Tour Rest Day Round Up: As we embark on the final week of the 2020 Tour de France (some said it would never happen), Ed Hood looks at the action so far. Sunday’s stage 15 ended a few hopes, but the race is not over yet and the battle of the Slovenians is still on, with a couple of Colombians and Adam Yates waiting in the wings.
The final one-two?
Yes, I’m biased, I’ve known the man since he wasn’t long out of the junior ranks and watched him rise up through the standings as a World Champion on the track, six day winner, Grand Tour stage winner, National Champion, classic podium finisher to where his is now; that’s the best lead-out man in the business. Denmark and Deceuninck’s Michael Mørkøv. Rudyard Kipling might have written these words about the man; ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you. . .’
Sam Bennett stage win
Cucumber cool, silky smooth, straight as an arrow. As Mr. Bennett himself said; ‘The team was incredible today, Michael was so calm and smooth going into the last kilometre, and I left it as late as possible knowing it was a headwind there.’ Chapeau! To the lead-out Maestro and, ‘yer Maan’ Bennett.
No one in their right mind would wish to see a repeat of the Jasper Philipsen horror crash but Sagan’s declasse was as a direct result of it. The UCi’s sprint political correctness was bound to become even more decaff in nature after that one. With hindsight and having let the heat of the moment cool, if you look carefully at the video of the finish, Sagan was going for the gap, WVA was drifting into the barriers – which were ill-designed, protruding into the road – and which Sagan would have hit with his bars had he not leaned on WVA.
The Slovak’s declasse puts him a long way back in the race for green but certainly spices that battle up with half of the race still to come. Respect to Ewan though, to paraphrase Malcolm X; ‘if you’re the fastest then you’re the fastest!’ But how I miss ‘Cipo & Co,’ no scrappy last K scrabbling to organise the lead out with those dudes; 60 kph line astern from 10K out. There was an occasion when a rival infiltrated the train. Big Mario Scirea, Super Mario’s right hand man had a solution though. He took himself and the imposter into the barriers; future excursions into the Mario Express by outsiders were rare after that one.
Another win for Caleb
And once again the wisdom of fully televised stages has to be questioned – what would YOU talk about for six hours?
Le Tour, it can make you or break you. Thibaut Pinot has some solid palmarès – Lombardia, Milano-Torino, the Tour de l’Ain, the Criterium International, three Tour stages, two Vuelta stages but is in danger of being branded; ‘just another French rider who couldn’t really hack the Tour.’ But on the other hand, a stage win saves your season and guarantees a contract for at least another year.
Sunweb happy with Hirschi
Marc Hirschi’s contract with Sunweb runs to the end of 2021 but don’t be surprised if you see another year or two tacked thereon soon as the Dutch team realise that they have a REAL gem on their hands. As I pontificated about last week a world u23 title is no guarantee of Elite success. The 2009 World u23 Champion – and Tour de ‘Avenir winner, Romain Sicard soldiers on with Team Total Direct Energie with NO Elite wins to his name.
Big future for ‘Spartacus II’
And Team Arkea Samsic is home to Kevin Ledanois the 2015 Champion whose win rate matches that of Sicard. But yes, there are the Ivan Bassos, Michael Matthews and Arnaud Démares – it looks like Cancellara protégé, Hirschi is set to joint them. And if I might remind you that the gladiator, ‘Spartacus’ died in BC 71.
‘Puy’ – cool if we’re talking quality lentils but not if you’re a big rider and the stage finishes on one. It means ‘extinct volcano cone’ and as we predicted in our Tour preview: ‘Father Time waits for no one, not even Rigo Uran; but Sergio Higuita and Dani Martinez have the man with the scythe on their side – expect ‘exploits’ in the montagne from those young men.’
Uran watching the Slovenians
Rigo is actually going well in this race and Martinez did indeed deliver an ‘exploit.’
And isn’t it funny how all talk of, ‘paint drying stages’ is forgotten and forgiven when an ‘exploit’ is delivered?
Guillaume Martin – 11th overall
A day of great racing but disappointing on a personal basis with Bardet out; he’s a man who ‘on his day’ delivers exploits – and we saw Guillaume Martin sliding down the standings. I have a soft spot for the climber/philosopher from his Wanty days and whilst one may scoff at Cofidis lack of Tour results, Francois Migraine, the boss at Cofidis deserves respect for sticking by the sport through thick and thin, ploughing money in year after year. Without the burden of a high GC placing let’s hope Martin is free to deliver an ‘exploit?’
And on the subject of Cofidis, a man I have a lot of respect for, Elia Viviani is missing the mighty Deceuninck – Quick-Step lead-out machine; he’s not at the races in this Tour and second place in a Route d’Occitanie stage to Coquard is the best finish this year from a man whose wins – including the European title – were in double figures last year. Sad – no doubt he’d loved to have stayed in blue, but Patrick Lefevere wasn’t prepared to let him devote a large part of his season to preparing to defend his Olympic omnium title. There’s also the question of whether a French team will work quite as hard for an étranger as they will for a fellow Frenchman? It’s always been thus and makes you have even more respect for Tom Simpson and Barry Hoban who rode and won with French équipes.
Søren Kragh Andersen isn’t perhaps one of the best known riders in the peloton but has a world championship, the TTT with Sunweb in 2017, a Classic, Paris-Tours in 2018 and stages in the Tour de Suisse and Paris-Nice to his name – he’s quality. A man that once he gets the gap, he’s going to be hard to get back – a former Danish u23 Time Trial Champion and this year winner of the time trial in Paris-Nice; the signs were there earlier in the Tour with eighth on Stage Eight and third on Stage 12. This stage win will have given his confidence a huge boost – look for more from him in the near future.
Another win for Sunweb
The GC? Jumbo and Roglič look well in charge but the precocious talent that is Pogačar continues to amaze. And a man who’s been nicely invisible until now and who was flying earlier this year, freed from the shackles of a management team from whom he’d drifted apart, Nairo Quintana will be interesting to observe tomorrow with that monster finale. Tomorrow is also the day we’ll see if Bernal has the legs to defend his title, he’s quality but so is Roglič – whilst Pogačar is remarkable.
That’s the thing about being a cycling journalist, often you make a statement about a race and the next day your assertion is blown out of the water. In Sunday’s ‘Observer’ newspaper, the headline above William Fotheringham’s piece reads; ‘Ineos and Jumbo struggling to spark in the battle of the super-teams.’ The gist of which is that neither team has really imposed itself upon the race – until later the same day that is, when Jumbo-Visma gave us a demonstration of Postal/Sky/Ineos proportions; riding the whole of the finish climb to Grand Colombier on the front and shredding the race, burying and then placing a granite slab on top of any chance Egan Bernal had of defending his Tour title.
The end of Egan Bernal’s 2020 Tour chances
But then I’m the man who wrote in his preview of this stage; ‘With two first Cats. along the way and an HC finish on Grand Colombier, it looks like a slug fest among the ‘Bigs’ and with that mountain top finish any gains made are kept with no descent to claw back time on.’
Not a day for Quintana
A Quintana day?
If a ‘Quintana day’ is one where you finish 18th and drop 3:50 on the leaders as well as four places on GC from fifth to ninth then I got it right. But Bernal and Quintana weren’t the only Colombians in trouble, little EF climber Sergio Higuita crashed out, a broken hand the diagnosis.
Nasty crash for Higuita
But it wasn’t all bad news for the Colombians with ‘Super Man’ Lopez finishing fourth and moving up to the same position on GC. And the man who I reckoned Father Time is catching up with, 33 years-old Rigo Uran took ninth on the stage, only ceding 18 seconds and moved up on to bottom step of the virtual podium. I reckoned that there would be a Colombian on the podium – Bernal or Quintana, oops!
The Grand Colombier was a calvary for some
The two spots look like they’re heading east to the Balkans and Slovenia – a nation of just two million souls. Roglic and his ‘heavy mob’ of Martin, Jansen, Gesink, Bennett, the stunning WVA, Dumoulin and Kuss look rock solid.
Jumbo-Visma – ‘Rock Solid’
The ‘BUT’ is that no one has told Pogacar that at 21 years-of-age he shouldn’t be this good. His attacking exuberance is a joy to behold AND he can time trial so, to the organisers delight, it may just all come down to next Saturday and the Planche des Belles Filles.
# Keep it PEZ for all the Tour action for the final week. #