If you want to annoy a rider, ask them how the transition stage went. Once upon a time as the race rode between the Alps and Pyrenees a breakaway could slip away and everyone else was left to complete the course stress-free. Not any more.
Yesterday’s stage looked like it was going to offer some siesta opportunities when only three riders went up the road. Then one of them, Wout van Aert, sat up to leave two. Nils Politt and Mikkel Honoré had a go but the latter’s team didn’t send a team car behind him, preferring to keep one behind the bunch, and the other was further back covering Michael Mørkøv who’d been dropped and was alone. Then a lot happened. Primož Roglič had already left the race before it started but Steven Kruijswijk was the first of several Jumbo-Visma riders to crash, he was out and taken away in an ambulance. Then Tiesj Benoot and Jonas Vingegaard fell, they got up but crashes are almost never without consequence, whether it’s soreness, loss of sleep or trauma.
BikeExchange-Jayco reverted to the team we saw in the Dauphiné, toiling across the plains only to get caught out by the climb as the race crossed the Montagne Noire where Dylan Groenewegen was among several sprinters ejected, likewise Fabio Jakobsen and Caleb Ewan. Over the top of the climb local rider Benjamin Thomas and Alexis Gougeard made a premeditated move with Thomas staying away until the final kilometre, albeit with some help from a TV motorbike keen to film him front on rather than in profile. Then Jasper Philipsen won the sprint, finally a win for Alpecin-Deceuninck who’ve been orphaned without Mathieu van der Poel and a team built for the sprints.
A big win for Alpecin… but oddly it doesn’t seem possible to buy their caffeinated shampoo in France, no supermarkets or pharmacies stock it, although it does retail online. But for a consumer product with a logo being beamed into millions of French homes right now – France TV is purring at its domestic audience numbers – it’s unusual.
Jumbo-Visma’s woes have matched those of UAE as each has lost two riders, although that’s in numeric terms, the Dutch team looks stronger. Wout van Aert is worth two riders because he can pull on the plains and on the passes alike. But it does leave Jonas Vingegaard more exposed now because Roglič and Kruijswijk are quality riders, more than mountain gregarios.
Vingegaard and Pogačar look inseparable. At least they did until the Col du Granon of course. Jumbo-Visma’s attacks dismantled the UAE team but arguably Pogačar’s undoing was a lack of energy which is why he lost so much time, it’s like he’s 5-10W short of Vingegaard, this was a “lights out” moment, he cracked. Obviously the attacks put him in trouble and emptied the tank but the point is it’ll have take something similar to dislodge Vingegaard who leads by over two minutes and his handy for the final time trial. Still there’s a frisson in the air as the Dane is untested, he could sore from his crash to Carcassonne and Pogačar knows a thing or two about sacking Jumbo-Visma’s Tour dreams.
Ineos look content to have Geraint Thomas diesel to third place, a solid result. He’s only 21 seconds behind Pogačar but looks likely to lose more time if the lead duo trade attacks but his position and time trial ability means he’s a safe podium pick, although we did use to worry about Thomas and consistency over three weeks, but he’s riding very steady. Adam Yates is in an interesting position but will he be used for any risky moves, or just be kept in reserve?
For Pogačar and Thomas alike, we should think what they and their sponsors want. Thomas you sense might like another podium at the Tour more than Pogačar while the Slovenian might be prepared to gamble more. For both sponsors though, securing a podium finish is a big result, the kind of think they can have as the first slide in their year end Powerpoint presentation but at the same time it’s also a meagre result. DSM or Groupama-FDJ would crave a podium in Paris but for Ineos or UAE it’ll be part satisfying, part consolation. Do they gamble for more?
Romain Bardet, Nairo Quintana, Louis Meintjes and David Gaudu are all high on GC but it’s looking very hard for them to move up. Even if one or more of them could improbably take a big chunk of time in the Pyrenees they’d surely lose this back the long Rocamadour time trial.
Wout van Aert is well clear in the points competition, he’s on 378 points ahead of second placed… Tadej Pogačar on 182 points and Jasper Philipsen on on 176. It’s still mathematically possible for Pogačar to win the green jersey but if he wins every stage from here to Paris and van Aert doesn’t score once then he’ll take a four point lead in the competition. In other words, Wout van Aert just needs to reach Paris.
The mountains competition hasn’t caught fire yet. Simon Geschke leads but will have his work cut out to infiltrate more breakaways and take maximum points with six first category climbs (10 points for first) and two HC climbs (20 points) to come. Louis Meintjes is second but doesn’t have much of a kick. So the competition is open to others and they’ll take comfort from the relative weakness of UAE and Jumbo-Visma who’ll find it harder to control the race all day and mow down the moves.
Another other business? That’s the odd thing, there’s not been much news today. There’s usually a team presentation about a new sponsor, or gossip about transfer moves but there’s not much of that. The B&B Hotels team have been rumoured to be lining up a new sponsor that’ll give them funding comparable to a World Tour team like Cofidis, and there’s talk of a women’s team. The team’s given promising Italian sprinter/finisseur Luca Mozzato a new long term contract which is a hint of something but others say the potential sponsor has yet to have its board sign off the deal. It’s coming to late to move up to the World Tour but a bigger budget means more riders and with a few stars they could be a “must have” team for the next few years, that’ll be their method.
Lastly it’s going to be hot in the Pyrenees, it often is. But the area looks to be spared the various weather warnings that are in issue in other parts of France, where some places have recorded record high temperatures. Just not where the Tour is going. There’s the outside chance of rain, a thunderstorm too.