Race Breakdown: Ineos Grenadiers are still holding the pole position for the top place in the Tour de France, but Tadej Pogačar is coming into form. Spencer Martin looks at the Suisse and Slovenian stage races for more pointers for the French Grand Tour.
This week it’s Carapaz for Ineos
Rigo Uran was looking good, but Carapaz had him covered
The last of the pre-Tour de France one-week stage races wrapped up this weekend, with Richard Carapaz extending his Ineos’ team stage race winning streak by taking the overall win at the Tour de Suisse. While Rigoberto Uran did his best to unseat Carapaz in Saturday’s mountain time trial, the Ecuadorian was able to rally behind the strength of his Ineos team on Sunday’s stage to take the overall win by 17-seconds over his fellow South American. The win is a big one for Carapaz, but more importantly, cements his status as co-leader in the incredibly deep Ineos squad just two weeks before the Tour de France.
Carapaz had Uran (and Fuglsang) on his heels
While Carapaz might have submitted a key piece of evidence to his Tour leadership argument, the World’s two strongest grand tour riders, Primoz Roglič and Tadej Pogačar continued to lay low but still present a potentially unsolvable puzzle for the best of the rest. When Carapaz was holding off Uran, Roglič was busy training at his high-altitude Alpine retreat while, across the alps, Tadej Pogačar rode nearly uncontested to overall victory at his home Tour of Slovenia stage race.
Home win for Tadej Pogačar
- Rigoberto Uran has been in virtual hibernation since his 2nd place overall at the 2018 Tour de France, but he laid down a massive marker in the Stage 7 time trial. He showed that while he might not get results in quantity, that he is still capable of a world-class result when the stars align.
- But, despite Uran’s incredible ride on stage 7, Richard Carapaz was still able to hold him off on the picturesque Gotthard Pass at the end of stage 8 to take the overall victory.
- This means that Ineos has swept both major Tour de France preparation races, but oddly, neither race was won by the team’s Tour de France leader, Geraint Thomas. With both Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart being publicly touted as the team’s leaders for the Tour while being outperformed by Richie Porte and Carapaz, the team will have some difficult decisions to make between now and the start of the Tour.
- And Carapaz’s comments after the race didn’t suggest he is ready to take a back seat. When asked about this leadership decision, he didn’t hesitate to throw his name in the hat of protected Ineos leaders for the race.
- And remember, this isn’t some delusional domestique. Carapaz has elite physical skills, incredible race craft, and just as many grand tour wins under his belt as either Thomas or Geoghegan Hart. He might not be able to outperform Pogacar pedal stroke for pedal stroke in a three-week race, but he proved at the 2019 Giro d’Italia that he can come out on top at grand tours with loads of talent due to his formidable combination of brains and brawn (and perhaps the best killer instinct in the peloton).
Carapaz is a team leader
- But, one thing that concerns me, and I’m sure was noticed by Ineos management, was his subpar time trial performance on stage 7 that nearly lost him the overall to Uran. He lost 54-seconds on a 23km-long course that suited him, and I’m sure team boss Dave Brailsford is in a room calculating what he could lose to Pogacar and Roglič in the Tour’s 58kms of time trialing.
- Mike Woods appears to be heading to the Tour as a leader for his ISN team, but the Canadian was undone once again this past weekend by his two major weaknesses, time trialing and descending. On stage 7, he shipped 2’32 to Uran in the time trial, and on stage 8, his incredibly poor descending cost him the stage win after Gino Mader chased him down on a non-technical descent coming into the finish. These weaknesses have kept Woods from winning European stage races his entire pro career, and they aren’t going away before the Tour. It would be a bold choice, but switching from a GC focus to stage-hunting before the race starts could help them increase their haul from the race and save them a frustrating three weeks fighting for a top 15 in the GC.
ISN team leader at the Tour? Michael Woods
- In the stage 7 TT, Alaphilippe opted for a road bike instead of a time trial bike that the other GC favorites used. This proved to be a flawed choice. He crossed the top of the Oberalp Pass only 12-seconds back on stage winner Uran, but lost 28-seconds on the descent and finished 40-seconds back. He may have been helped by the lighter, nimbler road bike in the climb, but that is a ton of time to give up on the descent.
- While Alaphilippe lost precious time on the descent, he still put in a very impressive ride in the race against the clock to cap off the great racing he displayed all week. I believe he would have finished third overall if he wouldn’t have dropped out before the final stage to be present for the recent birth of his child. This would have been his best-ever finish in a major stage race, and while I still believe he isn’t a serious overall contender at the Tour de France, he showed that he certainly has the ability to shake things up for the favorites at the Tour, and could even steal a handful of time in the early stages if they get stuck watching each other.
- In his first race back after his semi-retirement earlier this year, Tom Dumoulin looked decent in both time trials but struggled in nearly every serious road stages. He certainly didn’t look up to the task of working for Roglič at the upcoming Tour, but more worrying for Jumbo is that their climbing support core of Sam Oomen and Antwan Tolhoek also both looked off the pace.
- Making matters worse is that the team failed to get a single rider in the front group of a mountain stage at both the Dauphine and Suisse, and it appears like they will be forced to take a much more backseat approach at the Tour than their dominating presence in 2020.
But, perhaps there is an upside to this. In 2020, they used their strength to hold the race together for three weeks, which only ended up helping Pogacar knock them out of the driver’s seat in the stage 20 TT. But this year they won’t have the strength to inadvertently work for Pogacar, which will force his UAE team to control of the race and will make them more susceptible to long-range guerrilla raids.
Dumoulin not 100% yet – Jumbo-Visma looking weak
Meanwhile, in Slovenia
- While Carapaz was building his Tour leadership resume in Switzerland, Tadej Pogačar dominated at his home race, the Tour of Slovenia. The defending Tour de Champion might have only won a single stage, but he won the overall with shocking ease and was only forced to seriously race for around 20-kilometers. On stage 2, he rode away from the competition on a short climb with around 24-kilometers remaining, but he actually extended his lead on the flat run-in to the finish line and signaled that the flatland time trailing ability he flashed this Spring hasn’t gone anywhere.
- Considering that he is now not only the best climber in the world but also a world-class time trialist, it will be difficult for anyone to challenge him during his campaign for his second-consecutive Tour victory.
- It is a bit of a nitpick, but one possible concern is that Pogačar could actually have de-trained at this race due to the lack of any real mountain stages, the low altitude, and sub-par competition.
- While Pogačar was getting a relatively ‘easy’ ride in Slovenia, Roglič was training at altitude in the high Alps. This past week comprised a key section of the Tour contender’s training, and this isn’t an insignificant contrast.
Pogačar – ‘easy’ ride in Slovenia?
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #