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Highlights of 2019 – Part IV

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It’s tempting to pick the whole Tour de France as a highlight because plenty of the great moments threaded together to make something even better. Still, let’s focus on one day and here is Stage 8 from Mâcon to Saint-Etienne.

Before recounting the day, let’s remember two days before Julian Alaphilippe had lost the yellow jersey at the top of the Planche des Belles Filles to Guilio Ciccone and he was itching to get it back, he was six seconds down on GC and there was a climb with an eight second time bonus and ten seconds on offer at the finish line.

This was one of those stages where having the whole stage live was worth it. Only three riders got away, Niki Terpstra, Thomas De Gendt and Ben King. Many tried to get across but couldn’t get away from the peloton, the world’s best riders giving it everything. For a long time the break had a lead of only a few seconds on the bunch. Mads Würtz – no slouch – got within ten metres of the trio but they were moving so fast he just couldn’t close the gap, cracked and fell back to the bunch. Alessandro De Marchi was more patient, trying a little later and did bridge the gap once the bunch declared a ceasefire. The collective pause behind was surprising given how many teams crave a stage win and the hilly route made it neither a GC day nor a sprinters stage but that was their loss and easier said than done, the effort at the start was huge.

The gap never got much above five minutes and was brought down to three with 100km to go and soon after Astana and EF Education First picked up the pace. De Gendt and De Marchi had shed King and Terpstra to form a noble duo and the tension began to ratchet up. On the approach to the final categorised climb with its bonus sprint Geraint Thomas was brought down by a crash but was able to get back on the climb. De Gendt took off leaving De Marchi looking immobile on the climb and the Belgian rider had a slender lead over the top of the climb. Here Julian Alaphilippe sprung like a jack-in-the-box and Thibaut Pinot followed, Alaphilippe banked the five second time bonus at the top of the climb but this meant he was still one second behind Ciccone and had to ride on. The French duo worked well together, sharing the tasks and Pinot testing his nerves on the descent. Ahead De Gendt was surprisingly resilient and only lost about 15 seconds in the final 10km to take a memorable stage win, surely the match of his Giro Stelvio win: what the finish lacked in grandeur, it made up for in the way he rode it. Pinot won the sprint for second and six second time bonus for second place, with Alaphilippe reclaiming the yellow jersey.

Why the highlight?
A great day’s racing. A five hour stage can’t be non-stop attacks, just as no action film can be non-stop chases, explosions and fights, but this came close. The start was tense, the middle of the stage saw teams working to pull the gap down and there was a lot going in the finish with De Gendt, the GC riders, Thomas and suspense to the end. It’s an a advert for more mid-mountain stages in the Tour de France.

With hindsight
Look closely at Pinot’s legs and you can see the goosebumps on a hot summer’s day, He got a thrill out of the race that day and it showed what form he was in. Geraint Thomas had a crash but the way he closed the gap on the final climb showed his form was there, extrapolations of his tiny time loss in Epernay got cancelled but for all his form he was reacting to events rather than shaping them.

Alaphilippe threw everything at reclaiming the yellow jersey and got his rewards. We could apply hindsight to say he should have ridden more economically but this probably wouldn’t have worked and it’s just not his style either.

De Gendt won in typical style but the manner must be satisfying and if the venue of Saint-Etienne wasn’t as glamorous, it was arguably more of a masterpiece than his Stelvio and Mont Ventoux wins. Lotto-Soudal had a great Tour with De Gendt here and Caleb Ewan winning three stages.

Highlights of 2019 – Part I
Highlights of 2019 – Part II
Highlights of 2019 – Part III

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • tv-vt Monday, 16 December 2019, 6:44 pm

    I wish you could still buy DVDs of the Tour each year. My wife and I spent many cold winter nights soaking in the sunny warm French countryside on our TV screen watching a stage or two each evening. It got her hooked on pro cycling, too.

    • JayTrox360 Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 2:10 pm

      +1!!!!!!

    • cp Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 6:40 pm

      they are archived on the web in various places if you don’t mind (i assume illegal) streaming…

  • Steven Down Monday, 16 December 2019, 9:03 pm

    A very satisfying day’s racing that lives on in the mind’s eye. A win by a favoured Belgian son and the French nation starting to believe in it’s dynamic duo. It’s a shame for them that it didn’t end with the top step of the podium for Batman or Robin.

  • SYH Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 4:27 am

    Along with Foix Prat d’Albis, the best stage of the Tour. Still gutted for Pinot, after that stage I truly believed. One of those days where he couldn’t be beat on the climbs, like his Lombardia win when he cracked Roglic, Bernal and Nibali in succession.

  • Ecky Thump Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 6:33 am

    It was certainly a cracker-jack day’s racing and a good pick.
    Regarding Pinot’s goosebumps, were they symptoms of dehydration and a warning of heat exhaustion even, rather than exhilaration?
    Pinot’s dislike for hot weather is well known enough though IR had advised he’d done training for this.
    But a sign of impending stress perhaps?

  • J Evans Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 8:46 am

    For me, it’s still a Tour that could have been great, but Pinot’s injury and the truncated end of the race produced a very disappointing damp squib of a finish.
    The first 18 stages were brilliant, but the shortened stages all but handed victory to Bernal (who may well have won anyway, particularly once Pino was out, but it meant we simply couldn’t say who was the best rider in the race).
    Pinot’s injury is just a part of cycling, but it was gutting to see him robbed of what will probably be his best chance of winning a TdF by a random bump.

    • JayTrox360 Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 2:12 pm

      +1 (again)!!!!

    • CA Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 3:43 pm

      It was a great Tour, regardless of the landslide at the end that robbed people of a chance to watch Bernal crush more riders… Bernal was in the middle of proving he’s the hands down favourite for 2020’s Tour too, nothing would have changed if we didn’t have a landslide.

      • MRJ Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 4:24 pm

        Tempted to write something about how, if the weather hadn’t shortened the stage, Bernal would have won “in a landslide” – but am afraid such a bad pun might crash the server. So I won’t.

      • J Evans Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 4:54 pm

        No-one can know who would have won had Pinot stayed healthy. Once he was out of it, the landslide probably didn’t alter the result, but again, however much people like to convince themselves, you can’t know. Bernal had not proven himself to be much stronger than the others and he never did, because he didn’t have to. For me, that ruined the race, but that’s subjective.

        • CA Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 7:37 pm

          Same logic applies to Pinot – seems he was in top form in the second week, but no guarantee it would have held into the third week. 2019 TdF was a great way to set up the 2020 Tour, we’ll have to see who comes ready to play (in my opinion, Froome won’t be the same – he might get to within 1% or something of his old form, but 1% is huge at this level).

          • J Evans Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 8:05 pm

            Yup, I made no claims about who would have won.

            I suspect 2019 was a blip (due to Froome’s injury, they didn’t have a dominant rider) and that Ineos’ supremacy will return in 2020. The only way that won’t happen is if Froome cannot return to his best and Bernal is not as good as you think he is (he will, however, also be a year older, which is a big factor at such a young age).

            Jumbo-Visma should go all in for Dumoulin, in my opinion. Roglic wasn’t good enough to truly challenge Carapaz in the Giro and doesn’t (yet) look to be a potential TdF winner. If they get this quandary right, they certainly could challenge. This could be Dumoulin’s best chance of winning (other than going back in time and not doing the Giro in 2018) – before Bernal gets much older.

            I predict that Chris Froome will win the 2020 TdF, because no other rider makes incredible recoveries from illnesses like he does (one can read into that whatever one likes).

          • CA Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 8:50 pm

            Imagine if Froome somehow comes back to win?!? Honestly, I’d shake my head if that happens… look at Joseba Beloki’s crash and comeback… when he came back, he was nowhere close to his peak form. At Froome’s age, I don’t think it’s possible to come back within 12-months. Maybe in 2-3 years he could hit something close to his old form, but I’m going to be very skeptical if he comes back and is stronger than Bernal/Dumolin/Pinot.

    • jc Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 11:54 pm

      Very much agree with the comment that this was a Tour that could have been great but we were left with a disappointing anti climax, wondering what might have been.

      I would have picked the day in the crosswinds, not as good as the day Cav won in 2013 but not far off. These things are subjective though and Inrng’s choice is perfectly arguable.

      In retrospect this was probably the day when victory slipped away from G, it seemed a minor thing at the time, a normal racing incident. However it let Julian Alaphilippe get away and G was playing catch up from then on. Without the aura of having the yellow jersey he was unable to impose himself on the team and Egan Bernal was able to ride away in the mountains to victory.

    • Larry T Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 8:37 am

      Same here. LeTour 2019 showed so much promise with Alaphilippe and Pinot carrying the hopes of France against the INEOS juggernaut, but all the excitement abruptly fizzed out near the end.
      Entertaining while it lasted, but overall it was like a great book with its last pages torn out and “BERNAL WON, THE END” scribbled on the inside back cover.

  • tomgrvl Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 3:03 pm

    De Gendt is undoubtedly one of the finest riders in the peleton. To win ahead of Pinot and Alephilippe coming on strong was thrilling. I remember rooting him on. Fantastic Day.
    Thanks for the wonderful writing IR.

  • SYH Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 4:34 pm

    My favorite thing I’ve heard about de Gendt is “he rides cycling races the way people who’ve never watched a cycling race think you’re supposed to ride them”

    • Louis Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 6:15 pm

      So true, that’s a great quote.

  • Louis Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 6:12 pm

    My personal highlight too in a Tour with many high points, this stage got me literally sitting on the edge of my seat for the longest time. I so much wanted De Gendt to win and he did in the most thrilling of ways, resisting to all attacks and comebacks. This is one I’m sure I’ll remember for a long time.

  • Road furniture Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 12:39 pm

    A true highlight, and I absolutely agree with INRNG’s statement of this being an advert for more mid-mountain stages.

    I recall in the Pinot documentary that aired right after the Tour, there was footage of Pinot reviewing the road book ahead of this stage and saying something to the effect that the stage would be surprisingly tough, and adding (I paraphrase): fortunately Alaphilippe is racing, he will do something in the finale, otherwise nothing will happen in the GC. He knew just how this stage would play out.

    • Lukyluk Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 2:53 pm

      I’m sure Pinot knows how to read a race better than most, but Alaphilippe attacking in the final climb was written in stone since he lost the jersey. Buddies and I were betting rounds on which *hectometre* his attack would be placed on.

      • Road Furniture Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 4:55 pm

        Ha yes you’re right, though Pinot did see that the stage would be rather more difficult than expected, and his comment was more a dig that besides Alaphilippe no other rider would try to seize the moment.

        As for his race reading skills, I believe they were called into question severely in the crosswinds/roundabout fiasco 2 stages later, though he maintained he was instructed that the roundabout was symmetrical.

    • Larry T Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 3:39 pm

      You write “…an advert for more mid-mountain stages.” but don’t forget the 2012 Giro stage where he won atop Passo Stelvio. I believe he was even the virtual Maglia Rosa for a time until the real GC contenders realized the threat. I wouldn’t claim the course makes the race, it’s the riders who race on it. DeGendt’s a guy who tries, even if he often fails. Much more interesting than those who ride along limiting their losses or waiting for a chance that never comes.

      • Road Furniture Wednesday, 18 December 2019, 4:47 pm

        I don’t value mid mountain stages at the exclusion of high mountain stages, but they often show up surprisingly good racing, don’t you think? Whereas we expect fireworks in high mountain stages and often end up with only some action in the last km of the final climb. Increasingly so since 2012 I think.

        As for de Gendt, yes he’s an exceptional rider but he’s not unique in his methods, though he does appear uniquely talented in his ability to sustain a hard breakaway effort over several hours.

        • Larry T Friday, 20 December 2019, 3:23 pm

          Certainly. To the extent they can exceed expectations compared to the big mountains I’ll agree. If I was the king of pro cycling I’d consider some sort of gearing restriction. With the modern, twiddly gears the race organizers seem forced to seek out ever steeper climbs to challenge the racers, making some of the mythical mountains look like nothing.
          IMHO there’s a threat of the same thing that has happened to F1 and MOTOGP – the equipment’s development has made venerable racing tracks obsolete, so we end up with vast asphalt parking lots with “racing circuits” painted on them and penalties dished out by the stewards for “coloring outside the lines”. Inrng himself has declared a large portion of France unusable for similar reasons. Perhaps the 39 X 26 that BigMig and Co used should be the limit?

          • CA Friday, 20 December 2019, 4:58 pm

            Blasting up a 12% climb on a 39×26 only works when your blood is on super octane fuel… honestly, you can’t compare the two eras. Obviously the current era has less explosive big mountain stages because it’s a lot cleaner than it used to be!

            Honestly, some comments are head shakers, but it’s my fault for responding.

          • Larry T Saturday, 21 December 2019, 8:57 am

            CA- You can’t compare the two eras you say, then go on to compare them – one era doped to the gills you imply (though who knew that at the time?) the other “a lot cleaner” (as if we know that for sure).
            One thing I think we DO know: “current era has less explosive big mountain stages” (to use your words) and gear ratios have never been lower. Cause and effect is the debate, perhaps only a “head shaker” because it’ll remain just a debate as technology is too lightly controlled – until perhaps (like F1 and MOTOGP) the authorities start to realize it changes the sport in ways they never considered (a lot of them negative) and decide to do something about it.
            I used to think ol’ Desgrange was merely a draconian tyrant, but as I watch the sport “evolve” to the point someone declares 1/2 of France unusable for LeTour I’m beginning to change my view of the man who brought us Le Grand Boucle.

          • CA Sunday, 22 December 2019, 1:08 pm

            Pantani was really explosive on big climbs with high cadence… oh and Lance used high cadence too… but he didn’t need special gearing for obvious reasons. Ulrich could climb pretty well too… but he used lower cadence. Michael Rasmussen had high cadence, i

            The gearing has nothing to do with it.

  • Frederick Norton Friday, 20 December 2019, 12:17 am

    i was a little worried this might not make your list. this was my #1. the 4 man break was of legendary class esp for the undulating route. that de gendt still won with teams going all in for matthews, uran/woods, lutsenko/fuglsang, and sagan barely making the selection on the final climb…. i agree his finest win. i cant imagine anyone replicating TDG’s last hour given how hard the first 3 were ridden. i’ve already devoted 4-5 trainer rides to this stage this winter. i’m guessing it could reach 10. what a ride. then we had crosswinds and pinot’s 2 pyrenees stages (#2 would easily be another pick).

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