it’s been a slowly building Tour de France, approaching the halfway point with no major climbs apart from one gimmicky Planche, an almost Giro-like approach to delaying the gratification. Of course, a week from now maybe we will know all too much about what will happen in Paris, and we will look longingly back at the time when it was all still left to win, but anyway. It’s been an entertaining race in small ways. Time for the big stuff to begin.
Can Tadej Pogačar Stand the Heat?
This is everyone’s favorite topic, but Pogs is pushing back today on the idea that he is at a disadvantage in the heat. How do we know he has a problem? Doesn’t everyone suffer in the heat? Is Vingegaard so great on hot days? All perfectly reasonable defenses.
Except that this excellent CyclingTips article from before the Tour, before we all got worked up about this subject, contained some nice clues. First, yes, the one data point we have is last year’s Ventoux stage, which everyone knows about because Vingegaard put some time into Pogs. So there is that.
But in the article Pogačar himself seems to admit what he is denying today. There, he said he suffers a bit more in the heat and cracked a little bit last year. Also he is quoted on several occasions from past years about how he has an advantage in the cold weather. Is the corollary true? We will find out.
I suspect Pogs will be fine Tuesday and Wednesday, but by Thursday anyone who doesn’t like the heat will surely show it. That’s the Alpe d’Huez stage, vying with Wednesday for Queen Stage honors — see Will’s Mountains Preview — and will be the hottest day of this week (with even worse to come next week). The cumulative climbing and suffering in the heat will crack anyone who doesn’t like that sort of thing, which might be everyone, but the Tour will be a lot different if it’s Pogs and not Jonas. So don’t jump to conclusions about this one right away.
Who Is Your Favorite Sleeper Pick?
We are mostly talking about the overall competition as a two-man race, but riders 3-10 are all pretty tightly ranked for a race that’s about to reach the high mountains, and you can’t dismiss anyone’s chances just yet. I’ve got three names, in order: Adam Yates, Primož Roglič, and David Gaudu. Wrong Yates has looked right a lot lately, exactly where he needs to be, like a guy biding his time. The INEOS flood the field thing is not nothing, if they can ever put Pogs under any real pressure. I believe in his climbing more than Thomas, though check back Wednesday.
Rogs hardly needs discussion; he was almost a co-favorite to start with and only shipped two minutes thanks to terrible luck. The reason to get excited is that you can tell Pogs is very focused on Vingegaard, so there is real potential for some one-two action that puts Pogs on the defensive— if Rogs is feeling really good. Gaudu is the guy on the ascent, career-wise, only 25 and still looking for his first top-10 finish. So the potential looks very enticing... and that’s all it is until we see it. Good team around him too. Anyway, buckle up, here we go (well, Wednesday at least).
Who Will Have the KOM Jersey a Week From Today?
Getting deep into speculation now... but I will say that Thibaut Pinot. He’s coming into some form, and he has probably the greatest incentive of anyone. Obviously it starts with being a home country favorite, and being an emotional guy who would love to reciprocate the support. That’s the sort of emotional element that can power a rider on a breakaway over HC climbs. He’s lying third now — with hardly any points given so far — and the other obvious favorite, last year’s winner Pogačar, will be under too much pressure to think about KOM points. Maybe Pinot can’t take it to Paris but I will be surprised to see him anywhere but on the loose Wednesday.
Some others... Simon Geschke has it now, and won’t be keen to give it up, although I don’t think he can stay with Pinot over the major HC climbs, but he will probably spend Tuesday padding his lead. Nairo Quintana? He looks generally solid but is also not in a terribly favorable spot at +2.13, so if he goes, it’s not clear UAE will track him down.
Who Has Let You Down the Most?
Dani Martinez came in as a potential winner of the Tour — longshot, of course, but still. Now he’s punted away 17 minutes. Is he the biggest disappointment of the Tour? On the GC side, probably yes. But you also have Peter Sagan never getting into the green jersey competition, which begs the question what TotalEnergies has in mind for this Tour. If you’re BikeExchange, Michael Matthews’ two near misses on stage victories has to stick in the team’s craw. Anyone else letting you down? Or are you mostly just disappointed with yourself for not putting Pogačar on your FSA DS team? I might be projecting here.
What Will Wout Do Next?
The bucket list items are getting ticked off rapidly, having won from the break. Last year he won a time trial, a mountain stage, and a closing sprint. This year he was well on his way to racking up an equally impressive set of near misses, until he stopped missing. Anyway, Wout has the Green Jersey in his clutches now and can afford to focus on his next objective... helping Jumbo Visma win the Tour! So my guess is that he completely changes the outcome of a critical mountain stage on behalf of his team. Is that sticking my neck out? Not really. Got anything else to request that Wout do to keep us entertained? Send your ideas in via comments and I will make sure Jumbo management makes them their highest priority. Thanks!
Should be a fantastic, fascinating week. Enjoy!