Now we wait. With the Tour de Suisse, the Tour of Slovenia, the Route d’Occitanie and the Tour of Belgium over, there’s a two week lull until the Tour de France, with many national championships next weekend for a change in format of racing.
The big lesson from all the weekend’s racing? Covid rates are climbing fast and we’re back to looking at charts of infection rates that resemble a mountain stage rather than a sprinter’s stage although for now it’s a question of scale, this is an increase but not a big wave (yet?). The UCI and ASO will have a meeting this week to discuss sanitary measures in the wake of all the positive cases in the Tour de Suisse. Over the weekend Christian Prudhomme said he’ll follow what the UCI suggests which puts the onus on the governing body but regardless teams will be tightening measures. We’ve got used to Jumbo-Visma announcing their Tour de France team months before the race, currently they’re still unsure who to pick two weeks out because of Covid, both in terms of who has been ill or could be positive, but also because of the effect this is having on racing, training and form. Every other team is in the same boat, when asked about Groupama-FDJ’s plans for the Tour de France, Marc Madiot said he didn’t know, telling L’Equipe “I’m unable to tell you who will be at the start of the Tour de France. It’s Russian roulette for everyone“. And all this is just for team selections, let alone the Sword of Damocles hanging over every rider in the race.
One rider Madiot will be counting on is Thibaut Pinot who took a vintage Pinot stage win in the Tour de Suisse, letting others attack and overheat on the final climb before reeling them in and going clear for the win, a move he’s done before by holding back and being patient. He’s now going stage-hunting in the Tour de France, in part because it’s what he prefer to do but also because his chronic back problems meant he’s not worked as much on his TT bike.
So many other riders will be stage hunting in July, Michael Woods might have just taken his first overall win at the Route d’Occitanie but he’s going for stages in July, even if these bring few points. Many are resigned to the podium being reserved for a handful of riders, think Pogačar, Roglič and Vingegaard to the point where Ineos barely get a look-in so they’re having to look for other results which in turn ought to make more stages more interesting as the breakaway will be harder fought. We’ll take a closer look at the mountains competition ahead of the Tour de France but it promises to be good as well. Last year was good too, until it ended by accident thanks to Pogačar taking points late in the race but as keen readers will know, the system’s been tweaked.
As for the weekend’s racing, it’s hard to extrapolate too much from the results we did get rather than were denied because of Covid, for example we can wonder what Aleksandr Vlasov would have done in Switzerland. Pogačar won his home race again and it all looked very easy like last year but plenty of riders from smaller teams weren’t far behind. Geraint Thomas was the surprise thanks to his Tour de Suisse win, a surprise compared to expectations but no fluke as he was climbing with the best, looked sharp to be going for time bonuses early in the race which shows the win was the plan from the start, and he concluded it with a strong TT. So what for the Tour de France? The plan was meant to be Adam Yates but he was out with Covid and so like many his racing, training and recovery plans are up in the air while Thomas brings some certainty for a Tour route packed with time trials but can he climb with the best?
One pleasant surprise was Bob Jungels. His signing with Ag2r Citroën hasn’t been a triumph but it’s not his fault, he’s had serious iliac artery issues which can plague several riders. The remedy is surgery but not all riders make it back to the previous level but in the Tour de Suisse he appeared to be climbing and time trialling well to finish sixth overall.
As well as Covid, heat’s been a big issue all over Western Europe. The Route d’Occitanie saw Stage 2 shortened because of a heatwave. This wasn’t the sport’s Extreme Weather Protocol in action, instead the prefet of the Tarn, a government official appointed to oversee the départment, said the bike race could not happen on his turf. He might have been thinking of the riders but also the race’s passage across the countryside means closed roads and blocked junctions, not ideal for a time when the emergency services are under more pressure to help those suffering from the heat, when crowds could gather and so on. This sets a precedent but doesn’t mean the Tour de France will be halted on a hot day whether in the Tarn or elsewhere… because the Tour is that much bigger. A prefet can talk down to a local race but halting the Tour is something they’d consult on with officials higher up the chain. But they can’t dialogue with the climate and if June’s heatwave is harsher in July it’ll bring questions for many a race.
Talking of heatwaves, a tip: think twice before doing long ride in France on a Monday. Many village bakeries are family businesses and because they’re open on Sunday many take Monday off meaning they’re closed when you’re on your ride and need of food and an expensive cold drink… although guess who is going to recon two Tour stages in one go today? Doh, but another prompt for eau-cyclisme.com which lists sources of drinkable water from spring water fountains to public toilets for you to note for your ride. It’s handy for Tour de France stage recons and more. Someone with more time could create an app that lists free water points all over the world for cyclists, travellers and anyone thirsty who doesn’t need
Looking ahead the national championships are a handy source of UCI points for teams and you can see the table showing the spoils above. Countries are split into A and B groups, where an A nation is defined as a nation that started at least one rider in the previous Men’s Elite world championship road race.
As usual the rider transfer market is like a game of magical chairs. But think of it as one where the first rounds are “magical thrones”, where the star riders on big contracts go first. Richard Carapaz is going to EF Pro Cycling according to Velonews. Which leaves Movistar hunting their Valverde replacement, they want Carlos Rodriguez at Ineos but he has a contract with the British team for next season although they can wait a year, buy him out… or find Ineos renew him. Moves like this need to be settled first before others can slot in.
At the smaller end of the transfer market, Bardiani-CSF climber Filippo Zana is going to Bike Exchange. Now the Italian is a good signing as he’s a handy climber, just not the biggest contract. With the relegation battle not far away, all teams concerned have to keep signing riders as if they plan to be in the World Tour and they’ll deal with relegation if it happens. But it’s still a material risk in the transfer market, a rider with two offers might be tempted to sign with the team with plenty of points because relegation could cause knock-on effects and they might be on the jobs market and in a tough situation when many others could be if a whole team implodes.
As usual they’ll be an update on the UCI points on Tuesday… but probably not many during July as there won’t be many updates to digest as the Tour de France’s points are only added up by the UCI once the race is done.