Tour Rest Day Review

If the Tour de France is an exercise in hierarchy then Tadej Pogačar sits comfortably on a yellow throne but practically everything else is still to be decided.

Pogačar probably can’t be beaten in a straight uphill contest. He is comfortably ahead, he could lose two minutes on each summit finish and lose another minute in the time trial and still win in Paris. He’s got time to give away. Aside for illness or injury there’s still a chance to ambush him and his team but for neutrals wanting more of a contest this feels like a hope rather than a likelihood.

For all the others there’s a difficult balance. Like the children’s game of musical chairs they’ll dance when they hear the music but never want to stray far from a seat in case they lose their place. So when Ben O’Connor attacked on the Collada de Beixalis it was Wilco Keldermann who chased because fifth and sixth place are at stake. When Rigoberto Uràn attacked – nobody can say he’s ended up second overall by just following – it wasn’t to shake Pogačar but to see if rivals like Carapaz or Vingegaard can be distanced. Now can Enric Mas get past Alexey Lutsenko isn’t Front-Page-of-L’Equipe action to write home about, but these skirmishes will be interesting to watch in the coming days. The problem for all the podium contenders is Pogačar as if they attack then he rides across, tows several others with him and the original attacker is then subjected to moves from rivals and pays for the move they made. For many of the podium contenders though there’s an asymmetry, they’d like to move up but they really don’t want to move down and this invites caution.

The exception ought to be Richard Carapaz. A Giro winner armed with a strong team, it’s the podium or bust and the key to shaking up the top-10 ought to be Ineos. They keep trying the same the mountain train + Carapaz attack routine, it’s as if Carapaz has a battering ram but can only keep aiming at the same part of the Slovenian fortress that has withstood everything already, rather than looking for other means. Pogačar probably can’t be beaten uphill although they can keep trying. But we know his weak point is his team, they can’t control the race if they can be dropped then there are valley roads and descents to exploit.

Jumbo-Visma could be a factor but seem to be playing several cards. Jonas Vingegaard is the intriguing prospect for the podium and so far the revelation of 2021. A stage winner in the 2019 Tour de Pologne, that day where he beat Hindley, Higuita and Sivakov, he was a very solid helper in the Vuelta last year tipped for good things. This year his stage win in the UAE was good but he didn’t look like a Tour podium contender at all. Of course Roglič crashed out and Tom Dumoulin’s having a complicated season. Now he’s got a shot at the podium, his attack on Mont Ventoux suggests he’ll like the summit finishes and he had a great time trial in Laval. There are no Jumbo supermarkets in Denmark which may explain why the team has been racing on several fronts, helping Sep Kuss and Wout van Aert into breakaways as opposed to all in for the Fishgutter of Thy.

The mountains competition is wide open and a contest between four riders. Wout Poels has the jersey and a small lead, plus he’s got a team with the likes of Matej Mohorič and Dylan Teuns able to launch him into a breakaways and act as uphill leadouts. Nairo Quintana has only two team mates left, Arkéa-Samsic could use a team car now rather than the bus. Meanwhile Michael Woods is strong but tactically and technically error-prone but Dan Martin can be an effective helper. Wout van Aert probably doesn’t need much help, the question is whether things are now too mountainous, he can pick his days or might even think saving energy for the Libourne TT and his Olympic ambitions. All will be looking to get in the breakaways and note the summit finishes of Stages 17 and 18 are both HC-rated climbs and have double points, 40 points to the winner each day. So while they’ve struggled between picking up polka-dot points and stage wins, now both go together. Arithmetically it’s still possible for a rider who hasn’t scored a point yet to win the two upcoming summit finishes and shoot into first place; practically much less so but this illustrates how the competition is far from decided.

One area where the hierarchy is settled is the sprints. Mark Cavendish rules the roost and each day rival seems to fall by the wayside, and if Jasper Philipsen, Cees Bol or Wout van Aert are superstitious this might worry them. Cavendish can’t bank on reaching Paris with three mountain stages to come but has passed every test so far. The green jersey competition is alive, albeit indirectly with Michael Matthews aiming for intermediate sprints but if he were to win them all in the next three days with nul points pour Le Cav he still won’t pull ahead in the competition. Some have asked if Bike Exchange can make the pace so hard that Cavendish misses the time cut but this is hard to engineer, first Cavendish has to be dropped and isolated and then sufficiently distanced, all while a lot is going on.

Finally the start of each stage should be worth watching in the coming days. With UAE unable to control the race we can expect waves of riders trying to get clear. 15 out of 23 teams are still chasing a stage win and if we cross off Paris and the Libourne TT then there are four chances left.

29 thoughts on “Tour Rest Day Review”

  1. It terrifies me that Matthews might win green. He only will if Cav falls off, climbs off or misses the time cut but it surely would be an hollow, undeserved win, I struggle to remember him doing anything beyond getting some minor placings.

    The KoM looks the most entertaining competition left as the Yellow lacks any intrigue beyond the jostling for position behind Pogacar. It is shame those early crashes did so much damage, we don’t know whether Roglic might have have challenged him. I hope Roglic rethinks his preperation: months without racing does nothing for you bike-handling skills, especially if you are an ex-ski-jumper. Ineos suffered similarly but compounded that by throwing Plan B out of the window and reverting to Plan A, allowing Porte to lose time and Tao to soft-pedal around the TT (and he is going to the Olympics so thanks for that) to simply deploy them as domestiques on a Sky Train to nowhere, as the rest of the contenders just sit on.

    Hope the final week holds a sting or two in its tail but after a brilliant first week the Tour has become a little processional.

    • “Sky Train to nowhere”… Very well put 🙂
      Yes the race for yellow is not the most exciting right now, as it feels most (not all) years. I wonder if a bigger money prize for first (say, 10 million instead of 500.000, surely ASO’s pockets are deep enough? – and leaving other prizes as-is) would motivate teams to “risk it all” for yellow in Paris instead of securing a top-10?

    • “Months without racing”? Well, two months (from finishing 13th, nine second behind Pogacar, in Liège on April 25th to starting in Brest on June 26th) is more than one month : D
      But to be honest it was an almost shockingly long period without racing – I wouldn’t hesitate to call it quite unusual or even unprecedented, even though I don’t know if it really is so – and I would seem to recall that I was far from the only one who questioned the wisdom of it.

      • It just strikes me as a poor way to prepare for the race. I am sure it was very scientific, measured, controlled including recovery so his numbers were spot on for the race, but racing isn’t controlled and throws up all sorts unpredictable situations that only racing can prepare you for. It also keeps your bike-handling sharp. I am not saying it is the reason he went down, but I doubt it helped much either.

        • It was a concern I raised in the pre-Tour preview for him, always a risk but one of balance as his problem until now had been one of fading in the third week so it was worth trying, the crash on the second day was as much bad luck as anything else.

    • Well its a points competition which can be a reward for consistency.
      Matthews is unlikely to win and can really only win by Cav being eliminated.
      But in that case if Mathews finishes on top he would be a worthy winner becasuse.
      A. its a points competition which is one by the one with the most points and making it to the end is a prime requirement and anybody not making it to the end is a worthy winner (unless they crash near the end of the race).
      B. Currently no sprinter still in the race other than cav has won a sprint stage from a bunch sprint so Mathews very strong effort to get 2nd on the first stage is the best of the rest. No doubt sprint depth is a bit low at this point of the 2021 TDF.

      • Jasper Philipson has 2 second place finishes and 3 third in this Tour, beating Mathews in all. He also beat Cavendish at Scheldeprijs and two stages of the Tour of Turkey. I would put him at best of the rest.

        • > He also beat Cavendish at Scheldeprijs and two stages of the Tour of Turkey.

          Weird. Didn’t know that other races counted towards the points classification in the Tour.

      • Well we shall see how the final week plays out but on performance so far Matthews is pretty forgettable, Green would be too much of a reward for his consistency.

      • If Cav drops out, Matthews has a strong chance of being immortalised in cycling trivia for winning the green jersey twice without topping the points table.

        In 2017 he had five stages in hand to pass Kittel’s tally after 16 stages and still finished with fewer points, and this time he is over twice as far behind.

        Riders get to keep their stage result trophies even if they drop out, perhaps a second hollow victory in the space of five years will be enough to provoke the same being applied to green jersey and KOM points.

  2. Even though I don’t understand Danish, gems like that Vingegaard make this the best blog! Thanks for the excellent coverage of this TdF!

  3. Thanks for the post!
    GC wise, one can hope the non-TTers in the top 10 band together to gain time before the TT. Otherwise it could be a “defend your GC-postion”, which will be a cure for insomnia.

  4. Visma is Norwegian-Danish company based in Oslo, however it may be the Benelux branch that is the sponsor and not the HQ – based on team priorities the sponsor ship is probably targeting the Benelux marked.

  5. Someone must have done this before, but has anyone held a jersey from start to finish? Pogacar due to do this with the white jersey.
    I can’t imagine it’s ever been done with the yellow or mountain – maybe with the green jersey?

    • It has been done four times with the yellow jersey:

      – In 1903 by Maurice Garin (no yellow jersey then, but he won the first stage and led to the finish)
      – In 1924 by Ottavio Bottecchia
      – In 1928 by Nicholas Frantz
      – In 1935 by Romain Maes

      In 1961 Jacques Anquetil took the lead on stage 1b on the opening day, and held it to the finish.

      In the 1935 Tour de France, as well as Maes leading from start to finish, Félicien Vervaecke took the lead in the mountains completion on stage 4 (there being no award on stages 1- 3) and held the lead to the finish. Gino Bartali achieved similar in 1938, starting from stage 8; Fausto Coppi in 1949 (starting from stage 11); Federico Bahomontes in 1954 (starting stage 11).

  6. I’m not sure the Ineos battering ram has been aimed at the Slovenian fortress – looks more like it’s aimed at trying to dislodge some of the other podium contenders, and then just vaguely hoping that some kind of earthquake happens to knock the fortress down.

  7. “For many of the podium contenders though there’s an asymmetry, they’d like to move up but they really don’t want to move down and this invites caution.”
    I hope this week’s different, otherwise I’ll be reminded of the Indurain years. Nobody remembers them as the “Who was it again that finished second to BigMig?” years so I hope for a “Yellow or Bust!” effort from someone….anyone? You know, “RACE TO WIN!” rather than not-to-lose?
    Carapaz is maybe too obvious, how ’bout Uran? He’s already been on the podium in Paris and while it would be nice to see him do it again, nobody’s gonna remember that vs some huge exploit that puts Pogacar and UAE in trouble, even if it flames out spectacularly. Allez Ciccio!!!
    PS- I’m not betting a dime on this, it’s not a prediction or advice to anyone, just a fantasy:-)

  8. Looking at the route and the gradients, I can’t see Cav falling foul of the time cutoff, particularly with the benefit of a rest day behind him.

    On the other hand, I haven’t a clue what the cutoff time for today’s stage is.

    What is it? Who decides it, on what basis, and when?

Comments are closed.