Highs and Lows from the 2020 Vuelta a España

Highs and Lows from the 2020 Vuelta a España

As cycling looks to move on from the COVID-19 lockdowns that halted the season, they reached the end of the season’s World Tour calendar with the latest Vuelta a España in history. Moved from August and September to October and November (meaning it overlapped with the delayed Giro d’Italia) and cut from 21 to 18 stages – along with other route adjustments – due to COVID restrictions closing entry to some countries. And after 2,892.6km of riding, Primož Roglič stood atop the podium in the coveted maillot rojo for the second year in a row.


cycling vuelta 2020 classification jerseys

General Classification:

  1. Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 72h 46′ 12″
  2. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers   + 00′ 24″
  3. Hugh Carthy (Great Britain) – EF Pro Cycling   + 01′ 15″

Points Classification:

  1. Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 204 points
  2. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers – 133 points
  3. Dan Martin (Ireland) – Israel Start-Up Nation – 111 points

Mountains Classification:

  1. Guillaume Martin (France) – Cofidis – 99 points
  2. Tim Wellens (Belgium) – Lotto–Soudal – 34 points
  3. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers – 30 points

Young Rider Classification:

  1. Enric Mas (Spain) – Movistar Team – 72h 49′ 48″
  2. David Gaudu (France) – Groupama–FDJ   + 4′ 09″
  3. Aleksandr Vlasov (Russia) – Astana + 6′ 00″

Teams Classification:

  1. Movistar Team – 218h 37′ 21″
  2. Team Jumbo–Visma + 10′ 23″
  3. Astana  + 40′ 09″

cycling vuelta 2020 roglic carapaz carthy podium


It’s probably no surprise that a 3-week race has a number of highs and lows as it progresses. Today I will be looking 4 highs and 2 lows that stuck with me as I watched the race.

High – Jumping right in

We’re going to jump right into the highs just as the Vuelta did this year with a hilly opening stage. The first 3 stages of the race were intended to take place in the Netherlands, but these 3 stages were cut when the race was rearranged, meaning that the usual slow start to the GC race disappeared, with Primož Roglič winning the opening stage to take the green jersey – which he held for the entire race – and the red jersey, which swapped between him and Carapaz over the next 3 weeks.

cycling vuelta 2020 roglic carapaz carthy kuss mas

While I have nothing against a prologue or some sprint stages to kick off the race, they aren’t always the most exciting stages until the final kilometres, while throwing us straight into the GC race made for an entertaining start that never really let up until the race was over.

I’m a big fan of a Time Trial to kick off the race as it opens up the GC immediately, but I’d certainly be up for more hilly stages with a handful of categorised climbs on day 1.

High – From tears to the summit

One of the images that stuck with me from the opening week of the Tour de France was that of Groupama–FDJ’s David Gaudu, who came down in a crash on the opening stage and appeared close to tears as he struggled on stage 2 to ride on despite his injuries and do what he could for his leader Thibaut Pinot.

With Pinot abandoning after just 2 stages of this race, Gaudu as given the chance to prove his quality, and that is exactly what he did, with some great rides to win Stage 11 and the Alto de la Covatilla on Stage 17, on the way to finishing 8ᵗʰ overall in the GC, just 7′ 45″ behind Roglič.

At 24 years old and with Pinot’s chances of Tour de France success now looking highly unlikely, don’t be shocked to see the youngster given the chance of leading the team at the 2021 Tour.

Low – Classless

It feels like every time I write a look back at one of these Grand Tours, there’s some black spot against the race organisers and the UCI. Thankfully this time it isn’t a safety issue, but one that certainly left a sour note on the race. Thankfully this time it doesn’t relate to any safety issues, but unfortunately it was an organisational faux pas that affected the race for the red jersey.

To give some background first of all, usually on a stage there needs to be a clear gap of 1 second at the finish line between 1 rider and the net in order for a time gap to be counted – this is why massive groups of riders can cross the line and be given the same finishing time. To improve rider safety during bunch sprints, stages deemed to be flat stages (and therefore more likely to end in a bunch sprint) have this 1-second rule expanded to a 3-second rule.

feat cycling vuelta 2020 Jumbo-Visma lead peloton

Unfortunately things went wrong on Stage 10, which had been designated a flat stage with the 3-second rule, but was changed after the race to the 1-second rule, resulting in time splits among the GC riders that saw the red jersey switch from Carapaz to Roglič. This led to a protest at the start of Stage 11, with Chris Froome leading the GC teams in a protest at the result of the stage – though in the end they were forced to ride with no success. Stage 14 was also changed in classification, but this one ahead of the stage beginning.

Froome was right though, as he pointed out that the change in the red jersey meant that the onus was now on Jumbo–Visma rather than Ineos Grenadiers to control the race. Not only that, but race strategies will be planned well in advance and last-minute changes in the classification of a stage could impact the strategies of teams.

feat cycling vuelta 2020 peloton mist

Personally, I don’t think that the race would have panned out much differently had Stage 10’s classification not been changed, but it is still not a good look when the race commissaires are overruling the classification sf a stage that had previously been agreed. In my opinion, every stage should have been checked and the classification confirmed ahead of the route being announced, similarly any later changes to the route.

High – French flashbacks

The 2020 Tour de France will probably not be one that Primož Roglič forgets in a hurry, as he seemed destined to win the GC, only for an uphill Time Trial on the penultimate day to see him lose the race lead to compatriot Tadej Pogačar. Well the final week of the Vuelta may have gone some way to banishing any demons he had.

feat cycling vuelta 2020 Jumbo-Visma

This race’s Time Trial was on Stage 13 – another uphill Time Trial, which the Slovenian went into 13 seconds behind Richard Carapaz. There was no collapse from Roglič this time though, as he rode the 33.7km in 46′ 39″ to win the stage by 1 second from Will Barta to take the lead in the GC by 39 seconds. Roglič would go on to hold the red jersey to the end of the race.

It wasn’t plain sailing though, as Jumbo–Visma arguably made the wrong call on the penultimate day by riding aggressively on Stage 17 to put pressure on the peloton. This led to Roglič and his lieutenant Sepp Kuss being isolated earlier than usual, and they struggled to cope when Carapaz attacked in the final kilometres. Kuss was dropped immediately and while Roglič held on as long as he could, he was eventually dropped and it became a race against the clock, with the Slovenian able to keep the gap low enough to just hold onto the leader’s jersey.

cycling vuelta 2020 roglic Jumbo-Visma

Low – No consistency

The Vuelta isn’t often a race for the sprinters, with the GC riders usually taking many of the top spots in the Points Classification. Well, Sam Bennett certainly gave his all to have success in the Points Classification, but his hopes were effectively ended when he was deemed to have been too aggressive on Stage 9, shoulder barging into Emīls Liepiņš to hold his position in the build-up to the sprint. Bennett won the bunch sprint, but was relegated to the back of the peloton, fined and deducted points in the classification.

While it seems harsh, I can understand the decision given the push to improve safety, especially after incidents like the crash in the Tour of Poland between Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen, unfortunately it didn’t feel like every incident was being treated the same.

Rui Costa was relegated for changing his line in the sprint to win Stage 16, in which he had initially finished 3ʳᵈ, and yet Pascal Ackermann of Bora–Hansgrohe – who had been promoted to the winner of Stage 9 following Bennett’s relegation – appeared to use his elbow and deviate off his line on the way to finishing 2ⁿᵈ on Stage 15 and was not punished a all.

I am 100% behind becoming stricter on what is allowable for the purpose of rider safety, but it needs to be made clear to the riders and the fans what is permissible and what is illegal, otherwise we’re going to continue seeing incidents like this where consistency appears to be lacking.

High – Rule Britannia!

Britain may have only produced 1 of the 3 grand Tour winners this year, but make no mistake, British cycling is as strong as ever, and arguably still on the up.

cycling vuelta 2020 froome trophy

Chris Froome made a return to Grand Tour racing in his last race with Ineos Grenadiers before moving to Israel Start-Up Nation. Still recovering from injuries sustained last year, this race was never about Froome challenging for the GC, but instead just getting back in condition, and there were signs that he was doing well as he put in a strong ride on Stage 12 to help set up an attack on the Angliru (Carapaz would take the race lead on this stage), while he was able to make it to the end of the race and receive a trophy for the 2011 race, of which he was eventually announced as winner following Juan José Cobo being stripped of the title for doping offences.

While Froome and Geraint Thomas may be on the downward slopes of their respective careers, only a fool would ever rule them out of challenging for another Grand Tour title, while Ineos Grenadiers will also have Adam Yates and 2020 Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart challenging alongside Carapaz and Egan Bernal. Simon Yates will be looking to add to his 2018 Vuelta title with Mitchelton–Scott, and there is now clearly another British threat on the scene in the form of EF Pro Cycling’s Hugh Carthy.

cycling vuelta 2020 roglic carapaz carthy

Much like Geoghegan Hart at the Giro, Carthy came to the Vuelta as a domestique, but found himself taking on the leadership role after both Daniel Martínez and Michael Woods crashed on the opening stage. He may have been given the leadership, but he had to earn the support, and clearly did as the race went on, with Woods setting him up to attack the leaders group on Stage 8. Carthy put in a fantastic 3-week ride that included one of his best ever Time Trials and victory on the slopes of the Angliru on his way to finishing on the podium. Give him the support of a team from Stage 1 and this is yet another Brit who will be looking to make himself a regular on the Grand Tour podiums.

Highs and Lows from the 2020 Giro d’Italia

Highs and Lows from the 2020 Giro d’Italia

With the Tour de France having got the 2020 Grand Tour calendar underway following the initial shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was time for the Giro d’Italia to take centre stage. With an altered route at times, riders still went through 3,361.4km of hard riding between the 3ʳᵈ and 25ᵗʰ October, and this all culminated in 25-year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart earning the Maglia Rosa on the final stage, becoming the 5ᵗʰ Brit to win a Grand Tour.


General Classification:

  1. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain) – Ineos Grenadiers – 85h 40′ 21″
  2. Jai Hindley (Australia) – Team Sunweb   + 00′ 39″
  3. Wilco Kelderman (Netherlands) – Team Sunweb   + 01′ 29″

Points Classification:

  1. Arnaud Démare (France) – Groupama–FDJ – 233 points
  2. Peter Sagan (Slovakia) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 184 points
  3. João Almeida (Portugal) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step – 108 points

Mountains Classification:

  1. Ruben Guerreiro (Portugal) – EF Pro Cycling – 234 points
  2. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain) – Ineos Grenadiers – 157 points
  3. Thomas De Gendt (Belgium) – Lotto–Soudal– 122 points

Young Rider Classification:

  1. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain) – Ineos Grenadiers – 85h 40′ 21″
  2. Jai Hindley (Australia) – Team Sunweb   + 00′ 39″
  3. João Almeida (Portugal) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 2′ 57″

Teams Classification:

  1. Ineos Grenadiers – 257h 15′ 58″
  2. Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 22′ 32″
  3. Team Sunweb  + 28′ 50″

It’s probably no surprise that a 3-week race has a number of highs and lows as it progresses. Today I will be looking 3 highs and 3 lows that stuck with me as I watched the race

Low – Crashing out early

With Individual Time Trials accounting for 3 of the 21 stages in this year’s Giro and a number of big names missing following the Tour de France and World Championships, this looked like a race Geraint Thomas was destined to win. However, the Welshman’s dreams of winning the Giro came crashing down on the streets of Sicily as his bike caught a discarded bottle, sending him to the ground at high speed. Though he managed to complete the stage, a fractured hip brought his race to an early end after just 3 stages.

cycling giro geraint thomas ineos

G is one of the great personalities in the peloton, and it is never nice to see someone’s race ended early, but it was even more disappointing given his history of bad luck in Grand Tours. Hopefully we will see G leading the team at Grand Tours again next year, but with the sheer number of Grand Tour winners in the Ineos Grenadiers ranks next season – despite Chris Froome’s move to Israel Start-Up Nation – he’s going to have to be on top form.

High – Plan B

While G’s injury and early abandonment were a clear low in the race, it actually led to one of the biggest highs. The one benefit to losing your leader just a few stages into a 3-week race is that you have time to adjust your plan for the race. And this is exactly what Ineos Grenadiers did, and it led to their most successful Grand Tour!

They were always going to be the favourites in the ITTs with World Time Trial Champion Filippo Ganna in their line-up and the Italian duly won all 3 of the stages, while also showing that he is more than just a TT rider with a sensational ride on Stage 5 to take a 4ᵗʰ stage victory in the race. Meanwhile, fellow TT specialist Rohan Dennis also showed his quality with 2 top 10 finishes in the Time Trials, but his biggest impact on the race came in the final few days as he became the key domestique on the climbs, dragging Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley away from the Maglia Rosa and to constantly come back when Hindley attacked on the final climb of the penultimate stage. Jhonatan Narváez also added to the success of the team with a win on Stage 12 when he attacked from the break.

cycling giro tao geoghegan hart trophyAnd then of course we come to Tao Geoghegan Hart, who came to the race as a domestique for Thomas but instead found himself becoming the leader. The 25-year-old held with the leaders when many others struggled, and a win on Stage 15 propelled him not just into the top 10 but all the way to 4ᵗʰ in the GC. Then in the final few days of climbing, he was able to ride away from the Maglia Rosa along with Rohan Dennis and Jai Hidley of Sunweb, leaving us in the craziest of situations where 20 stage of riding saw the lead of the general classification come down to a fraction of a second between 2 riders who came to the race as domestiques – a margin he was able to overcome with a strong time trial on the final day to become the latest Grand Tour winner.

Low – COVID Chaos

We may be back to racing, but that doesn’t mean that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, and it certainly had its impact on this race.

Adam Yates was one of the favourites to win the race, but struggled through the first week before abandoning ahead of Stage 8 following a positive COVID test. Just a few days later, the rest of his Mitchelton–Scott team abandoned after 4 staff members tested positive.

The entirety of Team Jumbo–Visma also abandoned on the first rest day after Steven Kruijswijk tested positive, while sprinters Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) also abandoned following positive tests.

First things first, you could question why there were not standardised processed in place, with Team Jumbo–Visma pulling out after 1 positive test within the team, but Team Sunweb and UAE Team Emirates continuing without the rider in question. Second, you could ask why the riders were staying in hotels that were also open to the public, and why we were still seeing fans without masks able to get within metres of the riders on some of the climbs.

Without the riders, there is no product, so you would think the UCI and race organisers would be working harder to look after them.

High – Alex Dowsett’s big day

We’ve all had one of those days where things start wrong an you just know it’s setting the trend for the day. Well Israel Start-Up Nation’s British rider Alex Dowsett thought it was going to be one of those days on 10ᵗʰ October when, ahead of Stage 8, he tweeted out “Cleaned my teeth then realised I hadn’t drunk my freshly brewed coffee yet this morning. I really hope the day picks up because it started with a nightmare.”

Well the day certainly did get better for him, as he managed to get in the break and then attack to win his first Grand Tour stage since a Time Trial in the 2013 Giro, but even more importantly, Israel Start-Up Nation’s first ever Grand Tour stage.

The joy of a 3-week race like the Grand Tours is that while you will have days where the focus is on the big names like the GC contenders or the sprinters, there will also be great stories like this to look out for as the weeks go on.

Low – Avoidable accidents

Sadly, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 wasn’t the only risk the riders were exposed to, as there were a couple of incidents during the race that the UCI and race organisers should be ashamed of.

There has already been plenty of questioning of the quality of barriers at races following their catastrophic failure during the Tour of Poland crash between Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen, and they failed again miserably on Stage 4, as a helicopter flying low overhead resulted in some of the barriers near the end of the course blowing into the riders passing at that moment, leading to some serious injuries.

Sadly this wasn’t the only incident with an outside influence, as Stage 11 saw one of the camera motorbikes try to make it’s way up through the peloton at a point where they were closely grouped to make their way through some technical turns. With space quickly disappearing, the motorbike was left with nowhere to go, other than into Elia Viviani, who was knocked off his bike.

Accidents are unavoidable in bike racers, we all know how easy it is to just slightly touch wheels within the peloton, or to lose the bike from underneath you as you try taking a turn too fast. But both of these accidents are bringing outside influences into the race that are putting the riders at risk, and it doesn’t feel like anything is being done to improve their safety. Frankly, that’s just not good enough.

High – Young and hungry

In the last couple of years, we have started to see more and more success for young riders who are deemed to be well before what has previously been their prime. Riders like Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar have not just gone against that conventional thinking, but laughed in its face as they have won Grand Tours in their early 20s.

In this edition of the Giro, 25-year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart and 24-year-old Jai Hindley came with the intention of riding for Geraint Thomas and Wilco Kelderman respectively. But when push came to shove in the final days, they were the ones riding for the title. Meanwhile, 22-year-old João Almeida was shocked everyone by taking the pink jersey from Filippo Ganna on Stage 3 and holding it right up to Stage 18, before finally finishing 4ᵗʰ. Even Ganna himself proved that he is more than just a time trial rider with his win on Stage 5 proving that you can never take him for granted if he gets up the road in a break.

These performances are by no means saying that what was considered a rider’s prime is now too old, but instead it highlights that we are in a new golden age of cycling where even the experts are left shocked by the quality of performances right through the peloton. Now that is a great thing indeed!

A Tour Like No Other

A Tour Like No Other

After a 2-month delay and fears throughout of an enforced early finish, the 2020 edition of the Tour de France has come and gone. 176 riders started the race and 146 successfully completed the 3484.2km route around France. the 21 stages were won by 15 different riders, while the coveted maillot jaune was held by 5 different riders.

The winners

cycling tour de france 2020 pogacar bennett

So it’s safe to say that I got my prediction wrong here, with only 1 of my top 3 even making the podium. Following stints in yellow for Alexander Kristoff, Julian Alaphilippe and Adam Yates, it was no shock to see Primož Roglič take the yellow jersey on Stage 9. Tadej Pogačar had lost 1′ 21″ in the crosswinds of Stage 7, and while he made up some time on Roglič with a couple of stage victories, he could not crack his countryman and looked destined to finish 2ⁿᵈ in the GC until a crazy uphill time trial on Stage 20 saw him turn a 57 second deficit into a 59 second lead with just the procession into Paris remaining to win the yellow jersey competition (and white jersey for young rider) in his first Tour de France, with Roglič finishing 2ⁿᵈ and Richie Porte finally making a Tour de France Podium after years of bad luck.

In the green jersey competition, Alexander Kristoff won the opening stage and held the green jersey for the first couple of days until Peter Sagan took the lead in the Points Classification on Stage 3. The Slovak had won the green jersey every year since 2012 (save 2017, when he was thrown out the race for causing Mark Cavendish to crash), but found himself in a fight with Irishman Sam Bennett, who had left Bora–Hansgrohe for Deceuninck–Quick-Step because Sagan got priority over him. Stage 11 effectively ended Sagan’s hopes of retaining the green jersey, as in a 4-way sprint between him, Bennett, Caleb Ewan and Wout van Aert, he used excessive force on the Jumbo–Visma rider, resulting in his 2ⁿᵈ-place finish being discounted as he was relegated to the back of the peloton and docked points. While he continued to fight, Bennett proved too strong and secured the green jersey, before ending his first Tour de France with the added highlight of winning the famous sprint on the Champs-Élysées.

Benoît Cosnefroy of AG2R La Mondiale held the polka dot jersey for the Mountains classification for much of the race, until the GC fight saw Pogačar take the jersey on Stage 17. Richard Carapaz’s attacks in the final week saw him take the jersey on Stage 18, but Pogačar’s success on the uphill time trial saw him secure his 3ʳᵈ classification of the Tour. Movistar won the Teams Classification for the 5ᵗʰ time in 6 years, while Marc Hirschi of Team Sunweb was rewarded with the Combativity Award following a number of breaks that saw him pushing for stage victories.

cycling tour de france 2020 podium roglic pogacar porte

General Classification:

  1. Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) – UAE Team Emirates – 87h 20′ 05″
  2. Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma   + 00′ 59″
  3. Richie Porte (Australia) – Trek–Segafredo   + 03′ 30″

Points Classification:

  1. Sam Bennett (Ireland) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step – 380 points
  2. Peter Sagan (Slovakia) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 284 points
  3. Matteo Trentin (CCC Pro Team) – CCC Pro Team – 260 points

Mountains Classification:

  1. Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) – UAE Team Emirates – 82 points
  2. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers – 74 points
  3. Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 67 points

Young Rider Classification:

  1. Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) – UAE Team Emirates – 87h 20′ 05″
  2. Enric Mas (Spain) – Movistar Team   + 06′ 07″
  3. Valentin Madouas (France) – Groupama–FDJ  + 1h 42′ 43″

Teams Classification:

  1. Movistar Team – 262h 14′ 58″
  2. Team Jumbo–Visma  + 18′ 31″
  3. Team Bahrain–McLaren  + 57′ 10″

Top Teams of the Tour

While Ineos Grenadiers grew into the race (except Egan Bernal) and Bora–Hansgrohe did a great job to energise some stages to help Peter Sagan in his chase for the green jersey, but there were 3 teams that really stood out to me on the Tour.

Team Jumbo–Visma came with arguably the strongest line-up of any team with former Grand Tour winners Primož Roglič & Tom Dumoulin, while George Bennett and Robert Gesink both have top 10 GC finishes in previous Grand Tours, Sepp Kuss is currently one of the form climbers since the resumption of races and Wout van Aert is arguably the best all-round rider in pro cycling at the moment, with an engine that never gives up and the ability to help power the peloton along all day then still fight it out with specialised sprinters. While individuals had the occasional off day, the team barely put a foot wrong, ruling the front of the peloton in a way that appeared even more dominant than what we are used to from watching Team Sky/Ineos over the last 5 years, and it was only on the time trial – where nobody could help Roglič – that the Slovenian cracked to lose what had just hours earlier looked to be a certain Grand Tour victory. The team came away with 3 stage victories (including 2 sprints for van Aert) and had a handful of other top 3 finishes.

cycling tour de france 2020 jumbo visma

Some of Bora–Hansgrohe’s moves may have caused issues for Deceuninck–Quick-Step, but Sam Bennett’s team did what they had to in order to wrest the green jersey away from Peter Sagan. While id didn’t ever feel like they were controlling the front of the peloton in the final 5 with dominant trains like in previous years, the entire team worked hard to look after Sam Bennett through the mountains and positioning him in the right places to attack the bunch sprint. What helped Bennett’s green jersey campaign so much was his lead-out man Michael Mørkøv. The Dane did so well to consistently get in the right position to lead Bennett out rather than force him onto the wheel of another sprinter, but even after he released Bennett he would keep riding as hard as he could like a 2ⁿᵈ sprinter, getting amongst Bennett’s rivals at both the end of the race and intermediate sprints and limiting the points available to those looking to compete against Bennett.

cycling tour de france 2020 deceuninck-quickstep

But to me, the team of the Tour – and the one that probably gained the support of many neutral fans – was Team Sunweb. While sprinter Cees Bol had a limited impact, Sunweb used clever tactics to great success. Marc Hirshci had some great success getting up the road, only to agonisingly lose in 2 sprints against GC opposition, before finally winning from a break in the middle of Stage 12. Even after this, he continued to fight and was unfortunate to crash on a descent in Stage 18 that ruled him out of competing for the stage win, but still finished in 3ʳᵈ on the stage. His success in the breaks saw him finish 4ᵗʰ in the Mountains Classifiaction. But it wasn’t just Hirschi who was the benefit of Sunweb’s tactics, as Søren Kragh Andersen was able to get away late on Stages 14 and 19 to provide the team 2 more stage wins. They may not have been in the hunt for the Points Classification or GC, but they certainly made the Tour a more enjoyable affair and in Hirschi and Andersen gave neutrals someone to cheer for as they did everything they could to convert their attacks into stage wins.

cycling tour de france 2020 sunweb

Silver linings to an Ineos cloud

Whether they are going by Team Sky, Team Ineos or now Ineos Grenadiers, one thing will never change: they are coming to a Grand Tour looking to win the GC. Unfortunately, none of their 3 prospective leaders (Egan Bernal, Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas) were at their best and the ne closest to being ready (Bernal) found himself struggling to stick with Roglič and abandoned after Stage 16, having fallen out of GC contention.

While this brought an end to the chances of a 6ᵗʰ consecutive Tour de France GC victory, there were certainly silver linings for the team. Despite being injured in multiple falls during a rain-drenched opening stage, Pavel Sivakov completed the race and made the top 10 in the Young Rider Classification and remains a hope for the future. Meanwhile without a leader to protect, Richard Carapaz showed his quality in the late mountain stages to put himself in with a shot of winning the Mountains Classification, while he could have had a stage win had he not allowed ever-reliable Michał Kwiatkowski to cross the line first on Stage 18 for his first ever stage victory at the Tour.

cycling tour de france 2020 ineos carapaz kwiatkowski

And for those who think this is the end of the success for Ineos Grenadiers, think again! Froome may be leaving at the end of the season, but they still have 3 proven Grand Tour winners in Bernal, Thomas and Carapaz and a strong team with some younger riders like Sivakov who will only get better, while they are bringing in some great talent in Andrey Amador, Rohan Dennis and Adam Yates, as well as some young Brits.

The good, the bad and the ugly

As is always the case, the Tour gave us some beautiful moments. From riders being overcome with emotion after winning stages to Julian Alaphilippe dedicating his stage win to his father, who had died on the day that the Tour was initially meant to start. Add in the usual beautiful scenery, some fun from some of the team’s Twitter accounts, Matteo Trentin channelling Michael Fish on Stage 1, Wout van Aert doing everything and a much-deserved stage win for Michał Kwiatkowski, and there is plenty to look back on fondly.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as the race was, it’s safe to say that there were some moments that really harmed my enjoyment.

First off was the support (or should I say lack of support) for Black Lives Matter. We have seen support from so many sports, for example in the Premier League (football), Premiership (rugby) and also Formula 1, which made the lack of support during the Tour even more conspicuous in its absence. If anything, this was highlighted even more by only 1 black rider (Kévin Reza of B&B Hotels–Vital Concept) in the peloton. It was great to see ITV run a feature highlighting black cyclists, but is that really enough? And then when we finally got an act of support for BLM on the final day, it was arguably worse than nothing at all, as all we had was pro-BLM messages or anti-racism messages written on masks that were removed before the race even started. Cycling needs to prove it doesn’t have a race problem, and step 1 is showing more suitable support for Black Lives Matter.

cycling tour de france 2020 BLM no to racism

Second was a horrible incident involving Romain Bardet. The AG2R La Mondiale rider went down heavy in a crash during Stage 13, but was helped back onto his bike and completed the stage, before abandoning with a suspected concussion that was revealed to be a “small haemorrhage”. The UCI regulations say the following regarding concussion: “All those in the presence of a rider and in particular all doctors and paramedical assistants shall be watchful for riders showing symptoms of concussion… Any rider with a suspected concussion should be immediately removed from the competition or training and urgently assessed medically.” Footage clearly showed Bardet fall down as he was helped to his feet immediately after the crash – more than enough of a warning sign for concussion – and yet he was heled straight back onto his bike to continue the race and nobody made any attempt to stop him for an assessment following this. I completely understand that as a GC rider, having to go through a medical assessment will make it impossible to catch up with the peloton and most likely bring an end to your GC hopes, but the health and safety of the riders should be paramount and come before the race. Hopefully it won’t take something more serious to see an increased focus on checking riders.

And finally, but sticking with the idea that the health and safety of the riders should be paramount, I come to the “fans” who think that it is OK to break protocols during a pandemic and get right in the face of riders without a mask on. As well as potentially creating a risk of interfering with the rider’s race, it is putting the in so much danger of falling ill and potentially spreading it amongst the team and potentially even the peloton. Even in a normal race I hate seeing crowds filling the road; with the ongoing pandemic, it leaves me so angry and nervous!

 

Well that’s the Tour over for another year, but the good news is that we still have 2 more Grand Tours coming up in the next few weeks, while next year’s Tour should be back at the usual dates so we won’t have to wait quite as long as usual for it.

Thanks for reading. Until next time!

Tour de France 2020: Preview

Tour de France 2020: Preview

We are just days away from the Grand Départ of the 2020 edition of the Tour de France. Usually the second of road cycling’s 3 Grand Tours to be raced each year, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in this being the first of the 3 this year, while the race itself has also been pushed back.

Saturday will see the beginning of 3470 kilometres being covered over a space of 23 days (21 stages and 2 rest days), with 22 teams of 8 riders rolling out of Nice and making their way around the country – mainly Southern and Eastern France this year – before 20ᵗʰ September’s ceremonial procession into Paris and the final sprint to down the Champs-Élysées. And when all is said and done, the best overall rider over the 3 weeks will be the yellow jersey and winner of the race’s General Classification.

COVID-19

This is going to be a very different race than usual due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has hit the world this year. The race was initially slated to start on the 27ᵗʰ June, so a delay of 2 months could lead to different conditions to usual as we find the race taking part later in the summer.

Further than that, every cyclist will find that their preparation for the race has been heavily disrupted, and it was clear in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné that a number of riders were not yet at their best. If some of the top teams find their riders not quite as conditioned as they hope, then don’t be surprised if some less fancied teams find themselves in a more competitive situation to usual.

It looks like the Tour is taking plenty of precautions to keep everybody safe, with a number of plans in place, including regular testing. Perhaps the most noticeable that could impact the race is that a team with 2 positive tests will be pulled out of the race. Imagine if with a couple of days left the overwhelming leader in the GC was pulled out of the race due to 2 members of the team testing positive. With all things considered, this year’s race will be anything but predictable!

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As an aside, we will also see the impact on the roads with much smaller crowds. While it is obviously going to be a shame to see less fans at the roadside, I can’t help but think that it may lead to a safer race on some f those hard climbs where we see the road reduced to a width of less than a metre due to the crowds pushing forward, making things dangerous for the riders, especially with the motorbikes carrying camera operators right next to them. While the images of Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux will go down in history, the last thing we want is riders having their races ruined – or worse, their safety put at risk – by crowds flooding the roads the cyclists are trying to race on.

Clash of the Titans

Of the last 8 iterations of the Tour, the yellow jersey has been won by Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) on 7 occasions, with their only miss in that time coming when Chris Froome was forced to retire injured in the first week. This year, Ineos may find their hopes of a 6ᵗʰ consecutive victory at risk, as they look to face a tough challenge from Team Jumbo-Visma.

It looked like Froome would have the ultimate trio of potential leaders in Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, but neither of the Brits looked close to readiness at the Dauphiné and have been pulled out to focus on prepping to be the leaders at the Vuelta and Giro respectively. Meanwhile, even Bernal did not seem close to competing with Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič on the tough climbs before being withdrawn with a back issue. Ineos have named a strong lineup regardless, but even key domestiques like Michał Kwiatkowski looked far from their best, putting a lot of pressure on Pavel Sivakov. The inclusion of 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz looks a shrewd call as he can be a key domestique if the team chooses to go all-in on Bernal, or a viable leader himself if Bernal is struggling – expect to see him in a limited-effort role early in the race to keep him fresh to fight so that the team an go all-in on him if needed, or even to use him to pressure Bernal’s other GC rivals by sending him off the front. But what must also be noted is that this will be the team’s first Grand Tour since the passing of directeur sportif Nicolas Portal, who has been a key part of their success. Now under pressure from Jumbo-Visma, with some big names missing and questions over others, this will be a big test for Dave Brailsford’s team.

cycling Tour De France 2019 Ineos win

Team Jumbo-Visma are probably the only team who come close to being such a threat in the GC in recent years. Like Ineos, it looked like they would be riding the Tour with 3 potential leaders in Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk, however injury on the Dauphiné has robbed Kruijswijk of his spot, while Roglič also left the race early following a fall. However, the Slovenian’s injuries did not look too severe and his great ability on both the climbs and in time trials surely leaves him as the favourite, while Dumoulin will likely be used in a similar role to what I described for Carapaz. Beyond that, though, the Team Jumbo-Visma team is a well-oiled machine, with George Bennett often able to hold his own amongst the leaders on climbs and surely now taking more of a domestique role, while Sepp Kuss looks in great form and Wout van Aert appears to have an engine that others find near-impossible to match. Inexperience leading the race has cost them in the past, but don’t expect that to be an issue now.

Brit-watch

With Froome and Thomas withdrawn and Mark Cavendish not being selected by Bahrain-McLaren, British interest may not be as high as in recent years, but there are still 4 riders out there representing GB.

Reliable Luke Rowe is still there as road captain for Team Ineos. Don’t expect to see him in breaks or going for stage wins at any point, but if Bernal/Carapaz are to come away with the yellow jersey, he will have played a key role.

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Mitchelton-Scott have brought one of the Yates twins, Adam, but they have already admitted that they will be going for stage wins rather than the yellow jersey. If he can pick his days right, he can certainly be a threat on the mountain stages.

Hugh Carthy is a strong rider who will likely be a key domestique for EF Pro Cycling if they hope to have any success with Rigoberto Urán or Dani Martinez, while Connor Swift will be making his Tour de France debut for Arkéa–Samsic, riding in support of Nairo Quintana.

All for one, and one for all?

It’s no surprise to see a strong list of Frenchmen on the start line for their home race, but what are the chances of a first French victory since Bernard Hinault in 1985?

Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ is probably the best bet of a victory and looked in good form at the Dauphiné, though he couldn’t get it right on the final stage. Julian Alaphilippe excited a nation with his performance in last year’s Tour and while he will probably fall off a little on the hardest mountains, he looked to be riding into form on the Dauphiné and will surely look to light up the race. Guillaume Martin is coming in off the back of a podium finish in the Dauphiné, but it’s hard to imagine that Team Cofidis have the strength to give him sufficient support to win the yellow jersey. The other notable French leader is Romain Bardet of Team Ag2r-La Mondiale, but he has never shown himself strong enough to win the Tour, with his time trials especially letting him down.

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What will be interesting to see though is if we get a repeat of the events of the final day of this year’s Dauphiné. With Martin unable to get away from Pinot, but Dani Martinez riding away, victory looked all-but assured for the Colombian. Alaphilippe had gone for the stage win but dropped away and was caught by a group of leaders: Tom Dumoulin, Pinot, Martin, Bardet and climber Warren Barguil. What followed was a beautiful moment as rather than try to hold with the group, Alaphilippe decided to spend his last energy taking a turn at the front of the group, effectively working as a domestique for his countrymen and apparently inspiring the other French riders to all ride as support for Pinot to help their countryman get the GC victory despite them all riding for different teams.

With Stage 19 being one for the sprinters, 20 a time trial and 21 the procession into Paris, if there is only one French hope for the yellow jersey, it would be beautiful to see something similar happening to create a team of super-domestiques to go against Ineos and Jumbo-Visma and bring success back to France. With the way 2020 is going, anything is possible!

Sprint finish

Despite Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen both missing following the horror crash at the Tour de Pologne, and Mark Cavendish missing out on selection, there is a strong field of sprinters here at the Tour.

Peter Sagan has won the green jersey in 7 of the last 8 years (the only time he didn’t was following his disqualification in 2017 following a crash with Mark Cavendish) and I honestly can’t see things being any different this year, as Bora–Hansgrohe are one of the stronger sprint teams, while Sagan is also one of the few sprinters that will also be able to cope with the more minor climbs, allowing him to pick up extra points on intermediate sprints as well as uphill sprints. On the flatter stages, expect riders like Sam Bennett, Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani to come to the fore, but it is likely that one will continually beat the others to the line, leading to them taking points off each other in the race to catch Sagan.

Right now, I’m predicting Sagan to win the green jersey but Sam Bennett of Deceuninck–Quick-Step to take the stage win in Paris.

feat cycling sprint set up

Dark horses

While Roglič would be my favourite for the race followed by Bernal, there are certainly some dark horses. Their seconds Dumoulin and Carapaz are equally capable of winning if the focus switches to them early enough in the race, especially given Dumoulin’s ability in time trials.

Outside the 2 big teams, Thibaut Pinot would be the favourite, but I also feel that Dani Martinez has a strong chance given his form in the mountains at the Dauphiné, as long as he is given a fair chance to race and not used up as a domestique for Urán. Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates looks to be one of the most exciting young riders in the peloton and must never be ruled out, especially if Fabio Aru rides in support of him. As I mentioned earlier, Guillaume Martin could push for a podium spot but will likely miss out due to not having such a strong team.

My final dark horse pick is Mikel Landa of Bahrain-McLaren. The Spaniard has top 10 finishes in the last 3 Tours, and while he may not have the punchy attacks of Pogačar, he is a tireless engine and with a team including Pello Bilbao and Wout Poels he should never be ruled out on the climbs.

My General Classification Prediction:

  1. Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo-Visma)
  2. Egan Bernal (Team Ineos)
  3. Dani Martinez (EF Pro Cycling)

To add a little extra fun to this year’s Tour, I have set up a pool on SuperBru and you’re all invited! You can find my pool here or by downloading the Superbru app and searching for the pool with code acmemock

cycling tour de france logo no background

2019 Vuelta a España: Winners & Losers

2019 Vuelta a España: Winners & Losers

In 2012, Primož Roglič made the decision to switch from ski jumping to road cycling. In 2016 he signed for LottoNL–Jumbo, who are now Team Jumbo–Visma. With 3 Grand Tours to his name, including 4ᵗʰ place on GC at the 2018 Tour de France, he wore the Maglia Rosa for 6 stages of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, but finished 3ʳᵈ with a lack of support at key moments from his team. The 2019 Vuelta a España saw him win his first ever Grand Tour, taking the red jersey in the Stage 10 Time Trial and holding it to the finish in Madrid.

While Roglič is obviously one of the big winners from from the race (both literally and figuratively), he is far from the only one who can come away and consider themselves a winner at this year’s Vuelta. Today, I will be looking at some of the others who should be feeling very happy looking back at the race, along with a few who may have been left feeling otherwise.

The Winners

Team Jumbo–Visma: Maybe I am being critical, but I felt that Roglič was really let down by his team at the Giro. Losing Steven Kruijswijk and Tony Martin during the race could have proved costly but Roglič’s quality, a great team effort and no small amount of luck meant that they were able to keep their man top of the General Classification. Roglič has confirmed himself as one of the top GC riders in the peloton going forward, and with Tom Dumoulin joining from Sunweb and Kruijswijk (who had finished in the top 5 on GC in his previous 3 Grand Tours) still on the books, this is a team looking for more Grand Tour victories. Throw in a road captain of Tony Martin’s quality and a montain domestique as strong as Sepp Kuss (who was allowed to get in the break and win Stage 15) and this team is building into a legitimate contender against Team Ineos.

cycling roglic pogacarTadej Pogačar: At just 20 years old at the time of the race and riding in his first Grand Tour, the Slovenian was the great find of the 2019 Vuelta. Able to hold his own among his more experienced riders, he did such a great job about making his attacks stick and finished with 3 stage victories, a place on the GC podium and victory in the Young Rider classification. He proved himself one of the better GC riders in the Individual Time Trial on Stage 10, finishing 1’29” behind his compatriot Primož Roglič despite requiring a bike change during the stage. It’s early days, but it looks like this kid is a future champion.

Marc Soler: He may have been the third Movistar rider on GC, but I would argue that he had a better Grand Tour than Nairo Quintana. He looked good value for the stage win on Stage 9 before being called back to help the Colombian and finished with a better time on the Stage 10 Time Trial than all GC contenders other than Roglič. With Alejandro Valverde nearing 40 years old and Mikel Landa, Richard Carapaz & Nairo Quintana all leaving Movistar, there is every chance that he could be the team leader next season.

Brit Boys: Tao Geoghegan Hart was given a chance to be co-leader for Team Ineos but quickly found himself completely and utterly out of GC contention. The first half of the race left me feeling that he was going to end up on the list of losers, but he came alive and showed his quality with some great riding in the breaks during the mountain stages of the last week. Ineos have enough other options to lead the team, but don’t be surprised to see Geoghegan Hart to become a key mountain domestique. James Knox also looked comfortably at home in the well-oiled Deceuninck–Quick-Step machine. Riding well to keep his teammates in with a shout of competing on sprint stages, he looked good in the mountains when many others began to drop away. He reached the heights of 8ᵗʰ place on GC, before injuries picked up in the Stage 19 crash hampered him and saw him finish just outside the top 10.

cycling sam bennett winSprint Stars: The 2019 Vuelta was very much about the GC riders and the breakaways, but there were still some stages where the sprinters were able to show their quality. Sam Bennett of Bora–Hansgrohe and Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Fabio Jakobsen were the pick of the bunch with 2 stage victories apiece, while it was only good teamwork from Jakobsen’s teammates that saw Bennett miss out on Stage 17 as he was forced to jump too early to pull back Zdeněk Štybar, allowing Philippe Gilbert to take the stage victory. With Elia Viviani leaving for Cofidis, it looks like Jakobsen is in prime position to be the team’s main sprinter, while Bennett is surely going to have teams interested when he is next available.

The Losers

Fernando Gaviria: I’ve been a fan of Gaviria since his Deceuninck–Quick-Step days but he was anonymous in this race. The Colombian finished 3ʳᵈ on Stage 4 and never again made it into the top 10 on a stage, to the point that I was shocked to realise he was still in the race on the final stage. It looks like he has some serious work to do on his climbing to keep competitive in a 3-week race.

Fabio Aru: The Italian won the Vuelta back in 2015 and at 29 years old should be coming into his prime, but has only finished in the top 5 on GC in 1 of his 7 Grand Tours since then. He didn’t finish this race, but even before he abandoned he was being thoroughly overshadowed by his teammate Tadej Pogačar.

cycling movistar astana crosswindMovistar: With Nairo Quintana, Richard Carapaz & Mikel Landa about to leave and Alejandro Valverde nearing 40, it looks like Movistar’s competitiveness could be coming to an end. With the chance of a GC victory given Valverde’s form, it really felt like the team shot themselves in the foot with their tactics. I was critical of Quintana following the Tour de France and the same applies here, yet the team still sacrifice resources towards him rather than focusing on Valverde. Marc Soler looked set to win Stage 9 at his (and the team’s) home Grand Tour, yet they sacrificed him to try getting the stage win for Quintana, who could barely keep with him. With Quintana the only one of the GC contenders to get in the right side of the split during Stage 17’s crosswinds, the chance was there for Quinatana to possibly take the GC, but instead of sitting on in the 2ⁿᵈ group, Valverde and the teammates with him upped the pace of the group containing all the other GC contenders. Perhaps it was an attempt to dispose of their domestiques (it worked for Jumbo–Visma, but not Astana) but enough stayed in the group to stop the gap from getting too large and Roglič kept the red jersey, while Quintana gave up all the time he made up over the next few stages.

The Debrief: 2019 Vuelta a España

The Debrief: 2019 Vuelta a España

The 2019 Grand Tour cycling season came to an end recently with the Vuelta a España. 3290.7 km travelled over 21 stages ended in a new winner. Back in 2011, Primož Roglič switched to road cycling from ski jumping. Signed to LottoNL–Jumbo (now Jumbo–Visma), this was the Slovenian’s 5ᵗʰ Grand Tour, having won stages at the Tour de France (2017 & 2018) and Giro d’Italia (2016 & 2019). He looked good value for victory at the 2019 Giro, but fell away in the last week with limited support from his team, but rode a strong race over the past few weeks to become the latest Grand Tour Champion.


cycling roglic podium

General Classification (GC – Red Jersey):

  1. Primož Roglič (SLO) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 83 hours, 7 minutes, 14 seconds
  2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar Team + 2 minute, 33 seconds
  3. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates + 2 minute, 55 seconds

Points Classification (Green Jersey)

  1. Primož Roglič (SLO) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 155 points
  2. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates – 136 points
  3. Sam Bennett (IRL) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 134 points

Mountains Classification (KOM – Polka Dot Jersey)

  1. Geoffrey Bouchard (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale – 76 points
  2. Ángel Madrazo (ESP) – Burgos BH – 44 points
  3. Sergio Samitier (ESP) – Euskadi–Murias – 42 points

Young Rider Classification (White Jersey)

  1. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates – 83 hours, 10 minutes, 9 seconds
  2. Miguel Ángel López – Astana + 1 minute, 53 seconds
  3. James Knox (GBR) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 20 minutes

Team Classification

  1. Movistar Team – 248 hours, 26 minutes, 24 seconds
  2. Astana + 51 minutes, 38 seconds
  3. Team Jumbo–Visma + 2 hours, 3 minutes, 42 seconds

Moments of note

cycling Jumbo Visma waterStage 1: The race started with a Team Time Trial. Favourites for the stage Jumbo–Visma were looking good value for the victory until crossing a patch of wet road caused by an inflatable paddling pool that had burst. Time Trial bikes are built for speed rather than control in poor conditions and the water led to pretty much the entire team going down at the next corner. Astana went on to win the stage, beating Deceuninck–Quick-Step (who had to avoid the remains of the Jumbo–Visma crash) by just 2 seconds. Thankfully, while it impeded the start of Roglič’s race, there were no significant injuries to hamper them in the coming stages. UAE Team Emirates also wiped out due to the water on the road and I feel that the injuries Fernando Gaviria suffered caused him issues in the following stages and led to him struggling to impact the race.

Stage 5: Stage 5 saw 3 men take the breakway to the finish line in the form of Burgos BH’s Ángel Madrazo & Jetse Bol and Cofidis’ José Herrada. Having already been almost knocked off his bike by his own team car earlier in the stage, Madrazo fell away on the final climb but came out of nowhere in the final kilometre to catch up and pass the other 2, winning the stage by 10 seconds, Bol taking second for a Burgos BH 1-2.

Stage 9: Marc Soler was looking good value for the stage win but was called back by the Movistar bosses to help Nairo Quintana go for the win. Pogačar followed Quintana as they went away from the rest of their GC rivals, but pushed on as the pair reached Soler. Quintana was unable to keep pace even with Soler’s help and was forced to settle for 2ⁿᵈ on the stage (though he still took the red jersey) as Pogačar took the win by 23 seconds.

cycling roglic ittStage 10: The Individual Time Trial was always looking like the stage that would give Primož Roglič the red jersey and that proved the case as the Slovenian beat CCC’s Patrick Bevin’s time by 25 seconds. Pogačar was hampered by a bike change partway through but still managed the next best time of the main GC competitors, finishing 1’29” behind his compatriot. Valverde kept himself in the fight by finishing 1’38” behind Roglič, but López and Quintana struggled (as usual in the discipline), finishing 2’00” and 3’06” behind Roglič respectively.

Stage 13: Nairo Quintana tried to earn time back on GC but was pulled back by his rivals 4km out from the end. Pogačar used the moment of catching Quintana to attack the group and Roglič was the only one to go with him. The Slovenians rode away together and Pogačar as allowed to take a 2nd stage victory, the pair finishing 27 seconds ahead of their rivals, while López lost a further 34 seconds, leading to Pogačar rising to 3ʳᵈ on GC.

cycling movistar astana crosswindStage 17: Primož Roglič’s race almost fell apart as crosswinds saw the peloton split in 2 almost immediately, with Nairo Quintana in the lead group with a few teammates and all bar one of the Deceuninck–Quick-Step team, while the rest of his GC rivals were in the second group. Luckily for Roglič, his time at the top was saved as Valverde and his teammates in the 2ⁿᵈ group pushed on (potentially an attack to drop all their rivals’ domestiques), stopping the lead group from opening up an unassailable lead. Astana then pulled the group home in the final kilometres, seeing Quintana’s group cross just over 5 minutes ahead of the pack, keeping Roglič in red. At the front of the race, Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s great Vuelta continued as Zdeněk Štybar attacked 2km out from the end, forcing Bora–Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett to jump too early and resulting in Philippe Gilbert taking the stage victory.

Stage 19: James Knox’s crash that brought down half the peloton including the entire Jumbo–Visma team and bringing and end to road captain Tony Martin’s race. Whether you believe this was a planned move as Movistar said or not, Movistar picked this moment to attack and up the pace, leading to Roglič having to ride hard on his own to catch up to the Astana train attempting to get López back onto the lead group. The unwritten rule is that you don’t attack the lead jersey when they are stuck in a crash or taking a toilet break, and there were certainly a number of riders unhappy with Movistar pushing on. Eventually though, they sat up and the group came back together. Personally, while I agree that it is harsh to attack while the leader answers the call of nature, a crash is generally a racing incident, so it will be interesting to see if there is any change in protocol in future seasons. Interestingly, commissaires allowed the riders hampered by the crash to draft the team cars to get back onto the lead group, despite this being against the rules. I don’t understand why this was allowed following a racing incident and wonder if it was a reaction by them to Movistar’s attack.

Stage 20: In the last stage of racing for the General Classification, Tadej Pogačar attacks his rivals approximately 39km out. Knowing 2ⁿᵈ place on GC is at risk, Valverde is forced to put in an attack of his own, followed by Roglič and Rafał Majka. Pogačar won the stage by 1’32” (his third stage victory in the race) to propel himself back up to a podium place on GC and win the white jersey, while Valverde’s attack meant that he managed to hold onto 2ⁿᵈ by 22 seconds.

Stage 21: The final stage was a procession for GC ending with a final sprint in Madrid. Along with the classic celebratory drinks and photos during the ride, the major highlight from the first phase of the stage was Burgos-BH’s Jésus Ezquerra proposing to his girlfriend, who was riding in the team car. With the cameras on her braodcasting to the world, thankfully she said yes! In the final dash for the line, Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Max Richeze barged an opponent out of the way to make room for sprinter Fabio Jakobsen to just hold off Sam Bennett and take the final stage victory. While Richeze was relegated to the back of the field, he was there purely as a domestique for Jakobsen, who was put in a better position to win by his actions. I can’t help but feel that incidents like this require a punishment towards the team rather than the individual as the teams are built to sacrifice themselves for just 1 or 2 members of the team.

Changing Reputations from the 2019 Tour de France

Changing Reputations from the 2019 Tour de France

The Tour de France was over for another year and while the change from Team Sky to Team INEOS did not stop them winning the race, the line of British riders came to an end as Egan Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour. In a race where some of the big names of cycling – such as Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and Tom Dumoulin – were missing, the race was wide open for many.

Before we start looking ahead to the Vuelta a España, I wanted to bring an end to this year’s Tour to look at some riders who enhanced their reputations and also a few who disappointed by not reaching the levels expected.

Reputation Enhanced

cycling Tour De France 2019 Ineos winEgan Bernal: The Colombian rode his first Grand Tour at the 2018 Tour de France as a key super-domestique for Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, finishing 15thin the General Classification. Given the joint-leadership of INEOS alongside Thomas this year, he proved to be one of the strongest in the Alps and took the yellow jersey on Stag 19’s climb of the Col d l’Iseran. With Bernal, Thomas, Froome and (according to rumours) 2019 Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz on INEOS’ books next year they are not short for quality, but as the youngest Tour de France winner since 1909, Bernal looks to be a star of the next 10 years.

Julian Alaphilippe: Bernal may have won the race, but Alaphilippe was the star of this year’s Tour and I’m so glad he was recognised with the Combativity award. Last year’s King of the Mountains was always going to be a danger for stage victories, which would give him a chance of wearing the yellow jersey, but he ended up holding the race lead for 14 stages. Rather than just defending the lead, he continued to attack, bringing life to Stage 10 when he used the crosswinds to attack the peloton. Even when people started to say that he was in the stages where he would start to lose time, he won the Individual Time Trial and then put time into most of his rivals on the Col du Tourmalet.

cycling alaphilippe macron pinot
Alaphilippe and Pinot brought pride back to French cycling

He was already the number 1 rider in the world, but in terms of Grand Tours, this race took him from a dangerous rider to a genuine GC contender.

Thibaut Pinot: Stage 10 aside (where poor positioning in the peloton as Alaphilippe attacked caused him to lose time to his GC rivals), Thibaut Pinot was one of the strongest GC competitors this year and looked so dangerous on the climbs, including his win on the Col du Tourmalet. Alongside Alaphilippe, Pinot put pride back into French cycling and would likely have challenged for the race victory over the final stages if he hadn’t been forced to abandon the race with a torn muscle in his thigh.

Caleb Ewan: Moving from the GC contenders to the sprinters, Caleb Ewan may not have been able to win the green jersey, but he was arguably the star of the sprints, with his 3 stage wins the most of any rider this year, including on the Champs-Élysées. Beyond that, though, it was the manner of his victories as he often found his success with a late surge to the first place, while his first win came after he lost his lead-out man Jasper De Buyst when he came off the road trying to bring Ewan to the front of the peloton. We seem to be seeing a changing of the guard with the sprinters, and Ewan looks like he will be at the forefront of it.

Dylan van Baarle: You have to be a high-quality rider to be representing Team INEOS at a Grand Tour, but van Baarle outdid himself this year. With some of their key mountain domestiques struggling in the final week, van Baarle took on an unfamiliar role in being one of the main men leading Thomas and Bernal up the climbs, while his 46th place on GC was by far his best finish in a Grand Tour. Without van Baarle picking up the slack in the mountains, Sky probably wouldn’t be celebrating filling the first 2 stops on the podium.

Disappointing Race

Adam Yates: winner of the Young rider classification in the 2016 Tour, where he finished 4th overall, so much has become expected of Adam Yates, especially considering how well he and brother Simon have improved their performances in Time Trials. Nominated as the Mitchelton–Scott team leader, Yates found himself dropping away from the leaders far too often and was so far behin in the GC, it allowed his brother Simon to switch priorities from supporting him to hunting stage wins just halfway through the race.

Romain Bardet: Another who found himself dropping away from the leaders far too easy in the stages, Bardet has long been the man the French have been pinning their hopes on but was invisible for much of the race. He was so far off the pace, he was allowed to get away in a couple of late breakaways to win the King of the Mountains classification, the only silver lining for a poor race.

cycling QuintanaNairo Quintana: Is Quintana the most disappointing GC rider of recent years? This year’s race saw the Colombian drop so far out of contention that he was allowed to get away in breaks, but then had one super strong day on Stage 18 where he broke the record for the quickest climb of the Col du Galibier, which put him back in GC contention, eventually finishing 8th.

André Greipel: As I mentioned when praising Caleb Ewan, we are seeing a changing of the guard in the Points classification as the young sprinters are taking over from the older racers. At 37 years old, it looks like Greipel’s time competing for Grand Tour stage victories may be over as he only managed to finish in the top 10 of a stage once – 6th on the Champs-Élysées.

Doug Ryder: Finishing off with team owner rather than a rider. Despite having 30 stage victories to his name, Dimension Data chose to not include Mark Cavendish in their line-up for the Tour. The team were initially planning to include him but were overruled by Ryder despite Cavendish appearing to fit the team’s strategy better. Though he has struggled with illness in recent years, his replacement Giacomo Nizzolo managed one 4th and two 7th-place finishes, while Edvald Boasson Hagen finished 5th on the Champs-Élysées… not really the success they would have been hoping for.

Magic Moments on the Tour de France 2019

Magic Moments on the Tour de France 2019

The Tour de France is the one cycling event that is so famous, its name is known well beyond cycling and sporting circles. The 2nd of the 3 Grand Tours every year, injuries to Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin saw them both replaced ahead of the race, but while this impacted the battle for the General Classification, it did not overly harm what ended up being a great race.

We had Movistar and Team INEOS showing the strength of their squads at the front of the peloton… We had one of the closest fights for both the green and yellow jerseys in recent memory… We so nearly had a French champion again, but instead ended up with the youngest champion in 100 years and the first Colombian Tour de France winner ever in Egan Bernal.


General Classification (GC – Yellow Jersey):

  1. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 82 hours, 57 minutes
  2. Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Ineos + 1 minute, 11 seconds
  3. Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – Team Jumbo–Visma + 1 minute, 31 seconds

Points Classification (Green Jersey)

  1. Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 316 points
  2. Caleb Ewan (AUS) – Lotto–Soudal – 248 points
  3. Elia Viviani (ITA) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step – 224 points

Mountains Classification (KOM – Polka Dot Jersey)

  1. Romain Bardet (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale – 86 points
  2. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 78 points
  3. Tim Wellens (BEL) – Lotto–Soudal – 75 points

Young Rider Classification (White Jersey)

  1. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 82 hours, 57 minutes
  2. David Gaudu (FRA) – Groupama–FDJ + 23 minutes, 58 seconds
  3. Enric Mas (ESP) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 58 minutes, 20 seconds

Team Classification

  1. Movistar Team – 248 hours, 58 minutes, 15 seconds
  2. Trek–Segafredo + 47 minutes, 54 seconds
  3. Team Ineos + 57 minutes, 52 seconds

In celebration of the 2019 Tour, I wanted to look back at some of my personal highlights of the race. Let me know what your highlights were.

Alaphilippe in yellow

French success in the Tour’s General Classification has been limited in recent years, with Tony Gallopin the last French rider to wear the Yellow Jersey, back in 2014.

Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe though has been giving his country something to cheer about recently, following up winning the KOM last year with victory at the Tour of Britain on his way to becoming the Number 1 ranked rider. On Stage 3, Alaphilippe took his chance on the final climb, attacking the main group and passing Tim Wellens – who had been the last remaining rider from the breakaway – to cross the line in first, 26 seconds ahead of anyone else. The win and time difference were enough for the popular Frenchman to take the Yellow Jersey from Team Jumbo–Visma’s Mike Teunissen.

Finishing the trifecta

2018 saw Elia Viviani win stages in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, leaving the Tour as the only one of the Grand Tours where he was still looking for a stage victory. This year’s Giro saw him consistently just missing out to other riders in the bunch sprints and eventually finishing without a win, so coming into the Tour it was obvious that he would want to get a stage victory and complete the trifecta. That came on Stage 4 as a great lead-out from his Deceuninck–Quick-Step teammates saw him cross the line first.

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The Deceuninck–Quick-Step lead-outs throughout the race were a kaleidoscope of colour. Image Source

While that in itself was great, Viviani’s emotional response when he reached his team showed just how much it meant for him, especially as he will be leaving at the end of the season. But what made it even more beautiful was watching the lead-out, as Alaphilippe (Yellow Jersey), Michael Mørkøv (Danish National Champion Jersey) and Max Richeze (Argentine National Champion Jersey) provided a rainbow of colours as they led their man to victory.

Masters of the climbs

Stage 6 and its finish on La Planche des Belles Filles is one that will live in the memory and got my so hyped watching it. It feels so long since Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde has been looked at as a leader and GC contender, but winning the 2018 UCI Road World Championship was a great reminder of his quality. As the race heated up on the penultimate climb, Valverde made his way to the front of the GC group and began to set an incredible pace. Such was the pace he was setting on a tough climb, even the much-vaunted super-domestiques of Team Ineos and other teams found themselves being dropped from a quickly-thinning group. Unfortunately, his Movistar teammates Mikel Landa – who attempted to attack after Valverde was spent and was soon caught – and Nairo Quintana were unable to take advantage and lost time to some of their GC rivals.

Beyond that, in the final kilometre of the final climb, the Yellow Jersey of Julian Alaphilippe suddenly sprung away from the GC group in the dust in an attempt to hold onto the Jersey (he would eventually miss out to Giulio Ciccone, who had been in the break, by 6 seconds). After initially leaving everyone else behind, defending champion Geraint Thomas and France’s best hope for a GC win Thibaut Pinot also pulled away from the group and managed to pass Alaphilippe (on the line in Pinot’s case) to put a couple of seconds into all their rivals. After losing 5 seconds on Stage 3, Thomas showed he was going to be fighting hard to defend his title, while Pinot showed that he is going to put up a challenge this year after a strong performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Gone with the (cross)wind

Stage 10 was meant to be a nice easy day off for the GC riders before the rest day. And then the winds arrived. EF Education First and Team Ineos both tried to throw the peloton into disarray by upping the pace at the front to little effect. Things changed though when Julian Alaphilippe (yes, him again!) decided to take control in the yellow jersey and up the pace with the help of his Deceuninck–Quick-Step teammates, splitting the peloton into multiple groups. EF found themselves outside the lead group, along with Thibaut Pinot and many of the other GC contenders, so Ineos joined in with Deceuninck to take advantage of the situation, resulting in Geraint Thomas rising to 2nd in the GC behind Alaphilippe. Spare a thought as well for George Bennett, who started the stage 4th in the GC (1’ 12” behind the maillot jaune) but due to a questionable team decision found himself at the back of the peloton picking up water bottles for the team as Alaphilippe attacked, resulting in him dropping down to 27th overall, 11’ 01” off the lead.

The first of many

Moving away from Alaphilippe for a moment, Stage 11 is one that will live long in the memory for Lotto–Soudal’s Caleb Ewan. The Australian, riding his first ever Tour de France, took what would go on to be the first of 3 stage victories in this year’s race. While that is obviously great for him, what gets it on this list is that when you watch the stage back, you realise that he lost his lead-out man Jasper De Buyst a few kilometres out from the finish as he came off the road leading Ewan to the front of the peloton. So many people could have given up at that point, but Ewan got himself on the right wheel and timed his sprint perfectly to just get ahead of Dylan Groenewegen before the line.

Trial of the yellow jersey

With Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome not involved in this year’s race and Rohan Dennis pulling out the day before, the Individual Time Trial looked wide open. Wout van Aert was looking good for an amazing time, until he took a turn a little too tight and caught the fence, coming down hard and having to abandon the race through injury. This left things open for Thomas De Gendt to set the fastest time. Geraint Thomas was the penultimate rider off the ramp and when he crossed the finish line 12 seconds ahead of De Gendt, a stage victory looked on the cards.

cycling alaphilippe ITTAnd then came Alaphilippe. As race leader, he was last off the ramp and though the route was favourable for him, the expectation was that he would lose time to some of his GC rivals on this stage. Instead, he passed the checkpoints with better split times than Thomas and as the home crowd cheered him on, he powered up the final climb and through the last couple of hundred metres to finish 14 seconds ahead of Thomas and increase his lead in the maillot jaune.

French revolution

If Stage 13 was where Alaphilippe would likely lose time to his rivals, Stage 14 and its finale on the Col du Tourmalet was where he was bound to break. Alaphilippe, however, had other plans, as he gained more time on Geraint Thomas in the final kilometre when he, Thibaut Pinot, Egan Bernal, Steven Kruijswijk, Emanuel Buchmann and Mikel Landa pulled away from the defending champion.

In a great day for French cycling fans, Pinot attacked in the final 250 metres to win the stage, while Alaphilippe was next across the line to increase his lead over everyone else in the General Classification.

Weather woes

If Stage 14 was a great day for French cycling fans, Stage 19 was the opposite for them. A tearful Thibaut Pinot was forced to abandon early in the stage with a torn thigh muscle, ending what had looked to be a hugely promising race for him.

Things got even worse as Egan Bernal attacked during the climb up the Col de l’Iseran. While Kruijswijk, Buchmann and Thomas could not stick with Bernal, they were still able to drop Alaphilippe enough for Bernal to take the virtual lead before the summit.

Then things went crazy as the weather turned dramatically on the descent, with a hail storm and snow making the descent treacherous and a mudslide blocking a section of the road, leading to the race being neutralised and cancelled, with finish times being taken from the summit of the Iseran, resulting in Bernal taking the yellow jersey and Alaphilippe dropping down to 2nd.

While this was far from ideal, I can’t imagine any better way to have dealt with this freak occurrence, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for some of the riders as Alaphilippe was gaining time back on the descent and Steven Kruijswijk admitted that he had planned to attack on the final climb.

cycling bernal yellow thomasClimbing to history

The weather that prematurely ended Stage 19 had a huge impact on Stage 20 too, as a series of other landslides blocked sections of road and led to the final stage of climbing being cut from 130km to 59.5km, with just the final climb (Val Thorens) remaining.

Vincenzo Nibali won the stage from the break, but the big highlight here was Alaphilippe being dropped again on the climb, which saw him fall to 5th overall in the GC, while Bernal and Thomas crossed the line together to take the 1-2 on GC, Bernal becoming the first Colombian to win the Tour de France.

Man Down: What next for Froome and Ineos?

Man Down: What next for Froome and Ineos?

Last weekend, Chris Froome was preparing to take part in his 7th Critérium du Dauphiné with a view to being ready to challenge for a record-equalling 5th Tour de France title. Now, he finds himself recovering in hospital, after a high speed crash on a practice run left him with a fractured right femur, broken hip, fractured neck, fractured elbow and fractured ribs.

Such a serious set of injuries will not be a quick recovery and estimates of the time he will be out are starting at 6 months. So the question becomes: What next?

Team Ineos

cycling geraint thomas no1
Geraint Thomas will now surely be Ineos’ team leader as he goes for back-to-back Tour de France victories

I start with Ineos as they are the ones who have more immediate thoughts, with the Tour kicking off on July 6th, they knew immediately that there was no way their team leader would be taking any part following his crash. Luckily, if any team can lose their team leader less than a month out from a Grand Tour and still expect to emerge with the winner, it’s Ineos. Last year’s race showed just how strong they were, with Geraint Thomas winning the race and young Colombian Egan Bernal starring in the mountains. Bernal was in fact meant to be the team leader at this year’s Giro, only to miss his opportunity due to injury. While Froome may have been option A, Ineos’ option B and option C would be option As in pretty much any other team.

Slightly longer term, Bernal’s injury also gave a chance for young riders Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov to experience leading a team. While they may not quite be at the same level as some of the other team leaders around them, they also went with a relatively young team to the Giro, and a more experienced line-up (including other top domestiques like Vasil Kiriyenka, Michal Kwiatkowski, Luke Rowe and Wout Poels) could give them every chance of competing. Sky have plenty of strength and while Froome is a loss, they can overcome this and may even look back at this as a great opportunity to give some of the next generation of stars more experience.

Chris Froome

As for Froome, recovery is the only thing that’s important right now. I’m no medical expert, but if he is back riding in 6 months then I’ll be shocked. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if, given his previous accomplishments (he has 6 Grand Tour Victories to his name, potentially soon to be 7 after Juan José Cobo was stripped of his 2011 Vuelta a España title after being found guilty of doping), he made the decision to retire from racing, which would be a shame for him to go out in such a disappointing way.

cycling chris froome yellow climb
Have we seen Chris Froome in the yellow jersey for the last time? – Image by ruby_roubaix

If he does come back, will he be able to get back to his best? He will be 35 by the time next season’s Grand Tours come around, an age above which not many riders have won a Grand Tour, especially the Tour de France. If he does return to competing, then I think it far more likely that he is frequently used as a super-domestique for another team leaders and an option B or C in the Grand Tours. He rode as a domestique in the recent Tour de Yorkshire and marshalling the team to help Chris Lawless take the team’s first race victory under the new sponsors. With a number of Ineos’ top domestiques aging, this may be the perfect role for Froome to fill and help the next generation for a couple more years.

Whatever happens in Froome’s future though will likely depend on the success and speed of his recovery. Fingers crossed he has a successful recovery and we get to see him riding for another Tour de France title again in the future.

Eyes On: Tour de France 2018

Eyes On: Tour de France 2018

The Tour de France is over for another year and for the 6th time in 7 years, Team Sky are emerging victorious in the General Classification – though maybe not with the rider everyone was expecting. The final standings in the various classifications were as follows:

  • General Classification:
  1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – 83h 17’ 13”
  2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) – + 1’ 51”
  3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) – + 2’ 24”
  • Points Classification:
  1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – 477
  2. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) – 246
  3. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) – 203
  • Mountains Classification:
  1. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) – 170
  2. Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) – 91
  3. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) – 76
  • Young Rider Classification:
  1. Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) 83h 39’ 26”
  2. Egan Bernal (Team Sky) – + 5’ 39”
  3. Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Goupe Gobert) – + 22’ 05”
  • Team Classification:
  1. Movistar Team – 250h 24’ 53”
  2. Bahrain-Merida – + 12’ 33”
  3. Team Sky – + 31’ 14”
  • Combativity Award: Dan Martin

History made, but not as expected

Though many likely expected a Team Sky rider to be standing on the top of the podium, I think most would admit that they would have been expecting to see Chris Froome there winning his 5th Tour de France title and 4th consecutive Grand Tour. Instead, it was his teammate and former super-domestique now co-leader Geraint Thomas who made history by becoming the first Welshman to win the Tour. With Froome having competed in the Giro d’Italia, it was unclear how fresh he would be for this race – and at one point it was unclear if he would be allowed to race while the investigation into his adverse test result from last year’s Vuelta continued – so Thomas was given the lead of the team in the 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné, which he won, and was given protected status as co-leader for this race.

20180730_193411.jpgAs is always the way in the Grand Tours, Team Sky brought a dominant roster to the race which certainly gave both Thomas and Froome every chance to compete, but whereas previously Thomas had struggled from poor days or poor fortune, this time he was able to keep himself where he needed every day and was able to avoid any bad luck, while many of his competitors in the General Classification lost time early on. Chris Froome lost 50 seconds on Stage 1 when he came off the road, while Richie Porte (who later retired injured on Stage 9) and Adam Yates also lost the same amount of time courtesy of another incident. Tom Dumoulin lost time after contact with Romain Bardet left him in need of a wheel change within 6km of the finish line and lost 53 seconds on the road with a further 20 seconds being added as a penalty for spending too much time drafting behind his team car to get back on. Romain Bardet had almost half a dozen bike/wheel changes on the cobbles of Stage 9 and expended so much energy to only finish 7 seconds down on the day, but struggled with a number of domestiques abandoning early, while Vincenzo Nibali crashed out on Stage 12 and Movistar could not decide which rider out of Mike Landa, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde to support.

Despite all these issues for his competitors though, “G” was fully deserving of the victory as he was able to deal with all of his rivals attacks and was often stuck on Dumoulin’s wheel when he attacked almost as if the Dutchman was another super-domestique, before attacking himself in the final kilometres to win Stage 11 (where he took yellow) and Stage 12 – where he became the first yellow jersey to win on Alpe d’Huez. I’ve noted previously that to win on GC, you have to be strong all-round. Thomas can climb with the best of them and also has a good sprint at the end of mountain stages, while also being an above-average time trialist – good enough to limit Dumoulin and Froome’s gains on the final day to less than 20 seconds. Watching G in interviews, he is just so likeable and after seeing his reaction to winning on Alpe d’Huez and seeing him break down after the time trial, not to mention his off the cuff speech on the podium in front of the Arc de Triomphe where he tried to thank everyone and promptly forgot the names of his teammates and only remembered his wife at the last minute, it was impossible not to be rooting for him.

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7 Grand Tours, 4 Olympic medals & 3 Commonwealth Games medals in 1 photo

Speaking of Froome, do not expect this to be the end of an era. Very few team leaders would ride 4 consecutive Grand Tours and it seems that this was just 1 race too far for him. He was still competitive throughout but in the last couple of days just did not have the legs to hold on against Thomas and Dumoulin, but responded well and became a willing domestique for Thomas in the final days. It will be interesting to see how Team Sky structure their rosters moving forward with both of these riders on their books. Will they use them in separate races to each get the benefit of a full team? Or will they work as co-leaders until the leader is clear and the other becomes a domestique? Do not rule out either option and a continued run of Team Sky dominance in the Grand Tours.

A new star

That dominance in the GC may not even have to come from Froome or Thomas, though, as young Colombian Egan Bernal announced himself on the Grand Tour scene with a wonderful race! The youngest rider in the race did not seem phased and was often one of the last remaining domestiques on the mountain stages and – much like Froome in 2012 – I occasionally got the feeling that he was holding back to protect his leaders. So many times we saw the big names in the GC try to attack on the final climbs only to be drawn back in by a group led by Bernal and his impact on the race only seemed to grow as the race went on, when he could have easily faded due to inexperience and extra workload due to Gianni Moscon being removed from the race. It may not happen this year or next year, but it surely won’t be long until we see Bernal leading a team at a Grand Tour and to be honest, when he gets that chance I’d expect him to be pushing for at least a podium position.

Survival of the fittest

The Points Classification started so well with a couple of early stage victories for Fernando Gaviria, however the excitement soon came to a premature end. Last year’s green jersey winner Michael Matthews was out early following a crash. Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw all missed the cut-off time on Stage 11, while Gaviria, André Greipel and Dylan Groenewegen all abandoned on Stage 12. With Arnaud Démare having had issues on the early sprint stages, the Points Classification was over as a competition Alexander Kristoff failing to win the intermediate sprint on Stage 16 meant that Peter Sagan was mathematically assured of the victory provided he made it to the end. The only excitement came after he fell the next day, though he was able to continue racing without having to worry about competing at the sprints.

Granted, crashes and injuries are difficult to predict, but too often in the Tour de France, the race for the green jersey is more about who can make it over the mountains in decent shape, something that currently too few specialist sprinters are able to do.

Not good enough

A crash for Thomas during the 2017 Giro d’Italia prompted me to write a piece about how outside influences can heavily affect the result of the Grand Tours. Well 14 months later and things haven’t really changed judging by this race.

Froome and Team Sky’s dominance over the years – and Froome’s adverse drug test – have made them very unpopular in France but where most people will g as far as booing, too many people decide to take it further. Team Sky riders, especially Froome, were repeatedly spat at and had liquids thrown at them throughout the race, while one spectator tried to push Froome off his bike on Stage 12 and was actually able to make contact with him (thankfully not enough to make him fall) and another tried to grab Thomas towards the end of one of the recent stages. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Froome actually found himself pushed off of his bike on the way down to the team bus from the finish line of Stage 17 after not recognising him. Not a great look.

It wasn’t just Team Sky who came into problems during the race as a combination of a flare from the crowd, a motorbike too close to the riders and a crowd too enclosed resulted in Vincenzo Nibali crashing on Stage 12 and abandoning the race with a fractured vertebra. Not only that but a protest by farmers on Stage 16 saw them try to block the road with hay bales, while the response of the policy to pepper spray the protesters caused the race to be stopped for 11 minutes after the pepper spray blew back into the eyes of the peloton.

If a professional event like the World Cup or the Super Bowl had even half these issues, there would be hell to pay! The tournament organisers have a lot of work to do to ensure the safety of the riders and the safety of the race result.