To Blog or not to Blog
The answer to the subject question came on day 1. Calamitous crashes effectively put paid to the chances of leading contenders Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic, so enhancing enormously the likelihood of Tadej Pogacar successfully defending his title. The serial faller Chris Froome was in the wars again, but he has not recovered (nor in my view ever will) from his disastrous self-inflicted accident two years ago. Pogacar himself more or less guaranteed victory in Paris with a stupendous effort on today’s stage. The awesome exploits of the renascent Mark Cavendish will almost certainly prove to be the highlight of the Tour, so for me it’s all over blogwise.
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Pogacar ‘ambled’ through the stage, readily producing the burst he needed to be sure he retained yellow, and actually extending his lead over his main rivals. He looks bombproof, as will be reinforced in the coming stages, so my first email will not need revising. It was good to catch glimpses of veterans Niboli and Valverde, apparently two of only four cyclists whose careers date back to Cav’s first stage win in 2008. Who were the other two? Any thoughts (not urgent)? The interest in the Tour now concerns only the places – I’d like to see Uran on the podium, along with Karapaz. But as for the blog, alea jacta est – the die is cast.
2022 sees the Tour de France breaking new ground by visiting Scandinavia for the first time. Denmark becomes the 10th country to stage the Grand Départ and the most northerly in the Tour’s history. A rare Friday start sees a 13km Individual Time Trial through the streets of Copenhagen and two more stages will take place in Denmark before the Tour transfers to France. The remaining stages stay in the home country except for brief forays into Belgium and Switzerland. The Tour’s 21 stages comprise 6 flat, 7 hilly, 6 mountain (with 5 summit finishes) and two ITTs. For the third year running the second time trial is the last stage before Paris; this one lasts 40km and finishes in Rocamadour, and has the potential to make dramatic (and of course decisive) changes to the General Classification. Highlights of the Tour include a return to the dreaded cobbles, with 19 km of cobbles in 11 sections on Stage 5, and the fearsome Alpe d’Huez on Stage 12.
Who will win? The form book says 23-year-old Tadej Pogacar, winner of the last two Tours.
With less than a week to go the 22 teams are finalising their starting line-ups for the Grand Départ in Copenhagen on the 1st of July. Ahead of them lie three weeks, 21 stages and 3328 kilometres of effort, four mountain ranges, unpredictable extremes of sun, wind and rain and (for some the most feared of all) 20 kilometres of Paris-Roubaix cobbles. The other problem 21 teams have is how to beat the Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, winner of the past two Tours and backed by his formidable UAE Team Emirates, including Rafal Majka, George Bennett and Matteo Trentin. In the mix for individual glory are Jumbo-Visma team mates Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard, first and second in the recent Criterium du Dauphiné. Also in the team is Wout van Aert, who will probably be prominent in the sprints and time trials. Ineos Grenadiers may not relive their glory days as Team Sky but they have several top riders, including Geraint Thomas, Daniel Martinez, Filippo Ganna and Mikal Kwiatkoski. One team certain to generate enormous interest is Israel-Premier Tech, with Chris Froome, Michael Woods, Daryl Impey and captain Jakob Fuglsang. Froome guaranteed his place in sporting history by winning the Tour de France four times between 2013 and 2017, missing out only in 2014 when he retired after three falls (Vincenzo Nibali won that year). Froome helped Geraint Thomas to win in 2018, but missed the 2019 Tour after sustaining major injuries before a stage of the Dauphiné. He has apparently not fully regained his abilities and his team can surely not hope for anything better than stage wins. The 2019 Tour was won by Egan Bernal, who is currently recovering from injuries almost as catastrophic as Chris Froome’s, suffered in January of this year. Absent from this year’s Tour through imminent or actual retirement are Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and Tom Dumoulin, while evergreen Mark Cavendish has not been selected. Plenty of familiar names are back for more, including Peter Sagan (for his 11th Tour), Rigoberto Uran and Nairo Quintana. Romain Bardet, Thibaud Pinot, Warren Barguil and Julian Alaphilippe are just four of a large contingent of French riders, all in the search for a home winner that dates back to 1985.
Allez les Brits
British fans of the Tour might have a special interest in the Ineos Grenadiers team, as in its former incarnation as Team Sky it won the Tour seven times in the teens. Though individually not rivalling the likes of Pogacar and Roglic, it is a team full of talent that should feature prominently throughout the Tour, with the prospect of Stage wins. Four of the eight riders are British: Geraint Thomas (recent winner of the Tour de Suisse), Tom Pidcock, Adam Yates and Luke Rowe. The other four are the superb all-rounder Daniel Martinez, the speed men Filippo Ganna and Jonathan Castroviejo and the Paris-Rubaix winner Dylan van Baarle, who should at least stay upright on the cobbled Stage 5.
Other news: it was announced three days before the start of the Tour that the popular Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe will not be among the starters, having not fully recovered from a recent accident. His Quick Step- Alpha Vinyl team will attract particular attention in the first three Stages, as three of the team are Danish.
A few days before the start of the 2022 Tour de France, MARK CAVENDISH won his second National Road Championship, showing himself to be on top form and eager for further success. But the 37-year-old Manxman won’t have the chance to add to his 34 Stage wins in the Tour de France as the Dutch sprinter Fabio Jakobsen has been preferred by his Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl team. Pity.
At about the same time PETER SAGAN showed himself ready for the Tour after winning the road race in the Slovakian National Championships for the eighth time. Unlike Cav, Sagan will be in the Tour, his 11th, with the Green Jersey once again firmly in his sights.
As the 109th Tour de France started, 23-year-old Tadej Pogacar was the hot favourite to become only the second rider to win his first three Tours (Eddy Merckx was the first). Next in the betting came team mates Primoz Roglic and the Dane Jonas Vingegaard, a long way ahead of Geraint Thomas and the rest. The field comprised 22 teams of 8 – 176 riders in total.
Stage 1. Individual Time Trial in Copenhagen
Denmark is a country of cyclists, and the Tour was certain to receive a warm welcome on its first visit. Stage 1 was an Individual Time Trial of 13.2 kilometres through the streets of Copenhagen and its route included the Queen Louise Bridge, on what is reputedly the busiest cycle route in the world. The course was short, sharp and tricky and was likely to create gaps that will leave some General Classification (GC) contenders with time to make up. And they will be mindful, if not fearful, that there’s a second and much longer ITT to face at the end of the Tour.
Since this was an individual trial, the 176 riders set off one by one at one minute intervals. It thus fell to one lone cyclist to get the 2022 Tour under way: that cyclist was the Frenchman Jérémy Lecroq of team BBK. Conditions ranged from wet to chucking it down to relenting somewhat, and it was surprising that only a couple of riders had slithering falls. Less surprising were the huge, enthusiastic crowds that lined the course.
The surprise winner of the Stage was Frenchman Yves Lampaert of QST, who thus wins the first yellow jersey. Wout van Aert, from the same Jumbo-Visma team as Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard, was second, while Tadej Pogacar in third did best of the three leading GC contenders, 8 and 9 seconds quicker than GC rivals Vingegaard and Roglic. Geraint Thomas, 18 seconds slower than TP, admitted cornering quite timidly at first, and also forgot to take off his body warmer at the start: “I was cornering like my wife and she hasn’t ridden a bike in 12 years.”
Stage 2. Ruskilde to Nyborg 202km
Not a tough course, mainly flat with only a few moderate gradients. The main factor would probably be the wind, in particular the crosswind on the totally exposed Great Belt Bridges that join the west (Zealand) and east (Funen) parts of Denmark.
The Stage started with an immediate four-men breakaway in which the Norwegian Sven Erik Bystrom lasted longest. He held off all pursuers until just 30 kilometres from the end and fully deserved the day’s combativity award. Apart from a few minor incidents all seemed to be going smoothly until the straight stretch on the Bridges. The first crash put Rigoberto Uran on the back foot (he recovered with the help of his team) but a major crash soon afterwards was much more disruptive. Yves Lampaert, the yellow jersey rider, one of many who came down, was quickly back in the saddle to help his team’s main sprinter Fabio Jakobsen. Several who didn’t come down were held up, and in the depleted, muscular final dash the honours went to Jakobsen – QST’s second win in the first two days. This was Jakobsen’s first Stage win in the Tour and fully justified his selection ahead of Mark Cavendish as the team sprinter. Second on the line was the Belgian Jumbo-Visma rider Wout van Aert, whose six-second time bonus put him in the GC lead by a single second from fellow Belgian Lampaert. The three other main GC contenders Pogacar, Vingegaard and Roglic kept their relative positions at 8, 16 and 17 seconds behind the leader. Pogacar was one of those held up in the melée, but since it happened within 3 kilometres of the finish the rules state that those involved are given the same time as the group they were riding with.
Stage 3. Vejle to Sonderborg 182 km
The Stage runs down the east side of the Jutland Peninsula and, on less exposed roads with only minor climbs, should produce a second sprint finish.
The Danish rider Magnus Cort was one of the quartet in yesterday’s breakaway, when’s he amassed sufficient points in the interim checkpoints to become the initial King of the Mountains and wearer of the polka dot jersey. On today’s Stage, but this time alone, he employed similar tearaway tactics that guaranteed his retaining the title and the jersey. The bulk of the Stage passed without incident, the riders coping well with the blustery winds, the narrow roads and the Category 4 climbs. A crash 10 kilometres from the end caused no casualties though Tour favourite Tadej Pogacar was lucky to be just one bike ahead of the incident. The frantic dash to the line produced a surprise winner in the Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen of Team Bike Exchange. He finished inches ahead of Wout van Aert, who thus became the third runner-up in as many days. He retains the yellow jersey and other time gaps are more or less unchanged.
So ended three days in Denmark when it seemed that the whole population had turned out to line the route. The Tour now packs its bags and heads to its home country. Many of the British fans who travelled to Denmark will doubtless also make that journey and meet hundred of Brits who will cross the English Channel by ferry to watch Stage 4 on the northern French coast.
Stage 4. Dunkirk to Calais 171km
Wout of this World!
In spite of the crashes and mishaps of the recent stages the field remained intact for the first stage on home territory. The start and finish are on the coast but the itinerary in between is inland, an undulating route punctuated by six Cat4 climbs. After leaving Dunkirk the Stage briefly heads south to the Côte de Cassel, the first climb, before sweeping westward to the Côte d’Opale near Cap Gris Nez and up to the finish in Calais.
Before the start of the Stage a moment of respect was held for the victims of the shootings in Copenhagen on the last day of the Tour’s stay in Denmark. The people of Copenhagen, and indeed of the whole of Denmark, had given the Tour one of the greatest welcomes it has ever enjoyed, and the tragedy was deeply felt by the Tour’s riders and organisers.
The Stage started and finished at coastal ports, but was essentially inland. In addition to six Cat 4 climbs the route also had numerous lesser ups and downs, and in the later stages the wind off the English Channel provided another challenge.
Magnus Cort was in no mood to give up his polka-dot jersey and set off in a breakaway with the French Cofitis rider Anthony Perez. With 45 kilometres to go Perez went on alone and shortly after, Cort was reeled in by the peloton. The Côte de Harlettes, 102 kilometres into the Stage, marked 500 kilometres from the start of the race; Cort had spent 400 of this distance in breakaways. The valiant Perez rode on until the latest stages, earning the day’s combativity award.
Countryside became coast and on the last climb Team Jumbo-Visma took the initiative and their Wout van Aert, runner-up in all three earlier Stages, decided to leave nothing to chance and sped into a lead which he kept to the end. The second man, Jasper Philipsen, celebrated as though he had won, such was the confusion caused by the sudden moves on the climb. Van Aert had won a mountain stage, a time trial and a bunch sprint in last year’s Tour, but he regarded today’s feat as at leastp the equal of that achievement.
At the end of an exciting day Wout is 25 seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert, with Pogacar at 32 seconds, Vingegaard at 40 and Roglic at 41. Best of the Ineos Grenadiers are Adam Yates and Tim Pidcock at 48 and 49 seconds.
Oh! I nearly forgot. Happy Birthday Philippe Gilbert, riding with Team Lotto Soudal, 40 today.
Stage 5. Lille Métropole to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut 157km
Prayer for Stage 5: Pavé Maria
Eleven stretches of cobbles (pavé) covering nearly 20 kilometres provided a stern test of the riders, with time gaps a likelihood and withdrawals a real possibility. Many factors went into successfully negotiating the cobbles, including experience, technique, choice of equipment, the ability to avoid or ride round trouble……and luck. As in all the stages, lost time was difficult to recover, and at this early stage of the Tour time intervals were small. 17 riders were within a minute of the lead, and 70 within two minutes. Chris Froome, in 80th place, was 2 minutes and 20 seconds off the pace. The first drama occurred 20 kilometres before the first cobbled section when race leader Wout van Aert fell among a packed field on a straight section. He was helped back by a team mate, but it was to be just the start of troubles for Team Jumbo-Visma, mainly not connected with the cobbles. Roglic was brought down and Vingegaard suffered a mechanical problem. Van Aert did his best to help his leaders, but when it became clear that Roglic was too far back he rode for himself in an attempt to retain his yellow jersey. But the cobbles gradually caused gaps in the peloton that had an increasing effect on the time intervals. All the while a breakaway, free from any trouble, was staying well ahead of the field, in which race favourite Tadej Pogacar was making significant progress. The breakaway kept its lead to the end, with Australian Simon Clarke celebrating a first Tour stage win (and a first for the newly formed Israel-Premier Tech team).The heroic Wout van Aert kept his overall lead, with two of the breakaway next, Pogacar 4th at 19 seconds, Vingegaard at 40 seconds and a trio of Ineos riders – Adam Yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas – within 50 seconds. It was a disastrous day for Primoz Roglic, who finished 2 mins 36 seconds behind his team mate van Aert. He was undone not by cobbles but a stray hay bale at a roundabout. Caleb Owen and Brandon McNulty were upended in the same incident but all were able to continue, Roglic after putting back his dislocated collar bone.
Stage 6. Binche to Longwy 220km
The Tour’s longest stage starts in Belgium and covers 220 kilometres of ups and downs ending in a stiff climb up to the Citadel in Longwy. Binche has welcomed the Tour once before, in 2019, while Longwy has been visited twice, in 1982 and in 2017, when Peter Sagan won the Stage.
Coming straight after the day of bone-jarring pavé there will be many bruised and battered bodies on the starting line. Three who won’t be present are the Australian Jack Haig, Daniel Oss, one of Peter Sagan’s trusty lieutenants, and the Austrian Michael Gogl, whose injuries forced them to abandon.
Tadej Pogacar’s awesome display of power and poise on yesterday’s Stage has made him an even shorter-priced favourite for Tour Glory. Jumbo-Visma are still in the hunt with Wout van Aert and Jonas Vingegaard, but their star Primoz Roglic will have to sprout wings to recover from yesterday’s debacle. Ineos Grenadiers will also fancy their chances, at least of a podium, with a number of riders less than a minute off the lead and the guarantee of strong teamwork.
Yesterday’s exertions had been forgotten as the riders got off to a speedy start, with several attempted breakaways that were pulled back. But when the trio of Wout van Aert, Jakob Fuglsand and Quinn Simmons went clear with 140 kilometres to go they certainly meant business. They were working hard but also putting pressure on the peloton, which could not afford to give them too much rope. Fuglsang stopped by the roadside with about 60 km to go, and at 30 km the American Simmons, at just 21 the youngest rider in the Tour, had given his all and dropped away. Wout van Aert stuck courageously to his task, but when he was finally caught with 11 km to race he was quickly swallowed up, out of the yellow jersey and out of GC contention. He was finally to finish the day more than seven minutes off the lead. The final 20 kilometres had four climbs, which took their toll on a tired peloton. One exception was Tadej Pogacar, who produced a scintillating burst of speed to take the Stage from Michael Matthews, with David Gaudu, the debutant Tim Pidcock, Nairo Quintana, Primoz Roglic and Romain Bardet not far behind. With the ten second time bonus Pogacar took the overall lead, with Neilson Powless (one of yesterday’s breakaways) second, with Vingegaard next and 4 Ineos Grenadiers in the top ten, less than a minute behind the leader.
The day’s only casualty was Alex Kirsch of Trek Segafredo, who had not felt well at the start and eventually withdrew from the Tour.
Tomorrow sees the first mountain stage, with more GC changes almost guaranteed.
Stage 7. Tomblaine to La Super Planche des Belles Filles 176.3km
The stage sees the first summit finish of the 2022 Tour. La Super Planche des Belles Filles first featured in the 2012 Tour, when young Chris Froome gained his first stage win. In 2019 Dylan Teuns was victorious and in 2020 it was where Tadej Pogacar got the better of Primoz Roglic to announce his arrival at the top. All the climbing is in the second half of the Stage, with two Cat 3 climbs (6.3% and 6.4%) providing warm-ups for the big one, where the gradient averages 8.7% over 7 kilometres but in some parts is very much steeper. Right at the end, with a section on gravel, the gradient reaches a vertiginous 24%. This is the first real test of the legs of the GC contenders and is almost certain to result in changes in the time gaps among the leaders.
Nothing much happened in the first 40 kilometres, when Simon Geschke shot clear of the field. He was joined by ten riders, but the breakaway settled at seven for a large part of the Stage. Geschke took maximum points on both climbs, becoming the main rival in the polka dot class to Magnus Cort. Also in the breakaway were Dylan Teuns and Lennard Kämna. As the climbing began the number in the breakaway began to reduce, and for the last few punishing kilometres Lennard Kämna rode alone. All the time UAE Team Emirates were prominent, with their leader Tadej Pogacar among them, but in the later stages Ineos Grenadiers took a turn at the front. With 8 kilometres of the Stage left the serious climbing began and the peloton immediately began to lose stragglers.
With 2 kilometres to go Pogacar was let loose and set about catching the brave leader, who was finally caught on the brutal last stretch. Jonas Vingegaard looked to have won the Stage when he swept past Kämna and led Pogacar, but the latter produced an electrifying burst that sealed the Stage. He now leads Vingegaard by 35 seconds. Ineos Grenadiers are still well grouped, with four riders in the top ten, which also includes two Frenchmen, David Gaudu and Romain Bardet. Chris Froome finished safe and sound, actually improving his position from 71st to 50th.
Stage 8. Dôle to Lausanne 186.3km
The stage started in the town of Dôle, birthplace 200 years ago of the chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, and ended by Lake Geneva at Lausanne in Switzerland.
Two riders, Vegard Stake Laengen of Team Emirates and Geoffrey Bouchard of AG2R Citroën, tested positive for Covid and did not start the Stage.
The day began quite cautiously, with a number of attempted breakaways that always came back to the pack. But after seven kilometres three riders got together for a breakaway that kept the peloton at bay for almost the whole stage – Mattio Cattaneo of QST, Frederick Frison of Lotto Soudal and Fred Wright of Bahrain Victorious. Cattaneo was by far the best placed in the general classification, lying in 19th spot 3’58” off the lead.
The main drama came early with a big crash that involved many of the top riders, including Pogacar, Geraint Thomas, David Gaudu and Nairo Quintana. Two others who were in the same pile-up were forced to withdraw – Kevin Vermaerke of DSM and Gianni Moscow of Astana. Television film showed Romain Bardet actually changing a shoe while riding alongside his team car – a remarkable combination of skill and trust between the rider, the mechanic and the driver.
The majority of the stage proceeded reasonably calmly, with the peloton riding hard through gorgeous lush forests, passing into Switzerland with 72 kilometres left. At 66km breakaway Frison dropped back into the pack and in the last 10 km Cattaneo ran out of steam. The day’s combativity award went to him; why not to Londoner Fred Wright, who bravely held off the pursuers until 3 km from the end? Rafal Majka led the charge in the final uphill stretch, with most of the GC contenders at his heels. Michael Matthews, frustrated by Pogacar on Stage 6, came to win the Stage but saw the remarkable Belgian Wout van Aert sweep past both to claim his eighth individual Tour stage victory and his second of this Tour. He now has a huge lead in the green jersey points class.
Pogacar, looking as unruffled as ever, slightly extended his lead over the field, with main rival at 39” and Ineos Grenadiers still with four men in the top ten. They lead the Team classification, and Magnus Cort is still King of the Mountains but only by one point from…..Pogacar of course, who is naturally top of the white jersey (young riders) category.
Stage 9. Aigle to Châtel Les Portes du Soleil
The Breakaway has its Day
The question for the peloton on this stage, which included the first Alpine climb, was how to take time out of the leader Tadej Pogacar. The breakaways took time to develop but eventually two groups became one and an impressive 21 riders established a clear lead, with UAE Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers animating the peloton. The real excitement of the stage began with 62 kilometres to go, on the descent after the first major climb. The Luxembourg rider Bob Jungels broke free from the group and was soon riding hard in splendid isolation. The pace and the climbs were gradually whittling down the breakaway and stragglers were dropping off the peloton. Even Wout van Aert found the going too tough and was soon in trouble. This situation did not suit one rider, the popular and vastly experienced Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, who dashed away from the breakaway in pursuit of Jungels. This was a bold move move from Pinot, who the day before had suffered double misfortune. He was recovering lost time from a fall when he was struck by a food bag wielded from the roadside by a seigneur (helper) reaching across to service a rider from another team. But here he was in the thick of battle once again. The ensuing excitement and tension made this a very special stage.
Would Thibaud catch Bob? Would the surviving breakaway duo Carlos Verona and Jonathan Castroviejo catch Thibaud? And would the peloton make up more than two minutes and catch everyone? Bob Jungels held on for an emotional win and Verona and Castroviejo overtook an exhausted Thibaut Pinot near the finish. The peloton should have been able to take it easy, but at the death its leader Tadej Pogacar and rival Jonas Vingegaard closed to within a few seconds of Pinot.
Pogacar stays on top, Vingegaard second, and Ineos Grenadiers are still there with three British riders in the first seven. But the joint team leader Dani Martinez had a bad day and dropped out of contention; if he comes back refreshed he could still be a big asset to the team.
Châtel was visited by the Tour in 1975, when Lucien van Impe won a time trial from Ole Ritter and someone called Eddy Merckx.
Happy birthday Florian Sénéchal of QST, 29 today.
Stage 10. Morzine les Portes du Soleil to Megève 148.1km
After a rest day the Tour braced itself for the rigours of the Alps. Stage 10 gave just a flavour of what was to come with Cat 4,3 and 2 climbs. With two brutal days to come, perhaps the GC contenders would save their legs by letting the breakaway have another day (always assuming it contained no threat to the lead).
Four more riders were forced to leave the Tour: Luke Durbridge and George Bennett (UAE Team Emirates) with Covid; Ben O’Connor and Alexis Vuillermoz with injury.
Once again, the final breakaway took quite a while to develop, with waves of small groups growing to a final 25 just after halfway. One of the groups was a real veterans’ quartet, with Dylan van Baarl, L L Sanchez, Pierre Rolland and Philippe Gilbert averaging a venerable 36 years and 50 days.
With about 35 kilometres to run the Stage was brought to an abrupt halt (literally) when the road was blocked by a number of demonstrators. At the resumption, brilliant organisation ensured that the time gaps, with breakaway and peloton kilometres apart, remained exactly the same. For the rest of the Stage activity was frenetic in the breakaway, with Alberto Bettiol and Lennard Kämna among the chief animators. The lead over the peloton grew to 9 minutes, and for a while Kämna took the virtual lead (yellow jersey) from Pogacar. In an exciting final thrust for the line at Megève Magnus Cort, who won an earlier stage, swooped late to deny Nick Schwartz by inches. Kämna had a nail-biting wait for the peloton to arrive before he knew if he would be wearing yellow the next day; but it was not to be, with the ultra-competitive Pogacar leading the peloton home. Kämna was placed second overall at 11” in an otherwise unchanged GC list.
Year after year the Tour has shown that seconds are easy to lose and difficult to recoup; in the next two days we are likely to see that coming true again, but possibly in minutes rather than seconds.
Stage 11. Preface
If I never see another Stage of the Tour de France I will still be happy to tell people that I saw this one. The final killer climb had everything: daring breaks, blasts from the past (Nairo Quintana back to his best), dedication to the team (Wout van Aert), superhuman effort (Warren Barguil riding almost to a standstill), unbelievable excitement as the leading group changed from calm and orderly at 7.5km to crazy thereafter, the moment when the bulletproof Pogacar became human and couldn’t live with Geraint Thomas…….. Absorbing, thrilling, certainly emotional. It might take some time to do justice to the report!
Stage 11. Albertville to Col du Granon 151.7km
A Day for the Brave
The Tour enters a new and pivotal stage today as it meets the high Alpine mountains and twice climbs above 2000 metres. Two of the climbs are designated HC (hors catégorie) – the highest – and the last is a summit finish. The starter on this day of days is the absurdly picturesque Lacets de Montvernier, a tortuous succession of 18 of the tightest hairpin bends in the space of about 2.5 kilometres. Add in the effect of winds and heat and it is almost certain that the GC picture will have changed by the end of the day. Always on the minds of his rivals is how to put Tadej Pogacar under pressure; he has so far not put a pedal wrong, and even the loss of two team-mates will probably not trouble him. It might need a change of tactics by the rivals – perhaps sending a rider high up the GC ranking to force the pace, obliging UAE Team Emirates to respond at a time that might not suit them. In an interview before the start Tadej Pogacar said that he expected attacks and fireworks. He got both.
An hour on the flat gave way to the spectacular Lacets de Montvernier, a dizzying collection of hairpins climbing up a cliff in a 2.5 km stretch. First up was the breakaway of 20 riders, undisturbed by the peloton as it contained no threat to the GC rankings with Warren Barguil closest to the lead at 13 minutes. But it was this popular Frenchman who helped to make this a stage to remember. Matthieu van der Poel abandoned the Tour shortly after the summit, and Oliver Naesen also abandoned.
Wout van Aert, as usual, made a great contribution to proceedings, keeping the peloton on its toes, riding Primoz Roglic back into contention and consolidating his own position in the green jersey category. At times it seemed that Roglic was really back towards the top, especially in an entertaining few kilometres of jousting with Pogacar, Jonas Vingegaard and Geraint Thomas. With 50 km to go the always prominent Warren Barguil dashed into a clear lead that he was to keep until well into the final climb. The pace and the climbs took the inevitable toll on the breakaway and the peloton, but at the start of the final climb a group of 18 contained all the leading contenders. Attacks came soon, from a back-to-form Nairo Quintana and from Romain Bardet, but the attack that proved to be decisive was that of Jonas Vingegaard. When he shot clear Pogacar could not respond, and he also had no answer when passed by Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates and David Gaudu. In a short time he changed from confidently smiling for the camera to being completely broken, as distressing a sight as it was surprising. Vingegaard now tops the rankings, with Bardet second and Pogacar third, 2’22” off the lead. Thomas, Yates and Quintana come next. A Tour that had risked becoming a walkover had suddenly been thrown wide open, and the Alps have more of the same to offer on tomorrow’s even more demanding stage.
Stage 12. Briançon to Alpe d’Huez 165.1km
A New Star and a Star Reborn
True, team Jumbo-Visma did a great job controlling the peloton and keeping the yellow jersey safe.
True, Tadej Pogacar put yesterday’s setback behind him and kept up his challenge – but if he’s going to take time out of Jonas Vingegaard it won’t be on climbs.
True, most of the 159 riders who started the Stage coped well with the brutal climbs, the stifling heat and the crazy crowds.
True, 36-year-old Geraint Thomas showed the form that won him the Tour in 2018 – and there was no Pogacar and no Vingegaard then.
TOM PIDCOCK, not quite 23, is a multiple champion in cyclo cross, mountain biking and road racing, and today he added victory in one of the most brutal and iconic stages in the Tour de France. Once he bit the bullet and made his intentions plain, he put up a bravado show of climbing and descending, defying the gradients, the heat and the crowds to finish the Stage 48 seconds ahead of his nearest pursuer. It was, quite literally, a breathtaking performance, and one that took him into the list of top GC contenders.
CHRIS FROOME was one of the few who thought that, after the terrible crash in 2019, he would ever regain the form that won him four Tours. Today the 37-year-old set out with the clear intention of winning the last, savage Stage up to the Alpe d’Huez. He didn’t quite succeed, but he was right up with 22-year-old Tom Pidcock until the final few kilometres, letting the world (and himself) know that there are still races in those legs.
At the end of this extraordinary day, the 1, 2, 3 in the GC rankings stayed the same.
Stage 13. Le Bourg d’Oisans to Saint-Etienne
Yesterday the spotlight fell on two British riders, one of them humbling Huez and showing us the future, the other rolling back the years. But throughout the day the battle for top honours continued. Jonas Vingegaard finished second in last year’s Tour; he was initially a domestique for Primoz Roglic, but when the latter had to withdraw from the Tour he twice finished second to the eventual winner Tadej Pogacar. So it had a special significance when in this year’s Tour he outperformed Pogacar for the first time. Pogacar has a mountain to climb (oops!) if he is to recover the 2 minutes and 22 seconds by which he trails Vingegaard – and the latter is clad in the armour of the full complement of his Jumbo-Visma team mates. And neither can afford a moment’s relaxation, as the gritty Geraint Thomas is still in a threatening third place.
Today’s Stage might not deliver the challenges of the two daunting Alpine Stages but it still has one Cat 2 and two Cat 3 climbs, with plenty of ups and downs in between as well as crosswinds and heat to contend with – and it’s long. If the breakaway poses no threat to the GC leaders it might stay the course or it might deliver a sprint finish. That possibility was in Caleb Ewan’s mind when he spoke of this stage as one of the few opportunities for sprinters. Sadly it was not to be his day, as a fall put paid to his chances. Other sprinters had no more success so it was left to a breakaway bunch to seize the opportunity – and seize it they did. The seven-man group was given its head (later reduced to six) and held the lead throughout. The Dane Mads Pedersen seemed to be the strongest of the six and he got his tactics just right. With 12 km to go he split the group in two, reducing his rivals to three, and in the last 250 metres he sprinted clear of Fred Wright and Hugo Houle. The ever-competitive Wout van Aert led home the peloton for seventh place and a few more green jersey points. There was no change in the GC rankings.
Stage 14. Saint Etienne to Mende 192.5 km
Warren Barguil did not start Stage 13 and Victor Lafay abandoned mid-stage.
Today’s Stage is tough and hilly, with 5 classified climbs and various lesser humps and bumps. The last climb is a short but very steep ascent of the Côte de La Croix Neuve, also called Montée Jalabert after Laurent Jalabert, who won here in 1995. The winner here in 2013 was Steve Cummings, who is now a sports director with the Ineos Grenadiers.
The Stage took no time in springing to life, with several attempted breakaways and an attack by Pogacar on the very first climb. When the race finally settled down a breakaway of 27 riders rode increasingly clear of the peloton: the best placed rider in a very distinguished group was Louis Meintjes, 14th overall 15’46” behind the yellow jersey. With points available at the top of the climbs the race for the polkadot jersey was an intriguing subplot, with Simon Geschke keeping the jersey he won on Stage 9.
With 52 km to go the Australian Michael Matthews went solo, joined soon after by four other riders. Matthews kept his lead until well into the final climb when out of the pack Alberto Bettiol caught and passed him. It looked all over but Matthews had other thoughts: he plugged on determinedly, retook the lead and ride away to a famous success. The disappointed Bettiol was second, with Thibaud Pinot third.
Now it was the peloton’s turn to come to life and in the final stretch the two current leaders showed themselves to be a class above the rest. Try as he might Pogacar could not shake off Vingegaard and they crossed the line together, gaining time on all their rivals. Geraint Thomas lost 17 seconds but remains in third place.
With Vingegaard and his full team in such sparkling form it won’t be easy for Pogacar to claw back the time he lost in that inexplicable blip. He was 8 seconds quicker than Vingegaard in the first Stage time trial…….
Stage 15. Rodez to Carcassone 202.5km
Some Like it Hot
Stage 15 takes the Tour through undulating countryside with 2 Cat 3 climbs from Rodez to the medieval fortified town of Carcassone. Last year’s sprint finish saw Mark Cavendish claim his 34th Stage victory, equalling the record of the Belgian Eddy Merckx.
The news came overnight that the Slovenian Primoz Roglic has withdrawn from the Tour. Roglic was hurt on Stage 5 when a hay bale was dragged into the road by a TV motorbike. He suffered a dislocated shoulder which he put back by the roadside, and continued. But he has now withdrawn “to allow time for my injuries to heal properly”. Primoz Roglic had been co-leader of the Jumbo-Visma Team with Jonas Vingegaard and was regarded as one of the possible threats to Tadej Pogacar.
Simon Clarke and Magnus Cort are also out, both testing positive for Covid.
It was an extremely hot day and a general warning was accompanied by two specific decisions: that feeding and taking water be allowed from the start rather than only after 30 km and a more generous time cut-off be granted for riders at the back.
The omnipresent Wout van Aert animated the first action, but it was the German Nils Politt and the Dane Mikel Honoré who raced away for the day’s first breakaway. Nothing very dramatic happened for much of the Stage, but in the latter the heat might have been at least partly responsible for wavering concentration and a series of accidents. The Welshman Owain Doull took a tumble, but after a bit of attention on the hoof he was able to scamper up the road to rejoin the peloton. Shortly afterwards, a crash involved several riders but only one serious casualty: Steven Kruijswijk was taken away in an ambulance with a suspected broken collar bone. With Roglic out, this was a second blow to the hitherto complete Jumbo-Visma team and their leader Jonas Vingegaard. In the next incident Vingegaard himself took a fall but was quickly back in the saddle and raced back to a prominent place in the peloton.
Wout van Aert was now at the head of the race, picking up points to cement his place in control of the green jersey. He seems to be here, there and everywhere, animating breakaways, shepherding his leader and dropping back to assist team mates in trouble.
When the breakaway couple were finally caught a French pair, Benjamin Thomas and Alexis Gougeard, took over, ahead of a split peloton whose leading part contained all the main GC hopefuls. Thomas raced alone until, agonisingly, he was collared just 400 metres from the end. Some of the specialist sprinters had been dropped long before the finish, and it was left to Jasper Philipsen, our friend Wout and Mads Petersen to take the honours. 52 riders in the bunch were given the same time, including Chris Froome, who finished the day in a highly respectable 29th place. The GC rankings once again remained unaltered.
Tomorrow is a rest day – never more needed and better deserved.
Today’s a Rest Day for the Tour – but not for me.
For most of the majority of stages in the Tour de France the leading teams act as one, staying together in the peloton in visual contact with each other and responding to any small moves, with no team apparently willing (or needing) to make a decisive move, just subtly upping or lowering the tempo together. This applies whether or not there is a breakaway. If the breakaway needs to be chased down they do it together and this joint action applies even in the case of a bunch finish. This is why so many of my daily reports end with ‘No change in the GC’. The exceptions to this are the toughest (mountain) stages and the individual time trials, both of which involve actualracing and always produce time gaps based on individual skills/weaknesses. These ‘counting’ stages typically number about eight, which means that about twelve stages in an average Tour have no bearing at all on the destination of the yellow jersey. As James Hayter asked at the end of The Thirty Nine Steps (1959), ‘Am I right Sir?’
The vast majority of the riders in this year’s or any other year’s Tour de France have absolutely no chance of winning. The winner will be the designated Team Leader, a rider with proven outstanding skills in all departments who will have a superb team to support him. Some of the riders are designated All Rounders, with similar skills to the leaders but at a slightly lower level. Some of the riders have specialised skills and are designated Climbers or Sprinters; these might expect stage wins but not overall victory. The rest of the team members are called Domestiques, chosen to assist the others in a variety of ways, from shepherding the leader and dropping back to help team mates in trouble to ‘sacrificing’ themselves in breakaways and collecting food and drink for the team. Riders are sent to a breakaway for a variety of reasons, including forcing the peloton to sit up and react, perhaps to change its tactics.
Some of the riders have established reputations as inveterate breakaway specialists – the French word is baroudeurs – adventurers. When the peloton feels no need to react to a breakaway it gives the escapees the chance to further their claims to a green or polkadot jersey or to a stage win free from the attentions of the massed ranks of the peloton. Occasionally, a baroudeur in enough successful breakaways might even become a challenger in the General Classification. What the breakaway riders can be sure of is film coverage for their teams, their jerseys, their bikes and themselves, and, for some, a change from a day spent on anonymous duty locked away in the peloton. Notable baroudeurs include Wout van Aert, L L Sanchez and Frank Bonnamour (all three in the current Tour), Thomas de Gendt, Steve Cummins, Thomas Voeckler and Jens Voigt. Occasionally a baroudeur can hit the headlines: in 2006 the last named was part of a five-man breakaway that finished almost half an hour ahead of the pack, and in 1947 Albert Bourlon stayed ahead throughout a 253km stage. A lonely day for Albert!
Stage 17 Saint-Gaudens to Peyragudes 120km
The list of absentees before or after Stage 16 became longer by one when the ailing Marc Soler from Tadej Pogacar’s team failed to meet the cut-off deadline.
Stage 17 starts with a flat 50 kilometre run then crams four categorised climbs into the last 70 kilometres, culminating in a daunting summit finish in the ski resort of Peyragudes.
🚴🏽 Congratulations to Peter Sagan, who today started his 200th Tour de France stage, dating back to 2012.
🇨🇴 Today, July 20th, is Colombian Independence Day – inspiration perhaps for Nairo Quintana, who won a stage on this day in 2013.
Bad news for Tadej Pogacar: his trusty lieutenant Rafal Majka has been forced to abandon with a thigh strain sustained when his bike broke on yesterday’s Stage.
Tim Wellens has withdrawn after testing positive for Covid.
Opportunities are running out for Pogacar to bridge what is beginning to look like a big time gap to Vingegaard, particularly as the latter can ride defensively – which he has been able to do with the help of his team for some time. We can expect Pogacar to be on the attack at every opportunity today; if Vingegaard can fend off the attacks and maintain his 2-minute 22 second lead, his young rival would have a monumental task in the final time trial.
Perhaps we will see an extra effort by the French riders, who have yet to win a stage on this year’s Tour. Indeed, Thibaud Pinot (with Aleksey Lutsenko) was in a breakaway for a while and Romain Bardet took a group with him before the third climb. But the relentless pace set by the always prominent UAE Emirates had most of the field in trouble. On the third climb Pogacar launched his only attack on Vingegaard, who responded immediately. Ineos Grenadiers Adam Yates and Tom Pidcock found the pace too hot, and before the final stages the leading group contained only Pogacar, Vingegaard, Geraint Thomas and two lieutenants, Brian McNulty for UAE and Sepp Kuss of Jumbo-Visma. When the pace was increased Suss and Thomas were dropped, and for once Thomas was unable to work his way back. McNulty stayed with the two stars until halfway up the fiendish (16%) last few metres, where the ultra competitive Pogacar forced himself ahead of Vingegaard and so reduced his arrears by four time bonus seconds. The two leaders have now so distanced themselves from the rest that it would probably need an accident for any other rider to challenge them. But this has been a two-horse race for some time.
Stage 18 Lourdes to Hautacam 143.2km
A Rivalry for the Ages
The last mountain stage, with two long and severe climbs and a punishing uphill finish in the resort of Hautacam. The Italian Fabio Felline does not start, and Chris Froome, Damian’s Caruso and Imanol Erviti all tested positive for Covid, leaving 139 hardy souls to face the last major challenge before the Time Trial.
Tadej Pogacar surely cannot bridge the gap to Jason Vingegaard while he still has domestiques to assist him. Realistically, it will need a blip by JV like the one suffered by TP…….but this is the Tour de France and ‘can’t’ or its Slovenian equivalent is not in Pogacar’s vocabulary.
🇹🇩 Today, July 21st, is Belgium’s National Day, so can we expect something special from Wout van Aert. And how he obliged! He was rarely out of the action from beginning to end.
The flat section on the first half of the stage saw fast, frantic action in which one of the questions to be answered was whether Simon Geschke could hold on to his polkadot jersey. It was close, but in the end he did. But this stage was mainly about the battle for the yellow jersey, and it certainly lived up to expectations. When Tadej Pogacar chose his moment, he attacked the Tour leader again and again – but Vingegaard’s response was always immediate. Inevitably, most of the riders gradually lost ground to the front-runners. On the descent from the last climb Pogacar misjudged a corner and slipped into the gravel; the sporting Vingegaard waited for him, they shook hands and continued. For much of the long final climb Wout van Aert, Thibaud Pinot and Dani Martinez looked like pulling off a shock, but they too were caught, at which Wout immediately joined the group with the contenders. With 4 kilometres to race, Pogacar suddenly cracked, and the winner of the Stage and almost certainly the Tour was no longer in doubt. Vingegaard took the Stage by more than a minute from Pogacar, with the gallant van Aert in third place to complete a yellow, white and green podium. Geraint Thomas plugged on to finish fourth and probably secure his podium in Paris with just an ‘easy’ stage and the Time Trial to come. What a day! And what a ride from Jonas Vingegaard! Both he and Pogacar should have plenty more years for them and us to look forward to.
Castelnau-Magnoac to Cahors 188.3 km
Ten years ago today, on July 22nd 2012, Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour de France. That was the start of a glorious period of British success, with Brits winning four of the next five Tours.
Simon Geschke thought he had the polkadot jersey sewn up…but when Vingegaard won yesterday’s Stage he overtook a distraught Geschke. But the German will ride in the polkadots today as he finished second in the climbing category to Vingegaard, who of course will be wearing yellow. Jumbo-Visma have thus secured the yellow, green and polkadot jerseys. The Spanish rider Enric Mas (Movistar) tested positive for Covid and has withdrawn from the tour, so 139 will start Stage 19. The starting town is the home town of star rugbyman Antoine Dupont, who will be a special guest today. The battle’s almost over, but pride plays a large part in the make-up of a Tour rider, so we can be sure that the competitive spirit is still alive in Stage 19. After the usual spell of comings and goings at the front, the first serious breakaway included the young American Quinn Simmons, and he lasted the longest of the four escapees. The two Cat4 climbs held nothing of the terrors of the past few days, but it was on the flat between climbs that a moment of real drama occurred. Tadej Pogacar suffered a front wheel puncture; he was escorted back to the peloton by his three remaining domestiques and no harm was done. At 32 km the last breakaway took flight from the peloton and came very close to succeeding. Alexis Gougeard, Jasper Stuyven and Fred Wright led into the final stretch but were passed by the chasing group and swallowed up. The Stage was won by a clear second by a Frenchman (enfin) Christophe Laporte, from Jasper Philipsen and Alberto Dainese. This was yet another stage win (the fifth) for Jumbo-visma. Pogacar gained the odd second or two from Vingegaard, but essentially nothing changed in the GC list.Tomorrow it’s the long time trial and on Sunday the parade and frantic sprint in Paris.
La Capelle Marival to Rocamadour 40.7 km
If the time gaps at the top had been smaller after Stage 19 this long Individual Time Trial might have been more relevant. As it was, the top men performed much as the form book suggested, so the day – and the Tour – ended with no change in the final standings. The riders started in reverse order to their rankings, so the honour of starting first fell to the lanternrouge Caleb Ewan. The phenomenal Wout van Aert won the stage – his third and Jumbo-Visma’s sixth – with the next three places filled in correct order by the top three in the GC ranking. Emotions briefly took over as the Jumbo team realised for certain that the 2022 Tour was theirs. Now all that remained were the victory parade to Paris, the crazy last sprint and the formal awards and speeches. Bring on the Vuelta (Roglic to win?).
Paris La Défense Arena to Paris Champs-Élysées 115.6 km
Just a bit of fun except for the serious, frantic finish and victory for Jasper Philipsen, his second of the Tour. Three riders withdrew before the start, meaning that 41 riders failed to complete, the same number as last year. It was a two-man race from early on, but nonetheless absorbing for that. Let’s hope Primoz Roglic has better luck next year than for the past two. Brilliant effort by Geraint Thomas, probably as good as when he won in 2018. On the Paris podium Tour winner Jonas Vingegaard described his team-mate Wout van Aert as the best rider in the world, and after his superhuman efforts on so many stages, who can disagree?
CP once more into the breech, dear friends!
CJ For your blog?
“I’m gone. I’m dead.”
Not my despair at my increasingly painful hip but the harrowing cry of capitulation by Tadej Pogacar, who faltered and finally crumbled towards the end of the brutal 17th Stage of the 2023 Tour de France. With only one serious test still to be faced, he was effectively conceding victory to great rival the Dane Jonas Vingegaard, who backed up his stunning Time Trial with a display of strength and stamina that saw him end the day more than seven minutes ahead of the Slovenian. This was an astonishing turnround given that for two and a half weeks the pair had been separated through numerous ding-dong battles by no more than a few seconds. The sight of the exhausted Pogacar, struggling to the finish line assisted by team mate Marc Soler, was painful to watch, a brief sad moment in a Tour that will be joyously celebrated as one of the greatest in the event’s long history.
Merci pour ceci. C’est du material fait pour le Blog. Beaucoup apprecie.
I agree entirely with you characterisation. I watched the highlights every evening. Sitting comfortably in front of the TV, nutritionally balanced meal on my lap, spoon in one hand, un canon de rouge dans l’autre.
I did, however, find it all a bit formulaic – breakaway – single/multiple; ridden down, – single/multiple/pellaton; sprint/non-sprint finish etc etc. Of course, I enjoyed guessing and assigning the names, as well as the execution of the moves. Just a thought, although one which we have had before. Sport or thetre or a bit of both. Was the balance right? WMBT!
Once, in France, no free viewing, no highlights, at least on our rather poorly connected TV. I missed it……
Problems with accessing the blog at this time, but expect them to be overcome shortly….. NKYL!
Ton Cousin J
T de F 2024
Starting in Italy, ending in Monaco with a Time Trial (Paris will be busy with the Olympics). This could be an absolute classic, with all the recent Grand Tour champions – Vingeggard, Pogacar, Roglic – plus Remco Evenepoel in the mix, and one last fling for Cavendish.