Rest Day Review

As riders enjoy the sea breeze on their rest day some might be nervous if it blows tomorrow. It’s been a lively opening week to the race with the weather a dominant factor and despite both the Alps and the Pyrenees in the opening week there’s little to separate the main contenders.

It hadn’t rained for months, it hasn’t rained since but it poured down during the afternoon for the opening stage in Nice. Hosting the Tour felt like inviting friends round for a BBQ, a surefire way to make it rain. The roads turned slippery and many, perhaps most, riders crashed. The injuries varied but the weather that day, that afternoon even, has had a significant impact on the race.

It’s been a frantic week, yes there was a day when nobody attacked but that was down to a particular combination of circumstances. The Tour de France is a long term contest, apart from the Giro and Vuelta there’s nothing like it across all sports, an “easy day” without attacks is still 180km ridden at 43km/h.

There’s no leading sprinter yet. Wout van Aert has two stage wins but each sprint finish has had its own particularities, the riders falling like skittles on the opening day, Caleb Ewan’s pinball wizardry in Sisteron and van Aert getting the green light to sprint in Privas and then being in the front group in Lavaur. We’ve yet to get a a clear flat sprint. If he was on another team van Aert would probably be leading the green jersey contest but for now it’s a battle between Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett with room for Bryan Coquard and Matteo Trentin and the race is all the better for it. The upcoming week will be crucial as it’s a mix of sprint stages and mid-mountains.

The mountains competition has spiced up the race but it’s more pepper than chilli so far. Benoît Cosnefroy showing his punch on the shorter climbs looks to be keeping the jersey warm for others. Team mate Nans Peters could take over and Marc Hirschi could try another raid and collect it along the way, while David Gaudu was spotted sprinting for points yesterday. But whoever wins atop the Col de la Loze wins 40 points, more than Cosnefroy has harvested in more than a week.

As for the overall classification, so far the contest is being defined by the rulebook rather than the road. Time bonuses and time maluses, to coin a phrase, are shaping the race, Alaphilippe took the race lead only to lose it because he took a bottle too late in the stage while Primož Roglič leads overall by 21 seconds because he’s taken 21 seconds on Egan Bernal in time bonuses, they’ve not actually been separated through racing yet. But if Roglič can sprint, can he handle the marathon? The repeated efforts of responding to moves, jumping for time bonuses are going to sap him and there’s two weeks to go. The pre-race preview made one suggestion that he need “only” needed to follow Egan Bernal et al because he’s capable of pipping them to the finish line for time bonuses plus he’s likely to beat his rivals in the Stage 20 time trial. But it’s a risky strategy.

Jumbo-Visma have been content to let Julian Alaphilippe and Adam Yates lead the race to spare Roglič from the daily media round yet at times it often looks like they can’t stop themselves from riding on the front. Tactically in the mountain stages they’ve been racing like they’re leading the race, deploying their train. But they’re not asphyxiating the race, they even used up Tom Dumoulin as a helper on the Peyresourde and Roglič was left to fend for himself. We’ve seen it before, the Dutch team ran out of steam in the Tour de l’Ain and the Critérium du Dauphiné. Only, to borrow from Sartre who wrote “l’enfer, c’est les autres“, things are more hellish for Roglič now because he’s got a lot of other contenders to worry about. Last month he had to watch out for Buchmann and Pinot but they’ve gone because of crash injuries. In comes Tadej Pogačar, Egan Bernal, Romain Bardet, Guillaume Martin, Mikel Landa, Nairo Quintana, Miguel Angel Lopez, Rigoberto Uràn and maybe Richie Porte.

We’re beginning to see a hierarchy but only the outlines of one. Extrapolate from Peyresourde and Quintana, Martin and Bardet are in the company of Roglič, Pogačar and Bernal as the best; extrapolate from the Marie Blanque and they’re not. Which leaves Roglič as the race leader and so far the best but only just, his lead amplified by sprint for time bonuses rather than distancing his rivals, Pogačar and Bernal will both fancy their chances but for different reasons: Pogačar seems to be able to attack when he feels like it; Bernal because he’s being attacked but soaking up the blows while not ceding a metre despite a relatively weak team. Neither Jumbo-Visma nor Ineos can control the race so the door is wide open for others. Landa will fancy his chances after a comforting ride yesterday, Quintana’s there and is suited to the Alpine stages ahead while Uràn is front group material too

A quick Coronavirus paragraph, knowing next to nothing on epidemiology it’s been something to avoid but it’s the email FAQ of the last 10 days and this blog can add context from politics in France, and look at what the Tour’s rulebook says. This viral sword of Damocles hangs over teams with the “two strikes and out” policy but one risk being mitigated is that of a false positive, according to RMC Radio riders will be tested once and if positive they’ll be subject to two more tests, this is why the tests are being conducted from Sunday to Monday and then the announcement, if it hasn’t leaked tonight, comes out on Tuesday. There are many “will the race make it to Paris?” pieces fuelled by the rising case count in France but most seem to have missed the local context. The authorities in France are committed to supporting the Tour de France and several government ministers, including the Prime Minister Jean Castex during his visit to the race on Saturday, have poured political capital into ensuring the race both starts and finishes so it’s going to take something special to derail things (for the avoidance of doubt and because restating the obvious can help online: the Tour is important but not that important, they’re not going to sacrifice the population for this). There’s a political will to pull out whatever stops are needed and the authorities will more measures if necessary, for example banning spectators, testing the peloton more often and so on. The tone, from the Prime Minister down, is about trying to shepherd the Tour to Paris, rather than seeing it as a stubborn annoyance or a public health risk. Also the race’s rulebook says there have to be 21 stages to award the overall title for the Tour de France, all the talk about racing to take the lead just in case things grind to halt the next day is supposition. Now exceptional circumstances could see this waived or rewritten but as of today the text is black-and-white and Exhibit A in why teams should plan on reaching Paris.

Paris is still far away. Looking ahead to the coming days, we’ve got two likely sprint finishes, first on the Ile de Ré and then in Poitiers, a city which is surprisingly hilly. Thursday’s long stage a hard day with a lot of climbing metres and a surprising tough late climb, the Suc-au-May, and Friday is a mouthwatering mid-mountain stage volcanoes of the Auvergne with a lot of vertical gain and a selective summit finish. Saturday sees the race visit Lyon and then it’s the Grand Colombier on Sunday, the first giant summit finish of the Tour. And the weather? Two more weeks of summer.

26 thoughts on “Rest Day Review”

  1. We’ve all always kind of lamented how GTs are won not by attacking but riding conservatively, staying out of trouble and gaining time in time trials while your team asphyxiates everyone else in the mountains. Pogacar seems to be determined to change that all on his own, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on. He’ll either win and really is some sort of new Merckx phenomenon, or he’ll blow up in a Simon Yates Giro way. Somehow seeing him ride like this makes me even more disappointed that Evenepoel won’t be at the Giro.

  2. The strongest rider at the end of the first week is Slovenian but he is not wearing yellow. There is a long way to go and there are no prizes for being in the lead on a rest day.

    JV seem to be rather clumsy with their tactics, not the first time either, there was the incident with the missing team car at the Giro last year. Whatever Tom Dumoulin might have felt it made no sense for him to deliberately blow his GC chances on Stage 8, the race was never going to be won that day. Much better to husband resources for later in the race. Similarly the team’s climbers seem to be riding themselves into the ground so are not there in the critical moments. Not been a big issue so far but the race is only just over a third of the way through. Surely the team’s tactic from now on must be to ride defensively in the knowledge that Primoz Roglic is likely to be better than any of his rivals in the TT. I know this will not be a popular tactic with some but the main object is to ride into Paris wearing yellow, everything else is secondary.

    For all the pointed comments Egan Bernal is very handily placed. He is clearly looking to the stages in the alps to make the difference. He might even be able to rely on Pavel Sivakov as he is showing signs of recovering from his injuries. Having team mates is going to be more important on the 20km long climbs in the Alps rather than the shorter ones in the Pyrenees.

    Tadej Pogacar’s weakness is his team or rather lack of one. Other than Davide Formolo there seems to be no support at all (have we seen the last of Fabio Aru?). It only needs a minor mechanical or incident and he could be out of contention.

    It seems to me that Guillaume Martin, Romain Bardet, Nairo Qunitana, Rigoberto Uran and (possibly) Mikel Landa are fighting for a place on the podium. The chances of the three riders above all having an issue of some sort must be small. Maybe Nairo Quintana can deliver, he has been rejuvenated at Arkea but it would be a big surprise.

    The next few days should be about the Green jersey. Peter Sagan, despite his team’s efforts on Stage 7, has not looked able to compete in the sprints (Matteo Trentin out sprinted him on Stage 7!). Sam Bennett was caught out but with Julian Alaphilippe out of the Yellow jersey race DQS will want to take Green and will give him more support. The intermediate sprints are generally before the climbs so plenty of points to be gained from them. Hopefully Sam can follow in the footsteps of Sean Kelly

    As ever Inrng is not only knowledgeable about cycling but the wider world too along with the well written prose makes this required reading for anyone who is interested in cycle racing.

    • The point about the JV tactics and their climbers shows a difference so far between them and Sky/Ineos. JV blew themselves up early on Saturday thereby allowing Pogacar to gain 40 seconds in the ensuing chaos of leaders riding with little or no support from super-domestiques. They were better on Sunday but Pogacar attacked as soon as Kuss peeled off, thereby dispensing with Bennett immediately and Dumoulin in short order. This leaves Roglic exposed much earlier than JV would like in an ideal world. It also means that they have no super-domestique in the second group on the road to support their leader when or if the leaders stall. That was something which SI have always had when they have won the race. Poels, Porte, Thomas and Froome have all played that role successfully for them and demoralisingly for their opposition.

    • “knowledge that Primoz Roglic is likely to be better than any of his rivals in the TT”

      Likely, maybe.
      The other fact of the matter is, he will for sure not wear the jersey of the Slovenian TT champ in this race, cause he got beaten by Pogacar in a sligthly uphill course in June.
      Pogacar, who already has proven he can do 3 week GT, won 2 out of his 3 stages in last years Vuelta in week 3.
      I think Roglic should better get more than only a small lead by seconds before he goes into the final TT if he wants to win this Tour.

      • I’m thinking the same. And casting my mind back to 2018 when Roglič was in contention for the podium going into the final Stage 20 TT having won stage 19 so impressively – but he came in a minute down on the day and slipped off the podium.

        Roglič is brilliant at the Chrono, but I think it’s a big assumption – although it seems to be accepted wisdom among some commentariat – to say he can bank on it to seal the overall.

      • It appears (despite the no breakaway stage) that the race is being ridden at a very high pace. If the reported numbers are true the weekend’s stages were ridden at “record pace”. Maybe good for those watching but it could well have a longer term effect. As Inrng points out, the repeated chasing down and sprinting uses energy and adds to fatigue levels. It will also wear out the team, especially if they want to continue controlling the race from the front, even Tony Martin runs out of power eventually.

        So yes relying on winning the TT could be a risk especially if the race continues at such a high pace. Sky always gave the impression of being in control, they dictated the pace to everyone else (when another team tried to break that control it often lead to memorial racing such as the day over the Colombier where Richie Porte crashed). I dont get the feeling that is true of JV at the moment, they seem to be a bit too keen, perhaps a bit nervous. I suspect that has been noted in the Brailsford motorhome. Whether his team can take advantage remains to be seen.

        • jc – and Ineos have barely made a tactical move yet – aside from a bit of crosswind racing. The words in the Brailsford motorhome mighf be ‘wait’ and ‘patience’ because one thing’s for sure – they’re not going to ride into Paris without a good go at winning yellow.

      • Roglič disapointed in all final TT: Tour 2017, Tour 2018 and perhaps Giro 2019. But only because he was among the favourites for a win. He still gained time compared to Bardet, Landa, Mollema, Quintana, Carapaz, …
        Sure, he won’t gain 2 minutes to his rivals, but I doubt he will lose any time. Perhaps except to Pogačar (and someone else?).

        The Slovenian TT championship was right after the confinement. Also, Roglič was riding the whole course on a TT bike (including a climb of 5 km at 8 %) testing if it is better than swapping a bike.

    • “have we seen the last of Fabio Aru?”
      Yes, in this race since he abandoned. But, you might have meant hes career? Possibly, still he is only 30 so might bounce back. Anyways, nice analysis.
      Would be terrible if Pogacar has some sort of mechanical/issue because I do belive he can win in it. Roglic will probably loose time at some point, though he’s still the favourite.
      I’d say Rog*** Pog** Bernal**
      Green yersey: Sagan*** Bennet** Wout*
      Polka: One of the french guys*** Hirschi*

  3. Rest day. A time for various websites to present reports on where we are in the race. Most are a little more than a statement of the ‘bleedin obvious’. And then there’s INRNG. From the joyous reminder of “Caleb Ewan’s pinball wizardry” to a much more serious reminder of the political context, this is the only review that has stimulated and informed at the same time. Thank you.

  4. Covid testing in the tour may give us all the first bit of evidence whether the virus can spread amongst riders in a peloton. I think many of us have been speculating one way or the other about this (and making ride decisions based on it), but I’ve never seen any data either way. This could be about to change.
    If one team ends up with several positives, spread amongst riders and staff, but the peloton as a whole doesn’t have much then maybe that indicates lower risk of peloton-spread. On the other hand a number of positives spread among riders on different teams would lead you to suspect the opposite. The best scenario is minimal positives, but the other possibilities would provide some useful data. I hope the ASO releases enough of it to provide clarity.

    • Why wouldn’t the virus be able to spread amongst the peloton if it breached their bubble?
      If stomach bug and cold viruses are able to so easily infect riders and teams, why wouldn’t a more virulent organism like Covid-19 not do likewise?
      The main positive, forgive the pun, is that young and healthy athletes seem to have a better health defence mechanism and the infection is more likely to be asymptomatic.

      • I think maybe ‘how quickly’ rather than ‘can it’ is the question on the virus spread within the peloton. Ultimately there’s been limited actual research on infection rates in outside settings and a lot of the science is based upon estimates of droplet spread etc.

      • Every virus is different. Covid-19 appears to need a fairly significant viral load (15 minutes of close contact while indoors is needed before it’s considered high risk). Outdoors with 40kph winds blowing over you it is unclear whether any one person could absorb enough virus to catch this one. I presume it’s possible, maybe even likely. But we really have no data so it’s all speculation.

  5. There’ll probably be increasing talk about ‘the virtual leader’ in the remainder of the race, but TT performances don’t feel as entirely predictable as they used to (Alaphilippe last year etc). One would assume that even the less fancied GC TTers have put serious thought and resources into the TT stage.
    Also: hopefully the winner of the tour is also the person who completes the route in the shortest amount of physical time, these bonuses make the yellow feel tainted with green.

  6. Conservative and boring or not and regardless of his team’s questionable tactics, I think Roglic deserves far more credit than what he is getting at the moment.

    – One stage win made to look easy.
    – Made the split in the crosswinds (a matter of skill, not just luck and teammates).
    – Wouldn’t rather than couldn’t chase Pogacar on stage 8.
    – Mountain top bonus seconds seemingly with ease in front of Pogacar yesterday.
    – Led out the group and sprinted from the front, accelelerating to second yesterday.

    Still the big favourite.

  7. What happened at the very end of the last stage between Pog &Rog? I’m absolving anyone (that would be Pog) of intent, but if that had been before the race finale,,or caused a crash, it could have been the end of one or both riders victory. This isn’t a rhetorical question, I would like to know how seriously INRG regards this sort of thing, does it happen’all the time’?

    I suppose that and getting stuck on the wrong side of the split makes me wonder if Pog is going to be hampered by immaturity and inexperience, rather than by lack of ability.

    Sorry for the name abbreviations, my software just refuses to accept the full names.

  8. I’d had visions of Thomas of Ghent spending his rest day in a bistro with a buxom barmaid on his knee, but then realised that they had to bus half way across France. I thought they had some good fast trains. Not the best way to have a rest/

    • The main (fast) train networks radiate out from Paris to the main cities throughout France. There aren’t any between Laruns and Ile de Re which are convenient for the purposes of the team.
      Even if there were you have the problem of bringing the coaches and cars up. So 3-4hr coach trip it is.

  9. It strikes me as fortunate that Pogacar is not in yellow. Roglic has done him a favour by wearing this given the relative strength of their teams. Sitting in the wheels and striking out has worked well for him so far. I can’t see him winning it all because he’s going to have to work so hard in the Alpes to get the time he needs without support.

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