Le TOUR’20: Ed’s First Rest Day Rant!

Tour Rest Day Round Up: As every year, Ed Hood is welded to the TV for every pedal stroke of the Tour de France. Of course there’s the massive disappointment of not being ‘Roadside’ in 2020 (damn Covid-19), but he’s ever eagle-eyed for the each day’s ‘real’ story. Take it away Ed…

More podiums for Tadej Pogačar

Stage One:
‘Are you watching this?’ It’s Vik on the end of the phone; ‘So now we stop racing if it rains – and we have to cut descents out of the parcours?’

A wet day isn’t Nice

I understand his point, I grew up looking at pictures of Big Ted & Co. covered in snow riding through blizzards in the Tour of Belgium but as my Aussie friend and PR man for Mitchelton-Scott, John Trevorrow observed; “It was carnage on the roads around Nice. After months of dry conditions the rain fell and that meant there was a build-up of oil on the roads and it became ridiculously slippery. I have ridden on those roads and with the twists and turns and tight hairpins they are quite challenging in the dry, but in these conditions it was obviously a nightmare.”

Pinot’s nightmare was just beginning

I’m not always in favour of ‘rider protests’ like the one Cancellara lead a year or two ago but in this case it seemed sensible with guys hitting the deck all over the place and there was little doubt that it was going to end in a sprint.

A Norwegian win

Ah, yes, the sprint: A scrappy, chaotic one but there was Deceuninck’s lead-out ace Michael Mørkøv, cool as a cucumber in the mayhem, delivering Sam Bennett perfectly – all the Irishman had to do was GO! But out of the inane stream of meaningless drivel from the Eurosport commentators one of Matt Stephen’s comments did ring true; when racers, ‘back off’ – especially in the wet – it’s hard to get a head of steam back on and they can become ‘blocked.’ That’s how it looked to me with Bennett.

Valls out

Valls and Gilbert out with fractures and Degenkolb missed the cut – a harsh decision many, including me, thought. And I did say I the Norwegian could win a stage; but I thought it would be the last one. . .

Stage Two:
David Millar once said to me that all the special guys are a little crazy – and a man who’s close to Deceuninck – Quick-Step used practically the same words to describe Julian Alaphilippe to Dave and I. Impulsive, emotional, heart on the sleeve, all or nothing; I for one am glad that he’s like that. He probably went a little too early on the final ascent of the Col de Quatre Chemins but that’s him, racing with his heart rather than his head and delivering an ‘exploit.’
In a world of grey robotic riders ruled by their ear pieces he’s a breath of fresh air.

Alaphilippe racing on feel

Sure, ASO had designed the parcours with him in mind and he was fortunate to have Hirschi and Yates for company – both of whom didn’t shirk – but the Frenchman had to execute and deliver. He did so with panache. Swiss, Hirschi is only 22 years-old but is a quality boy: 2016 he was World Junior Madison Champion with Reto Muller, 2017 saw him seventh in the u23 Ronde and sixth in the u23 Lombardia, 2018 he won the European and World u23 Road race championships and last year was on the podium at the Classica San Sebastian. Definitely one to watch.

Win for his father – But big future for Hirschi

But Alaphilippe’s grip ‘en jaune’ is a mere four seconds over Yates so the Aussie team – which includes no Aussies in the line up – will be keen to skirmish for bonus seconds with Deceuninck equally keen to strengthen Alaphilippe’s margin whilst Sagan will be looking for points. It’s lumpy, there will be a breakaway but it should be a sprint – but with some fireworks along the way at the bonification sprint. Wish I could get my paws on L’Equipe in the morning. . .

Stage Three:
On the official Tour de France website they classify stages as ‘flat’‘hilly’ or ‘mountain’. My amigo, Dave reckons there should be a fourth category; a ‘paint dryer’. This is one where everyone knows it’s going to end in a sprint; so teams with no sprinter or no realistic GC guy fire someone up the road to grab valuable TV team.

The hopeless ‘Break of the Day’

But not the real baroudeurs like De Gendt, GVA or Trentin; those boys don’t have Saint Jude medallions round their necks – he’s the patron saint of lost causes in case your Deity recognition isn’t as good as your rider recognition. But it’s like in the movie, ‘The Green Mile,’ in a ‘paint drier’ the breakaway members are ‘dead men walking’. Carlton Kirby clutches ever more desperately at straws and longs for the last five K and something to actually happen.

One for Caleb

Let’s talk about the sprint then. Ewan was in a class of his own, Bennett and Nizzolo are two of the fastest around and both have good teams behind them but the little Aussie was in a different race. No wonder he’s driving a Lamborghini. Oh yeah, Peter in green – what took him so long? Mountain top finish tomorrow, the first GC joust – there should be more to talk about.

Stage Four:
Song of the day? ‘Too Much Too Young’ by the Specials?

I mean, it’s only Stage Four ‘for goodness sake’ – as Carlton is wont to say.
or ‘King Kong’ by the Jimmy Castor Bunch? It looked like the latter to me and Primoz Kong’s gorilla climber henchmen looked equally impressive. For a Belgian ‘Classicer’ WVA is a mean climber and Kuss is extremely classy, a fact he alerted us to with that Vuelta stage win, last year.

Van Aert – Stage winner and workhorse

Surprises? Prior to the anti-gravity hostilities commencing in earnest it was interesting to see Sam Bennett taking himself into the fight for green – it would be nice to see a challenger to ‘Hulk’ Sagan. Like I said, it’s only Stage Four and as Dario Cioni always used to tell me; ‘a Grand Tour is won in the third week.’

‘Roglic’s statement of intent’

But it’s hard not to notice how strong Jumbo look. As well as Roglic’s statement of intent, Dumoulin was there in 11th place on the same time, for all his work, Kuss only dropped nine seconds and we’ve already mentioned WVA.

Two Tours for Bernal?

And Ineos? Bernal looked on the limit in the finale where he took seventh; but he’s a ‘special one’ and as he demonstrated last year, the last week holds no fears for him. His 2IC, Carapaz ceded 28 seconds but there’s no point in going deep if there’s nothing to be gained. Pogačar in second spot was no surprise, we’ve yet to see that young man’s limits – bear in mind that he’s still only 21 years-old.

Guillaume has his fan club

Always good to see a Frenchman in the limelight and Guillaume Martin’s third place confirmed that his development is coming along nicely; 12th in le Tour last year and third in the Dauphine just days ago – if Thibaut falters could he be the new French hope?

Bernal keeping his powder dry?

Quintana reminded us that he’s ‘Back in the New York Groove’ with fourth place – it would be foolish not to consider the man as a serious contender. Alaphilippe held on to the maillot jaune with fifth spot and the sprinters’ teams should ensure he keeps it tomorrow too. Lopez, Pinot, Landa, Yates, Chaves, Porte, Uran, Bardet are all there too – we’ll be checking their marks after the second exam paper at the top of Mont Aigoual on Stage Six.

Stage Five:
‘Are we there yet?’ The words your children come out with some 20 minutes into a four hour drive. And if you were watching this stage then you might have uttered them yourself? Where have all the ‘suicide jockeys’ gone? Well, the teams with GC aspirations were happy not to have to work too hard and that includes usual ‘doomed breakaway’ specialists Cofidis who now have Guillaume Martin to think about and Arkea-Samsic who have a realistic podium hope in Nairo Quintana.

Alalphilippe started the day in yellow, but didn’t lost it in action

Then there are the sprint teams with concrete chances such as NTT Pro Cycling, Deceuninck – Quick-Step, Lotto-Soudal, and Sunweb plus the ‘dreaming’ sprint teams like Israel Start-Up Nation – Greipel and B&B Hotels-Vital Concept – Coquard. And of course yesterday was sore and stage six looms large with its tough finale to Mont Aigoual.

The finale today was, as it usually is, worth watching though, with Wout Van Aert impressing yet again; yesterday he was turning in a ride any mountains specialist domestique would be proud of whilst today he’s beating the fastest guys around in the sprint. He’s Special.

Ireland in the green

Sam Bennett ended a long wait on an Irishman wearing the green jersey again – some three decades but is it just me imagining it or has Peter Sagan lost much of his pixie dust? Alaphilippe losing the maillot jaune for an ‘illegal feed?’ Don’t get me started!

Stage Six:
Like I said the other day, the Gospel according Saint Dario of Ineos is that ‘a Grand Tour is won in the third week’ and, ‘The Bigs’ seem to be adhering to his dictum with a stage which might have been expected to ignite, given the nature of the finale, having no impact on the GC and one is tempted to say; ‘damp squib?’

The ‘damp squib’ break

The break went; Greg Van Avermaet, Neilson Powless, Alexey Lutsenko, Rémi Cavagna, Nicolas Roche, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Jesús Herrada and Daniel Oss. GVA not being too far off Yates on GC the Mitchelton boys didn’t give them too much rope – and one wonders what Martin and Buchmann think of strong team mates Herrada and Oss wasting all those watts? But as Dave said to me yesterday; ‘there are some strange tactics in play.’

The Kazakh was the strongest

Lutsenko looked the best bet on the parcours of the day and so it proved, winning solo – and taking the time to zip up to show his team colours properly, we like that. I thought I’d check out what the Astana boys would be toasting with tonight; “Kazakhs have a long tradition of drinking koumiss (fermented mare’s milk). Kazakhs and Kyrgyz like a thick, yeasty, slightly fizzy concoction called bozo, made from boiled fermented millet or other grains.” Not sure if Sir David Brailsford would endorse these as part of his ‘marginal gains,’ recovery drinks but they sound like fun. . .

Stage Seven:
The subjects of today’s sermon are; words, Wout and wind. Is it just me or are there more words than ever being written about this Tour – perhaps it’s because it’s the first big Tour of the year and we’re all race starved? Or is it because more and more folks are embracing social media where it’s now so easy to get your opinions, ‘out there’ into the digi-sphere? Whatever the reason, it beats reading about Covid, ‘The Donald’ and Boris.

Van Aert and Dumoulin – Special domestiques

Wout? Let’s leave that to team mate, ‘Big Tom’ Dumoulin: “This is just unbelievable. Wout rode to protect Primoz all day and to keep him out of danger. He also took a lot of wind. It is unbelievable that he can then still pull such a sprint. I have no words for that. The team was again very good today. We were continuously riding in the first part of the peloton with six riders. The fact that our climbers George and Sepp were still able to do massive pulls at the end says a lot about the strength of this team. We knew where we had to be in the front for the crosswinds and we knew where it was going to split apart. It is great that Wout then finishes it off. This is a very beautiful day. Now on to the Pyrenees.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Wonderful Wout

And finally, ‘the wind’. It used to be that ONCE and Rabobank were the echelon Maestros with their panic inducing skills honed on the Spanish Plains and North Sea Coast. Now it’s arguable that Deceuninck – Quick-Step have picked up the mantle as cross-wind Kings. So to see Sam Bennet blown away and losing green to ‘you know who’ and his BORA – hansgrohe villains; let’s just say, if I was a boy in blue I’d be keeping out of Mr. Lefevere’s way this evening.

Yates still in yellow

And another historic day; with Brit’s still in yellow AND pink; I know it’s ‘just’ the Baby Giro but a memorable occasion nonetheless.

Stage Eight:
Dave couldn’t call this one a ‘paint dryer’. That’s for sure. For a change we’ll stick to journalistic convention and open with biggest news first. It’s over for Pinot. He ceded almost 19 minutes on the rest of the favourites and the best he can now hope for is a week three ‘exploit’; perhaps with the pressure off him and a rest day in prospect he can ‘recalibrate’ – to use a David Brailsford word and get back some of that sparkle we know he can produce. FdJ manager Marc Madiot, complete with tastefully dishevelled coiffure explained that his boy hadn’t recovered from his Stage One ‘chute’.

The GC is all over for Pinot

Alaphilippe can forget the GC too, he launched a half-baked attack then changed straight into reverse. But he’ll bounce back with another stage win. Two demerits for the home nation but on the (+) side of the French balance sheet, Peters stormed to a classic lone mountain victory whilst Guillaume Martin and Roman Bardet are still well ‘there’, with both staging late bids for yellow and Bardet even nicking some seconds back.

France hopes

Yates rode a gutsy race but it looked from where I was sitting that Pogačar’s attack, which sees him now back at 0:48 seconds on yellow, was with the approval of Roglič. The Slovenian Mafia?

The Slovenian Mafia

But Jumbo did look a little less invulnerable as Kuss cracked early, Bennett ran out of legs and Dumoulin dropped two minutes on ‘The Bigs’. The two Slovenians and Quintana for the podium? But there’s a long way to go to Gay Paris. And to close, some brutal frankness from BORA’s big hope; “In the final climb, everybody was alone and it was up to each one’s legs.
I simply didn’t have the legs today to follow.”
Emanuel Buchmann.

Stage Nine:
According to the Hipster’s cycling mag Rouleur, it’s pronounced: ‘Ta-day Po-GA-char’. We best get used to saying it. The former Tour de l’Avenir winner, who’s not 22 years-old until the 21st of this month demonstrated his class yet again and endorsed that the fact that like many he’s not, ‘just a Giro or Vuelta rider’, he’s more than capable of handling the demands of the world’s biggest stage race.

Tadej Pogačar – just a Giro or Vuelta rider

As I keep droning on about, ‘there’s a long way to go to Paris’, but this is the young man who I predicted may fade in the last week of the 2019 Vuelta – instead he got stronger and finished on the podium. I hate to ‘big up’ young riders too much – Remco’s horror crash is a case in point – but if the slim man from Komenda’s trajectory continues as it is, I can see him atop a podium on a famous Parisian boulevard.

A big future for Marc Hirschi

And there was another of the ‘new wave’ to the fore on this day, Sunweb’s just turned 22 years-of-age, Marc Hirschi. ‘Ah yes’ you might say but he was European and World u23 Champion so it’s to be expected? But for every Michael Matthews and Arnaud Démare who ‘cuts it’ at the highest level there’s a Giulano Figueras or Fabio Duarte who can’t make the step up. Hirschi’s podium in San Sebastian last year was a clue he can handle it and the way he’s riding in the Tour leaves little room for doubt. Rest day today – try not to think about those cross winds tomorrow. . .

# Keep it PEZ for all the Tour action for the next two weeks. #

adam yatesalaphilippeEgan Bernallatest newsMarc HirschiNow on pezpeter saganPinotPrimoz Roglicrest daysam bennettTadej Pogacartdf20tom dumoulintour20wout van aert