The Pings and Pongs of the Tour de France – a Cousinly Exchange

CP and CJ are cousins and both are interested in the Tour de France. For more information on their relationship and by way of an introduction – see ‘Life at Greenwood’ under All Life’.

CP
100 years after the introduction of the yellow jersey and 50 after the first victory of the wonderful Eddy Merckx, the outcome of the 2019 renewal is very hard to predict. The absence of Chris Froome and handsome Tom Dumoulin has somewhat lessened the appeal for a layman like me, but what disappoints me most is the exclusion by his team of the mighty Cav. Wimbledon is filling my afternoon hours, but I’ll definitely watch the Tour round-up each evening. Gee is a lovely chap and his support team is the strongest, but I don’t see him as a dual winner. It’s time for a home victory – allez Thibaut Pinot!

CJ

Maybe I will try to make a Tour de France exchange of this, since your normal extended commentary will be more of a succession of comments. Let’s try anyway and see how it goes. I must say, that I am a bit jaundiced this year. First, I can’t seem to get the highlights of the Tour for free. Will keep trying, of course. Second, it gets more like a show every year with the puppeteer’s wires becoming more and more visible. And last, the continuous talking of the commentators, with much mindless content, is not very cheering either. Apart from that…….

I agree the absence of Froome and Dumoulin has thrown the cards up in the air a bit; but there are still some strong contenders. I am not so worried about who in particular will win; but rather whether there are some well contested stages of all the normal sorts – breakaway (long or short), sprint finish (bunched or single), surprise attack taking time from someone ahead in the GC and so on (but preferably without so many crashes, of late). Novel contested stages would not come amiss either. Any ideas? I also agree that Cav will be missed; but his showing was not of his best last year and so, maybe we just have to bite the bullet. Not doubt that there are other very strong sprinters on the block.

Thibaut Pinot is certainly worth a punt, not to mention Bardet; but what about Geraint and Adam?  Got to be in with a chance. On va voir tout ca!

CP

Stages 1 and 2

I expatiated in my previous musings about what I perceived as the unwarranted weight given to the time trials. After yesterday’s TTT, Richie Porte and Romain Bardet find themselves almost a minute behind the GC leaders, and in a race where literally every second counts those estimable riders are already faced with a huge figurative and literal uphill struggle.
The exclusion of Mark Cavendish remains a talking point inside and outside his team. If anyone in almost the whole history of the Tour deserved a chance to show a return to form in a race in which he has so often excelled it was surely Cav. Dimension Data’s boss Doug Ryder deserves the opprobrium he has received in some quarters. But what do I know, eh?

CJ

Merci pour ceci.

Surely, the judicious mix of flat, mountains, time trial, and team time trial needs in turn to be judiciously mixed with the range of riders available and the mix of better riders available on any particular tour. Quite a culinary challenge. The Porte and Bardet time loss suggests the mix may not have been ideal. On the other hand, maybe they just had a bad day. Perhaps we need an even bigger time loss to reach such a strong conclusion.

CP

Stage 3

Breakaway – this was a champagne day for Julian Alaphilippe, who took the stage by the scruff of the neck with 16km to go and raced along the Avenue de Champagne above the Moët cellars to finish 26 seconds ahead of the pack on the line at Epernay. He thus gained his third Tour stage win and the first yellow jersey of his career. The corks were also popping for the Lotto Soudal rider Tim Wellens, who became king of the mountains by winning all four categorised climbs.

The day was not quite so sparkling for Geraint Thomas, who lost touch with his Team Ineos co-leader, the 22-year-old Columbian Egan Bernal, on the final short climb to the line. Gee said that it been a good day, but his young rival will be in his element when the Tour reaches the Vosges on Thursday and could well increase his advantage.  I already have an uneasy feeling that Thomas might not be in the top physical form of last year…..but, heh what do I know?

CJ

This was my kind of stage. An excellent performance by Alaphilippe. He went with the break and and then broke himself. All very risky; but he showed good judgement and panache and deserved to win. The yellow Jersey was, of course, a plus and well-deserved. What does it take to perform such a feat? A lot, since so few achieve it. To be relished, when they do.

Wellens did a good job too and put down a KoM marker. Let’s see how long he lasts.

I agree a bit about Thomas; but he is doing well enough so far. Must be in with a chance.

CP

Stage 4

News and Nostalgia – the excitement on the sprinters’ stages is usually reserved for the finish, and Stage 4 from Reims to Nancy was no exception. After a crash-free and fairly routine build-up, the winner in the hectic denouement was the canny 30-year-old Italian Elia Viviani, who was gaining his first Tour de France stage win after scoring eight times in the other Grand Tours. His team mate Julian Alaphilippe, who stays in yellow, was cheered throughout the day by fans shouting his nickname ‘Lou-Lou’ (shades of the much-loved Raymond Poulidor – known as ‘Pou-Pou’- whose career unfortunately coincided with two of the all-time greats, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx). Pou-Pou finished on the podium no fewer that eight times without ever winning in his 14 Tours, and indeed he never once wore the yellow jersey. Now in his eighties, he remains one of his country’s most popular riders.
Chapeau à Michael Schaefer, who won the combativity prize after being at the head of affairs for about 200 kilometres.

CJ

Sprint finishes always make me nervous. Maybe the foreshortened camera angles or somesuch. However, I enjoyed Viviani’s win, which was well-deserved. I always watch out for Sagan. He seems to do too well in sprints for the Green Jersey wearer; but he is always there or there-abouts. Does not do his Green Jersey any harm, of course and I expect to see him win a sprint finish sooner or later.

CP

Stage 5

Peter Sagan’s muscleman pose at the end of Stage 5 was a repeat of his celebrations at the end of his first win back in 2012. This was the brilliant Slovakian’s twelfth stage victory and he has staked an early claim to what would be his seventh green jersey, beating the current record set by the German rider Erik Zabel. His winning sequence started in 2012 and was only interrupted in 2017, when he was disqualified from the Tour after it was judged that he caused Mark Cavendish to crash (Cav was forced to withdraw from the race due to his injuries). 
Sagan was a successful cyclo-cross and mountain bike rider before turning his attention to road racing in 2010, registering his first stage wins in the Paris-Nice road race of that year. Still only 29, Sagan would seem to have many years’ racing ahead of him. 
He has frequently been compared to Eddy Merckx, but, speaking in his home country he said “I do not want to be the second Eddy Merckx, I want to be the first Peter Sagan”.

CJ

Your historical grasp is exceptional – well above my payscale; but I find it interesting, so don’t stop. I think Sagan is a very unusual cyclist. He is obviously an all-rounder as witnessed by his Green Jersey record. But he is also an excellent sprinter and can hold his own in the mountains – at least well enough for the current purpose in hand. So…..can he win the Tour? If not, what is he missing? A good enough team? Something else? He never put a foot wrong in winning Stage 5. I must take a closer look at his CG standing and record. Maybe that will answer some of the above questions.

CP

Can Peter Sagan ever win a Tour de France? It’s an intriguing question and one that every year fills acres of print space. He is the ultimate all-rounder: a topnotch sprinter, he can hold his own on all except the most gruelling climbs, is a very decent triallist and can usually find a way to soldier on when his team falls away.
Much of the discussion about his chances of winning the Tour centres round his weight, given that many recent winners are almost skeletal. But as Greg LeMond points out, though on the chunky side, Sagan carries no excess fat, so losing weight would mean losing muscle mass – but that’s risky and it’s not natural, particularly for such a natural and instinctive rider. 
Though happy to plough a lone furrow if his Bora-Hansgrohe colleagues fall short, he is nonetheless at their mercy in some circumstances, such as the team time trials.

In conclusion, I think I know how Peter Sagan can win a Tour de France: he should join the Sky (now Eneos) outfit.

I end this missive with the usual ‘but what do I know, eh?’

CJ

Three reactions.

  1. He could win the Tour as is; but the chances are not high.
  2. As you say, he could join a stronger team.
  3. Maybe his mountain deficit is the problem and he is not really up to winning the Tour.

This opens up the whole question of the team/individual relations with respect to winning. Bankroll lottery or what?

Stage 6

With seven categorised climbs and 4,000 metres of serious climbing, it was choke out for the riders for long stretches, providing an unusually demanding test as soon as the field hit the mountains. 
The Tour was visiting La Planche des Belles Filles for the fourth time, but this year there was an additional sting in the tail. The final section has been extended (“quite unnecessary” – Adam Yates) up a partly untarmaced drive to produce a particularly gruelling finish with gradients of up to 24%.
This turned out to be a day for the rookies. Dylan Teuns from Belgium and Italian Guilio Ciccone were the last men standing from a 14-man breakaway and had the finish to themselves, with the former gaining the upper hand but the latter, thanks to his second place time and bonus points, taking over the yellow jersey worn for the past three days by Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman, aware of the threat to his position, was never far off the pace, but he was passed in the closing stages by Geraint Thomas, whose determined ride answered all his doubters and moved him above Ineos team-mate and rival Egan Bernal and surely guaranteed his status as clear team leader.
Many familiar names made their presence felt but dropped away, including Michael Landa, Warren Barguil (after an earlier crash) and Alejandro Valverde at the head of his team. Nairo Quintana never threatened, and Roman Bardet lost further time (and all chance in the Tour) following his team’s poor show in the TTT.

Who will win the Tour? After today’s effort I’ll go for genial Gee, but he’ll need more support than he got today (Jonathan Castroviejo and Wout Poels dropped away disappointingly early) when the Tour hits the Alps and Pyrenees.
But then what do I know, eh?

CJ

This was a day of reckoning and a well-contested stage. Fleurs all round. Rookies put up a good show, as you point out and especially Ciccioni, whi put down a marker; but for me the consolidation of the GC riders provided most interest and excitement. Alaphilippe, Thomas and Pinot all did well. Bardet lost the plot. Valverde and Quintana did not make much impression. However….all, or at least quite a lot, to play for, I think.

PS My neighbour in France fancies Alaphilippe and is disappointed with Bardet, who is a local boy; but what does he know? He is looking forward to the Tour visiting Brioude…..Vive l’Auvergne!

CP

Stage 7

The longest stage on this year’s Tour, the 230 kilometres from Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saône, evolved at a largely leisurely pace before the usual frantic dash to the finishing line. Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen, who had crashed out of the very first stage in Brussels, prevailed in a photo-finish with Caleb Ewan, with the omnipresent Peter Sagan in third. Groenewegen, who debuted on the Grand Tour scene in 2012, was celebrating his fourth stage win in the Tour, having lifted the final stage in 2017 and stages 7 and 8 last year.
The leaders had a trouble-free time, enjoying a quiet day between two tough mountain stages.

CJ

Long on distance; but short on drama.

More steady as you go stuff.

Let’s see what the next stage brings.

CP

Stage 8

The popular Thomas de Gendt
Left Macon on victory bendt
Some thought he might yield 
To the rest of the field
But they didn’t see which way he wendt.


Spectacular breakaway wins have long been a trademark of the popular Belgian rider Thomas de Gendt, but even he had to agree that the way he dismantled the field on Stage 8 of the current Tour was his finest achievement. Setting a strong pace that had the peloton well strung out on the long, undulating course long before the finish, he never faltered, raising his arms to celebrate an epic victory on the finishing line at Saint Etienne. Behind him, Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot rode strongly to fight out second place, the former regaining the yellow jersey from Giulio Ciccone. It was a trying day for Geraint Thomas, who shook off an early mechanical only to be involved in a crash when riding strongly about 15 kilometres from the end. Michael Wood and Gee’s Ineos team mate Gianni Moscon collided right in front of him, giving him no chance to avoid the pile-up. (Wood sustained some damage in the crash but managed to complete the stage.) With the assistance of Wout Poels, Gee rejoined the race and finished safely in the peloton, but though staying in fifth place overall, he lost time to both the Frenchmen. Pinot thus replaces Thomas as the leader in GC among the riders originally tipped for success in Paris, but the French now think they might have a potent second string in the exciting Alaphilippe. Jacob Fuglsang lies in 10th place, 30 seconds behind Thomas, while Adam Yates moved up to 12th.

CJ

I agree with your Stage 8 sentiments. De Gendt did the business and with style. Well-deserved. Thomas was unluckily lucky; but lost time to the GC favourites – Pinot and Alaphilippe. However, all still to play for, so to speak. Sagan remains ebullient. 

CP

Stage 9 

Sunday July the 14th will long be remembered as a day of great sporting drama and excitement, with nail-biting climaxes at Wimbledon and Lord’s and Lewis Hamilton making history at Silverstone. Such fireworks were largely absent from Stage 9 of the Tour, with no changes at the top in any of the categories. The stage from Sainte-Etienne to Brioude (home town of Romain Bardet) was won by the 34-year-old South African Daryl Impey, who prevailed in a sharp tussle with the Belgian rider Tiesj Benoot. This was Impey’s first stage win, but in 2013 he spent a couple of days in the yellow jersey when his team won the Team Time Trial in Nice.
The Italian rider Alessandro De Marchi crashed early in the stage and was taken to hospital with serious facial injuries.
Peter Sagan trundled round towards the back of the pack, presumably indicating that his sights were set firmly on green rather than yellow.

CJ

The Brivadois were a bit disappointed with Bardet’s poor showing on this stage. No much to write home about, I must say. In fact, he has been a bit of a disappointment all round. No doubt, we will be hearing more of his descending skills soon; but the Tour is not won on the descent, although it can make a difference at critical moments. Impey did well, of course and the final sprint with Benoot was exciting. Sagan will be in more sprints to come. Mark my words. 

Vive la Republique!

CP

Stage 10

The action in Stage 10 started about 40 kilometres from the finish when Rigoberto Uran tried to take advantage of a sudden cross wind to make a break. This was swiftly countered by Julian Alaphilippe, who took Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal and a few others along. The upshot was that the Alaphilippe group were the big winners and Gee ended the day in second place in GC, the same 1 minute and 12 seconds as before behind the yellow jersey. Adam Yates and Nairo Quintana moved up to 7th and 8th, while Thibaut Pinot, Jacob Fuglsang, Giulio Ciccone and Richie Porte were among those who lost ground. The stage was won by Wout van Aert in a sprint finish with Elia Viviani. This recent convert from cyclo-cross, where he was champion three years running, was winning his first stage; this was the fourth stage win on this Tour for his Jumbo-Visna team.

CJ

An exciting sprint finish, as ever and as usual. However, the drama resided in Pinot’s loss of time and the reverse for Thomas, Alaphilippe, Quintana, Bernal et al. This is not the end of the Tour for Pinot; but it is very bad news. He was gutted in his post race interview and rightly so. His team manager could do no better than utter truisms. Pinot is now even more at risk in the mountains and he will receive no quarter. I would not choose to be in his shoes. He has my sympathy. Of course, it could add some more spice  to the mountains; but they look to be spicy enough already.

CP

Stage 11

The excitement, the crashes, the priceless value of teamwork, the traditional sense of fair play – all this was on show on Stage 11, which took the Tour from Albi to Toulouse. 
The main headlines belong to the Australian Caleb Ewan, whose thrilling stage win (his first, in his first Tour de France) added to his wins in the two other Grand Tours. Knocked back when his usual lead-out man took a tumble into a ditch, he was paced  back by other colleagues into a challenging position, from which he prevailed in the tightest of finishes from Dylan Groenewegen (thus reversing the result of Stage 7). He beat a distinguished list of sprinters: Elia Viviani finished third, Peter Sagan fourth, and Frenchman Warren Barguil surprised many by taking tenth place, surely signalling his well-being for the climbs to come. This win means that 10 different riders have won the first 10 individual stages, which last happened in 1996.
The drama came with a serious crash 28km from home, in which Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana, among others, were caught up. Fair play dictated that they would soon recover into the And so into the second week, where for some riders the serious work and the serious pain really begin. Will the established stars confirm their domination (no surprise winners for many years) or will one of the 30 first-timers break out from the novice ranks and win worldwide acclaim? We have already seen several exciting new sprinters; now it’s the chance for the climbers to take centre stage. For Frenchmen and many neutrals the rider generating most interest is the genial Julian Alaphilippe, who has so far looked very much at home in his yellow jersey. He now needs to add an extra dimension of steel and a ruthless streak to his easygoing persona, without being prey to the vulnerability that has sometimes seemed to beset fellow countrymen such as Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot. We will see.

all was Dutchman Niki Terpstra, who was forced to abandon.
Strongest man by far in the 4-man breakaway was the Belgian rider Aime deGendt: for a few kilometres from 10 km from the end it looked as though the stage was his Toulouse (geddit?) but he succumbed with 4km to go.
Great sportsmanship has always been a feature of the Tour and of competitive cycling in general. (But I remember a exception: in the 2015 Tour the leader Chris Froome was delayed by the roadside with a small mechanical; Vincenzo Nibali saw this (he denies it, but TV pictures confirm it) and accelerated away for a solo stage win. In other sports shows of sportsmanship occur after the heat of battle. Two remarkable instances come to mind. At the end of the Ashes series in 2005, while his team mates were jumping around like mad things, captain Freddie Flintoff walked over to the beaten Australian captain Brett Lee, put his hand on his shoulder and offered a few quiet words of consolation – a simple act that became a symbol for the whole world of sport. In 2017 at the French Open Tennis, Nicholas Almagro was distraught after being forced to withdraw through injury. His opponent Juan Martin Del Porto sat quietly with him with words of consolation, helped him with his kit and added further to the respect Delpo had earned on many previous occasions.
 

CJ

De Gendt had another strong day; but the teams and the sprinters were not inclined to give much away on this occasion. A brave effort, non-the-less. Again, another exciting sprint finish with the usual suspects – Viviani and Sagan, involved; but behind Ewan on the day. The GC remains ready for the mountain stages to be modified; but whether tweaked or reformulated is beyond my payscale. If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would put 50p each-way on reformulation. It’s make or break time for a number of riders and they know, who they are….. Avante and upwards

CP

And so into the second week, where for some riders the serious work and the serious pain really begin. Will the established stars confirm their domination (no surprise winners for many years) or will one of the 30 first-timers break out from the novice ranks and win worldwide acclaim? We have already seen several exciting new sprinters; now it’s the chance for the climbers to take centre stage. For Frenchmen and many neutrals the rider generating most interest is the genial Julian Alaphilippe, who has so far looked very much at home in his yellow jersey. He now needs to add an extra dimension of steel and a ruthless streak to his easygoing persona, without being prey to the vulnerability that has sometimes seemed to beset fellow countrymen such as Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot. We will see.

CJ

We will see indeed. Not much to add here. I am looking forward to a re-shuffling of the climbers; but am not sure who will be going up and who down. Quintana seems to have lost some thrust of late. Can’t remember his last great attack. Pity really. Bardet is not on form. Not sure about Alaphilippe and Pinot. Might be some surprises there. Of course, Thomas should do well.

CP

Stage 12

Adam Yates is in strong contention near the top of the leader board, but it was his twin brother Simon who stole the show on Stage 12 of the Tour. The breakaway that numbered around 40 at its biggest was gradually whittled down so that in the last few kilometres it was clear that just three riders would have the finish to themselves. Those three were Pello Bilbao, Gregor Mühlberger and Simon Yates, and it was the young English rider who sealed the deal thanks to a nifty move on the last corner. He was completing the full set of Grand Tour stage wins. The rest of the breakaway trailed a minute and a half behind the trio, and it was all of nine minutes before the main peloton crossed the line. So no frantic mass dash, and no fireworks among the peloton, headed for much of the day by the powerful Ineos team, who gave clear warning of what might come. The main contenders had a relatively easy day, with no changes among the front-runners, but tomorrow’s Individual Time Trial is certain to see a shake-up.

176 riders in 22 teams started the Tour, and by the end of Stage 12 ten riders had been forced to abandon, including such familiar names as Tejay Van Garderen, Alessandro De Marchi, Niki Terpstra and Rowan Dennis. The attrition rate will no doubt increase as injuries and fatigue take their toll, but the final number of non-finishers varies quite markedly from year to year: only 24 dropped out in 2009 and 2016 (the latter from a field of 198), while in 2000 52 didn’t make it to Paris.

CJ

I am curious who gets into a break-away and on what occasions. This very big one soon became a very small one….but of a very high standard. The 3 musketeers all did well; but Yates did best and thoroughly deserved his win. Long may he enjoy. GC stays stable.

Memories are made of this: Vive la Peyresourde!

Paola enjoying a well-earned rest during our Tour de France

John seems to think it’s all very funny….or maybe just relief at getting to the top.

CP

Stage 13 

As for the riders and teams….what makes a good Tour? I often feel there are too many riders or that too many are not doing anything seen to be interesting. I am not a great believer in crashes to relieve the monotony…….Also, are the teams benign or malignant? Why not try one year without them. The riders would no doubt form alliances of their own, as in the breakaways…..I guess I feel that the nursing of the winner-to-be has become too dominant a feature of the race to the detriment of winners we get.

The leaderboard has been largely static for a few stages, but, as in any Tour, the Individual Time Trual is set to change that. And so it proved: for much of the tricky, bumpy 27km stage the doughty Thomas de Gendt led the field, a lead that stood until the last two riders. Julian Alaphilippe has been a revelation from the start of the Tour, and today he was nothing short of sensational, bettering Geraint Thomas’ time by 14 seconds and thus extending his overall lead. He lit up the Tour with a performance the French crowds have been waiting to see for a generation. Steven Kruijswijk moved into a podium position with a fine Trial and Thibaut Pinot also moved up the list. Rigoberto Uran moved into the top ten, while Dan Martin dropped out of ninth spot.
So there were plenty of ups and plenty of downs, but apart from the Belgian Wout van Aert (winner of Stage 10) having to retire with a badly cut leg, nobody had a real disaster (David Duval’s nonuple 14 at the 7th at Portrush – that’s what I call a real disaster!).
Tomorrow will provide another big test for the amazing Alaphilippe with the formidable Tourmalet awaiting.

CJ

Hats well off to Alaphilippe. Looks like my French neighbour might be right. Alaphilippe won the stage in style and looks to be a worthy yellow jersey wearer, at this time and maybe even into the future. But how far, one may ask? Thomas rode well; but still lost time. Looks like the mountains will be make or break time for Juli and Geri. Looking forward to the tussle and especially the Tourmalet, which I have done a couple of times myself (says he modestly)…….

CP

Stage 14

The Tour regained its magic on a day that gave French fans a double reason to dream of glory on the Champs Elysées. Not only did Julian Alaphilippe continue to astound on this toughest of mountain stages but his compatriot Thibaut Pinot found his very best form to storm up the dreaded Col du Tourmalet to take Stage 14. For much of the climb  Alaphilippe clung to Geraint Thomas’ back wheel, but long before the summit he knew he had the better of his main rival. While Thomas faltered, Alaphilippe stuck on doggedly, passing all but Pinot; Thomas finished an exhausted eighth, and at the end of day found himself more than 2 minutes behind the amazing Frenchman. Stage 15 will show whether G can regain his best form; if not, he could struggle even to make the podium in Paris, as there are four hungry riders snapping at his heels: Kruijswijk, Buchmann, G’s team-mate Bernal and Thibaut Pinot. The top ten is rounded off by three stalwarts of the Tour – Rigoberto Uran, Jakob Fuglsang and the durable veteran Alejandro Valverde (now in his fortieth year) – and the much younger Spaniard Enric Mas, talked of by many as the next Alberto Contador. 

CJ

No doubt in my mind, a great stage. Very competitive with the outcome always in doubt. Alaphilippe continues to outperform himself. Thibaut looks to be stronger and stronger. Thomas a bit disappointing; but he rode intelligently and is still in with a shout. Others did well; but did not threaten the GC classification.

Paola at the top of Galibier. The weather was terrible – rain, mist and clouds at our level. The descent was scary…….

A bit more memory lane…….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

CP

Stage 15

My report will have to wait. I’m out of breath. I’m nearly in tears. I’ve just seen the most exciting stage ever. Can Yates S, Landa and Pinot really be human? Forget what I said about my interest in the Tour fading. WOW!

It might have lacked the drama of the lung-bursting final climb of the previous day, but this  Stage brought its own big moments and ended with a considerable reshuffling of the leader board. All the teams wanted to put their hopefuls in the best possible position before the Alpine challenge next week, so it was no holds barred from the start. The breakaway was packed with star racers, which guaranteed that the peloton was obliged to ride with the choke out for the whole day. On a stage packed with thrills and excitement, three individual performances stood out. Simon Yates, never in contention for major honours, showed his well-being by winning his second stage in three days. Taking over from the front-running Simon Geshke at the top of the penultimate climb, with 8 kilometres to go, he sped away on the Prat d’Albis and was never headed. Michael Landa launched a muscular challenge from way back, but he could never get near the speeding Yates, and indeed he was passed on the line by the rampant, resurgent Thibaut Pinot, the pair of them 33 seconds in arrears. Geraint Thomas, who admitted to feeling below par on Stage 15, regained something like top form, while Julian Alaphilippe finally showed signs of vulnerability, losing time to all his rivals. G cut the gap to 27 seconds, staying in second place, but actually lost time on the stage to Thibaut Pinot, Emanuel Buchmann and his young team-mate Egan Bernal. The result of the day’s gripping events was that the leader board has concertinaed, with only 2 and a bit minutes spanning first to sixth. So Juju keeps his lead and the yellow jersey, but it’s by no means certain that he will be ahead, or even on the podium, after three days in the Alps. The man in top form is Thibaut Pinot, and if he wins the ultimate prize we might hear the roars on the Champs Elysées here in London. 
For me, it’s Thibaut first, then Bernal, with G an honourable third. But hey! What do I know?

CJ

Again, a very satisfying stage – competitive, enough surprises and full commitment all round. Simon Yates continues to be a revelation at the highest level and seems at home there. `his judgement at the finish could not have been bettered. Alaphillippe continues an inspirational tour. And Thibaut has come back from the shadows. What could we ask for more? Maybe Thomas to be better placed; but then even he held his own.

CP

Stage 16

Stage 16 was a relatively undemanding stage that began and ended in Nimes. Two incidents on the road had differing outcomes. Geraint Thomas came off his machine when one of his gears jammed, causing his third meeting with the ground on this Tour but no real damage. For Jakob Fuglsang, the outcome of his crash was that he was forced to abandon with a suspected broken hand. In so doing, he ceded tenth place in the GC to Richie Porte. This stage confirmed Caleb Ewan as one of the sport’s rising stars. Winning his second stage of the Tour, the young Australian came with a sustained challenge to pip Elia Viviani at the end of the bunch sprint.

Peter Sagan was one of many riders who expressed the gravest doubts about having to face the Alps unprotected in the prevailing sweltering heat.

CJ

Crashes aside, this was a break-away/sprint finish stage. Both parts were accomplished with aplomb. The break-away had variety. The sprint finish had excitement. Ewan did the business and deservedly so. You are right he is coming on apace. The GC riders are holding their own; but Alaphillippe is doing best, although Thibaut is riding strongly and on the come back trail. Thomas, on the otherhand, seems a bit sluggardly, if that is not too unfair. Let’s say not as sharp as he needs to be to win back time and grace the podium in other than a supporting role. I sympathise with Sagan having just played 2 sets of tennis and then only doubles…..

CP

Stage 17

A Roman amphitheatre was one of the historic sites on the hilly 200km Stage 17 from Pont du Gard to Gap. A 33-man breakaway soon became 10 and then 6, but no GC challengers were involved so the peloton could concentrate on keeping their leading men safe. It was the ebullient Italian rider Matteo Trentin who seized the initiative before the final descent and was soon gone beyond recall. Stage wins are no stranger to Trentin, whose first, as far back as 2013, saw him inching out the formidable Peter Sagan. The only movement in the peloton was probably the butterflies flapping their wings in the stomachs of riders contemplating three probably decisive days of tough combat amid continuing high temperatures in the Alps. The one moment of real drama concerned two riders seen to be involved in a (rather mild) altercation which resulted in a double disqualification. The evicted riders were the Englishman Luke Rowe and the German Tony Martin, leaving both riders and their teams unhappy at the severity of the penalty. 

CJ

A spirited breakaway, that was whittled down with considerable skill. Trentin did most of the work, showed us the colour of his money and did the business. A thoroughly deserved win.

I thought the peloton had a rest day in the heat. A GC could have had a go; but too risky, I imagine.

How strong would Thomas position be without his team (and indeed, with it)?

CP

Stage 18

Stage 18 was the first of three Alpine stages, with 3 summits of over 2000 metres (the highest 2642) and a hectic long downhill finish. Yesterday’s disqualifications were bad news for the teams involved, Ineos, who lost road captain Luke Rowe, and Jumbo-Visma, now without Tony Martin. This was a double blow for the latter, who had already lost Wout van Aert after a crash on the Individual Time Trial. 
Each leading GC contender had at least one team mate in the high-quality breakaway, which fragmented long before the end, leaving two superb riders no longer thought of as major hopes for glory in Paris to leave the rest in their wake. Once Nairo Quintana had taken the lead he was soon out of sight, crossing the finishing line more than a minute and a half ahead of Romain Bardet. In the main peloton, Egan Bernal was given free rein to attack, and in finishing the Stage in eighth place, he did comfortably the best of the top riders and overtook Geraint Thomas for second place overall 1 minute 30 seconds behind yellow jersey man Julian Alaphilippe. Juju had faltered on the final climb, giving hope to the rest, but used his wonderful descending skills to make up the ground. The next two days will not give him the benefit of a downhill finish.
This was a marvellous performance by Quintana, who lifted himself up to 7th place overall: two more days in this form could yet see the Columbian taking a hand in the final stages. 
For me, Geraint Thomas neither looked nor sounded like the man who conquered the Alps to take the top prize last year.

CJ

I was reflecting on how to think of ‘has beens’ or in the ‘process of so becoming’ and indeed how they think about themselves, such as Quintana, Bardet, Valverde etc. This stage taught me a lesson in non-premature judgement-making.

Although all three did well, Quintana was in flying form and attacked like we all know he could. He won well and deservedly, as did Bardet in the PD jersey.

An exciting and exhilarating stage for me and the riders too, I imagine. There’s hope for us all?

I agree with you about Thomas, not in last year’s form, that’s for sure. He seems to know it himself too. Alaphilippe saved himself yet again by the skin of his teeth. Bernal is a man to watch.

More memory lane stuff…….As you can tell, the weather was bad on the top of the Galibier – note mist, cloud and clothes. Scary ride down, if my memory serves me well. Other cyclists at the top congratulated us on succeeding in riding up on such ‘old technology’ bikes. They said that it would not enter their minds to follow suit.

CP

Stage 19

The Sad Saga of Stage 19.aYesterday, in a totally unexpected turn of events, the weather conspired to spoil one of the world’s toughest and closest fought sporting events. Out of the blue, the combination of hail, snow and mudslides made the final section of Stage 19 too dangerous, with the result that the organisers were obliged to make a quick, crucial decision. The stage would finish at the 2770m summit of the Col de L’iseron, omitting the final descent and climb, and the times at the summit would determine the order for the last day of competition. 
Team Ineos (formerly Sky) had not always been in top form, but here they were, almost at the end of the Tour, with two riders in podium positions. They were anxious to consolidate that advantage from the start, with Wout Poels forcing things along. Geraint Thomas took up the baton, but it was his young team mate, the 22-year-old Columbian Egan Bernal, who spreadeagled the field and breasted the summit with a clear lead, taking the overall top spot from Julian Alaphilippe, who had worn the yellow jersey for an amazing 15 days. While Alaphilippe probably losing the chance for ultimate glory was a big blow to French fans, the earlier retirement of Thibaut Pinot, who been flying over the past few days, was a real disaster. A worsening of the thigh injury he had sustained on Stage 17 made it impossible for him to continue, and the sight of this popular but frequently unlucky Frenchman making a tearful exit, with team mate William Bonnet’s consoling arm round his shoulder, was for me one of the saddest of the whole Tour. For Egan Bernal it was tears of joy, and with a much shortened last day of competition to come, there’s every chance for more tears as he is hailed as the youngest champion for more than 80 years. The main question for tomorrow is whether Geraint Thomas, still strong though not at his 2018 peak, can overtake the fading Alaphilippe to complete an Ineos one-two. Or maybe this most open and compelling Tour has one last surprise……..

CJ

That was the greatest of stages – even apart from the weather and the associated dramatics…….Thibaut dropped out, Bardet slid back, Alaphilippe was dropped and Bernal made a blistering attack, that no-one could follow. Reminded me of Quintana is his earlier days; but was even more impressive. I just think it ranked the best. Thomas could not handle it; but he tried hard and deserves credit.

So, there we are – a turn up for the books and no mistake.

CP

Stage 20

Having done its worst by causing the final two stages to be curtailed, the French weather relented, leaving the roads clear and dry for the dénouement of the most open and exciting Tours for years. Five riders still had realistic hopes of victory, so an epic finale might have been expected. The remarkable Egan Bernal seemed safe in his yellow jersey, but behind him there were questions to resolve: could Geraint Thomas catch the  struggling Julian Alaphilippe, and could G himself see off his close pursuers Steven Kruijswijk and Emanuel Buchmann? 
In the event Alaphilippe finally cracked, dropping to fifth place overall after an adventure that had gripped the cycling world. G thereby inherited second place without a fight and Kruijswijk third and that’s how it stayed, with Wout Poels keeping G safe from an attack which never happened. But the drama of the Stage took place elsewhere. With such a short stage and the likely furious pace, it was felt that any breakaway would fail, but one man had other ideas. Vincenzo Nibali, victor of the 2014 Tour but without a stage win since, lit up the final competitive stage with a superb win, hitting the front before the last climb and distancing himself from the pursuing Alejandro Valverde and Michael Landa. Bernal finished a relaxed, pressure-free fourth, which meant that Romain Bardet clung on to his polka dot jersey, providing a crumb of comfort to the French fans after the setbacks of the last two days. Bardet has been a frequent visitor to the Paris podium, but never in the top spot. Neither he nor William Barguil has reached the heights promised in earlier years, but they will no doubt be back next year. So will Julian Alaphilippe and the luckless Thibaut Pinot, as well as the promising youngster David Gaudu. So the wait for a French winner continues into a 35th year; it’s a gap that’s difficult to explain, given that in the years from 1947 to 1985 they won 21 of the 38 Tours! And they’ll have their work cut out to trouble the first two from this year’s Tour. As the boss of team Sky, Dave Brailsford won every Tour from 2012 to 2018 except 2014, and under its new name Ineos there’s every chance that more success will follow, particularly if Chris Froome is back on board.  
Egan Bernal, the first Columbian to win the Tour (his countryman Nairo Quintana has twice been runner-up and once in third spot) obviously won the Best Young Rider category, while Peter Sagan won the green jersey Overall Points category for the seventh time, surpassing the record set by the German sprinter Erik Zabel, and celebrating with a trademark wheelie crossing the line.

This was the most exciting and open Tour for many years and, as far as I can tell, the cleanest and the fairest, with no stories of doping or cheating and little or none of the abuse that Chris Froome and his team suffered in recent years. And it belongs to a new kid on the block, a polite, unassuming champion who might just have embarked on a long reign at the top.

And so to the processional ride into Paris, the mad dash along the Champs Elysées and the cheers and no doubt a few tears on the awards podium.

CJ

My premature assignment of some star riders to starless status continues to be shown up as poor judgment on my part and to haunt me. Quintana did for me on Stage 19 and now on Stage 20 it was Nibali’s turn…..He made and sustained a great attack, which no-one else could either match or had the GC interest to try. In addition, Bardet polkered his way to the podium…. Landa and Valverde did their bit too. In fact, it looks like being hats off all round – Bernal first, Thomas second, ? third, Bardet Polker and Sagan green. Alaphilippe derves something, though.

CP 

Stage 21

I wonder why the ride into Paris starts so late, with the riders completing the stage in the dark. The stage was the one that every sprinter wants to win, and this year new father Caleb Ewan, with his third stage win of the Tour, takes his place proudly among the sprinting greats. How fitting that Julian Alaphilippe, one of the men of the Tour, should be able to take the plaudits of the crowd in Paris with his Combativity award. 
Is Egan Bernal the NICEST person ever to win the Tour? Nicer even than the consummate team player Geraint Thomas, who dutifully slotted in as Egan’s support rider?

Time after time we see how sport can make people smile and cheer and generally go crazy with genuine delight: today it was heartwarming to see Egan Bernal’s family, his army of supporters and the reception the whole crowd gave him. In Germany, thousands of Dutchmen were equally ecstatic at the heroics of Max Verstappen and thousands of tifosi similarly greeted 
Sebastian Vettel’s amazing progress from 20th to 2nd in the German Grand Prix. For me, the most amusing moment of that race came when Charles Leclerc crashed his Ferrari into a Mercedes hoarding.

Bring on La Vuelta!

CJ

I had to wait till Monday evening to see the Highlights, because of the late finish on the Sunday. Not sure why it’s so late……gives the riders a rest, includes an impressive sunset, TV rights in Australia or somewhere – but really, I have no idea. Eitherway, it was a well-contested sprint and Ewan well deserved his win. As for the rest, I think all the podia placements were well-earned and deserved; but also reflected well the actual performances in the Tour. Bernal’s attack was one of the best I have ever seen and will stay with me for some time to come. His win was as good as any. Thomas did not deserve to win; but earned his second place. He was not on such good form as last year, unfortunately. Bardet earned his PD jersey, as did Sagan his green one. I was pleased to see both men rewarded, also Alaphilippe for giving his all and making a good go of it. A very good Tour indeed. Chapeau a tous!

LA FIN!

TOUR DE FRANCE 2020

For perfectly good reasons, CP has decided to change down a gear or two for this year’s TdeF. His contributions will be highly selective, compared with last year’s. However, they will not be less interesting or less appreciated. Avante!

CP

For those stalwarts Geraint and Chris Froome
In the forthcoming Tour there’s no room.
Their poor form this season
Is clearly the reason
They’ll watch it together on Zoom.

CJ

This is one of the funniest things, that I have read for some time. There is an element of schadenfreude – how are the mighty fallen. Also, of condescension – only ‘stalwarts’ is a bit close to domestique for comfort But also the picture of our two latter day, pop up cycling heroes watching the Tour on Zoom is both sad and topical. Hopefully they will recover; but the cat is well among the pigeons for coming tours.

CP

Hats off to an emotional Michal Kwiatkowsi, who today scored his first win in a Grand Tour stage. Throughout my few years of following the Tour de France I have admired him as a tough and dependable domestique, a bright star in the Sky firmament. He and Karapaz have brought some much needed light into a gloomy second season for Ineos, whose ace rider was so disappointing.
Chapeau also to Richie Porte, who always comes up smiling after his many setbacks. 

CJ

Thanks for this. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to follow the Tour this year with my normal commitment. This is inspite of being in France and a start in Clermont Ferrand. Partly, due our TV being on the blink, partly due to the French public service summary coverage being so short. 

I must say I had not noted Kwiatkowsi or his potential during previous tours. You are more perceptive than I with a deeper reading of the Tour and its tactics. Even the language, which is spoken (especially by the TV commentators, although much of this is received wisdom and needs to be questioned). The same for Karapaz and the poor showing of Ineos. Porte I do know, however, and agree that he more than holds his own. Also, he has not had much luck of late.

I sort of kept up by asking my neighbour about the Tour’s progress. He is an avid sports watcher, in addition to the Tour. His TV has a screen the size of a school blackboard. Not the same though.

Before you point it out, this is feeble beyond measure.

CP

I remember in the past grumbling that an early time trial could decide the outcome of the whole event. No such problem this year. Amazing climax. Party time in Slovenia.
2019 French promise proved to be une fausse aube. Julian Alaphilippe literally bottled out of contention. Romain Bardet succumbed to sickness and abandoned. And 2020 was not a vintage year for Pinot.
The British were eclipsed after years of extraordinary success. Mark Cavendish might be coming towards the end of a glittering career. Geraint Thomas probably has a few more years at or near the top. I fear that Chris Froome might never fully recover from his appalling self-inflicted accident. Adam Yates finished a creditable but never threatening 9th, but those who scan the horizon apparently don’t see much British promise for the near future. 
Ineos, formerly Sky, had a miserable Tour, highlighted by the total eclipse of their team leader Egan Bernal.

Huge congratulations to France for staging the Tour when so many major sporting events were cancelled.

CJ

I agree, chapeau to the Tour organisers. We agree on that. Not so on an early time trial lead determining the final outcome. Such a lead can also act as a challenge, inspiring daring dos and dares. Yates had a good go; but was unable to do the final business. The British cycling Tour climb to fame has been matched by its current demise. Let’s hope the latter is passing; but your analysis suggests otherwise and longer term. As for new blood, how do you rate Carthy, an old head on young shoulders according to the Guardian? He apparently performed well in the Vuelta.

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