build up or chatter ahead of time. Cosnefroy has been doing a great job keeping his lead, but it’s a slender one, and his teammate Nans Peters could take it from him, or so, too, could Marc Hirschi, or any number of riders.

There are no mountain points on offer during Tuesday’s 10th stage, so Cosnefroy will continue for another day in dot. It’s a super-flat course. That written, it is by the coast, and winds should be expected. The race from Île d’Oléron Le Château-d’Oléron to Île de Ré Saint-Martin-de-Ré is longish for this Tour at 168km, but with the sprint points 39km from the finish, and a bridge shortly before the finish, it should be a fast and hard stage, where the Green Jersey could change ands and a few GC favorites could see their Tour dreams blown out in the crosswinds.

Looking forward to it.

 

 

 

JP is the author of Tour Fever: The Armchair Cyclist’s Guide to the Tour de France, which is available both as an eBook and audiobookExperience this singular masterclass either as an eBook  from Kobo , iTunesLulu, or Nook.  Or Audiobook. Read the introduction here. Read the table of contents here. There’s nothing like the Tour de France.  There’s no book like Tour Fever.

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