Sometimes you take a minute, after a great stage of cycling, to sit back and ask yourself “What happened there?” Usually, this will occur as riders are still straggling behind, and this straggling is of course of consequence. Today, I didn’t ask myself what had happened, I’d been resigned to what would happen from about twenty-five kilometres to go. Julian Alaphilippe was the strongest in the breakaway and he’d go on to impose himself over the stage. Back in the peloton, they had made a speedbump out of the “hardest climb in the Tour de France,” as Sky had put Luke Rowe (You know, that guy whose best race is the Omloop) on the front for the whole six kilometres and nobody had the initiative and the men to change that situation. End result being, the first HC climb in the Tour de France was completed with a hundred riders still in the peloton.
No matter, said I, being optimistic. The Col de Romme will surely yield a GC attack or two, it’s the perfect place to make a move. How wrong was I — Sky only needed Jonathan Castroviejo to keep the peloton in check. Warren Barguil at least had a go, but his goal will be to make attacks later in the race. He will not be cut up about being recaptured so quickly by a peloton that stayed reasonably large.
On the Col de la Colombière, I was no longer optimistic. Michał Kwiatkowski took the front, it was very clear he’d be able to grind out at least four kilometres at the head of the group. He did, of course, as the peloton rode the first five kilometres of the climb at the same speed as Alaphilippe, if admittedly an Alaphilippe in good form. It was this about the stage that bothered me — it didn’t seem as though the pace was too hard to attack, as Sky can sometimes set. What cleared this up for me after the stage was Matt Rendell’s interview of Dan Martin, in which the UAE Emirates rider revealed that the pace wasn’t overly high because it didn’t have to be, due to what was apparently a stiff headwind making attacking irrational. That is of course very annoying — Will knows what he’s talking about and he called this the Queen Stage. It has had no effect on the GC race.
Really, it hasn’t. Mollema, Zakarin and Majka were never going to be serious contenders for yellow and after the cobbled stage, neither was Urán. Their losing time is regrettable, but ultimately inconsequential. I briefly sat up at Valverde losing contact at the top of the climb, but the fact of the matter is he had shipped his chain. Mind you, it was the most visible Movistar were all day, as they ceded control to Sky. This is being viewed optimistically as Sky tiring themselves out while Movistar wait in the shadows, but...did Sky tire themselves out? Bernal didn’t even put his nose in the wind, Poels’ stint was shorter than my patience, Kwiatkowski did a trojan effort but he’s shown his propensity to churn those out day after day and Thomas and Froome are obviously still waiting in the wings. Movistar should not — can not ride negatively if they hope to gain anything from this Tour. Nairo Quintana is sixty-eight seconds behind Froome. He needs to find two hundred somewhere before the time-trial. I’m not saying he should have made a Tour-winning attack today, I’m merely saying that such passivity from his team cannot afford to continue much longer.
Oh, and Van Avermaet? Kudos to him, but it’s a side-show. An impressive ride, sure enough, but an extra day in yellow will only be remembered for so long. He practically climbed on a level with Izagirre today. Doing something similar tomorrow would be as impressive as it is unlikely.
Finally, a word on La Course. Yes, it was better than the mens’ race. That’s a false-equivalence, if the mens’ race had been a one-day race it would have been dramatically different. It’s also not the point — the race was tremendously enjoyable, especially the finish. Hearing Ned Boulting commentate, sounding as shocked as I was about Van Vleuten’s comeback was some of the more enjoyable seconds of cycling television that I remember. A womens’ Tour de France would be welcome, although I cannot pretend to be an expert on what problems caused the Grande Boucle Feminine to shut down. I imagine they are extremely surmountable.
So let’s hope for tomorrow to bring the fireworks this afternoon lacked. Excuses for letting Sky control the race should surely die down. Alaphilippe was fantastic, of course, but let’s see how the GC goes.
- Julian Alaphilippe (QSF) - 4:25:27
- Ion Izagirre (TBM) - 1:34
- Rein Taaramae (TDE) - 1:40
- Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) - 1:44
- Serge Pauwels (DDD) - st
- Lilian Calmejane (TDE) - 2:24
- Daniel Martin (UAE) - 3:23
- Primoz Roglic (TLJ) - st
- David Gaudu (FDJ) - st
- Geraint Thomas (SKY) - st