Some pundits say Sagan won't win any more stages this Tour. We roundtable on that, BMC's strategy, and how to handle hecklers.
Peter Sagan collected another win in stage 5 of the Tour de France, which brings up the eternal question: How many stages can he win in this race? We debate this, as well as whether or not BMC Racing should defend yellow for Greg Van Avermaet, and tips to handle roadside hecklers.
How many stages will Peter Sagan this Tour? Which ones and why?
Fred Dreier, @freddreier: I see Sagan winning two more stages, as well as the green jersey. As the defending Paris-Roubaix champion, Sagan is a favorite to win Sunday’s stage 9; my guess is he has extra motivation to try and win that stage and showcase his skills on the pave. After that win, Sagan will go back to domestique duty for Rafal Majka for the mountains. I see him then winning stage 13 into Valence. There are some steep hills within the final 40km that could dispatch Marcel Kittel and slow Gaviria. The other stages are either too mountainous or too flat to bet all of my chips on Sagan. Two it is.
Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegs: I hate to say it, but I don’t think Sagan will win any more stages this Tour. When it comes to the pure flat stages, Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) is in a league of his own, and I wouldn’t bet against André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) to sneak in a win on one of the five remaining flat stages. Plus, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) has been getting closer to Sagan in the sprints, now with two second-place finishes. As for the Roubaix stage, sure, Sagan could win it. Will he? I fear negative race dynamics might see all of his moves covered by rivals unwilling to work with the world champion.
Dane Cash, @danecash: If I were a betting man I’d probably put my money on Sagan not winning any more stages actually. That’s not to say I’ll be surprised if he does (at this point, I try not to let myself be surprised by Sagan doing anything) but the opportunities are running out. Stage 9 looks like the only stage left where he’ll be a five-star contender, and I think Roubaix is too much of a crapshoot to see him as the favorite over the field. He could certainly win a more traditional sprint stage or even stage 6 to Mûr de Bretagne, but I think he’s more likely to go home with two — well-earned — stage victories and the green jersey.
Why should BMC Racing defend yellow — or why shouldn’t they?
Fred: BMC should continue to defend yellow until the ink is dried on the contract to merge with CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice for next year. I understand that this effort may burn valuable matches for Richie Porte’s pursuit of the yellow jersey, but hey, what have you got to lose? Porte is rumored to be abandoning ship for Trek-Segafredo next year anyway, so let him ride by himself in those mountains. Right now, the most important goal for that squad is survival in 2019, and that means more days in yellow. The repeated media exposure that squad needs can only come from days in the maillot jaune.
Spencer: From a sponsorship standpoint, I see Fred’s point, but my guess is that Jim Ochowicz is already so far along in negotiations that any prospects don’t need to be wooed by an extra day in yellow. I wouldn’t tell Van Avermaet to give up yellow purposefully, but there’s no sense in burning matches in the first week with Porte positioned to (finally) challenge Froome.
Dane: I usually think spending resources to defend an early yellow jersey is a dumb move, but in BMC’s case, it’s a different story. The team needs exposure. There is no better marketing opportunity in cycling than the Tour de France. BMC should take advantage of that. Plus, Greg Van Avermaet has a shot at some stage wins coming up here over the next few days anyway, so it behooves the team to control the peloton.
If you were a Tour rider, what would you do to confront a French heckler outside your team bus?
Fred: I would bring the heckler swag, pose for a selfie, and maybe sign an autograph or two. Maybe invite him onto the bus. Hecklers are also passionate cycling fans, and a positive acknowledgment by a pro rider will likely transform them into a fan, no matter the heckles. Sure, it’s a risky move, but I think it’s worth it.
Spencer: I would give him a detailed explanation of how Salbutamol is excreted at different levels among different athletes, based on many variables. Then, I’d really start to dig into WADA code to show how the research backs up these rules. And just like that, the heckler has fallen asleep. Shhh, don’t wake him up as we roll out to the start.
Dane: I’m sure it’s easier said than done, but probably nothing. I can’t think of a single good thing that could come from that interaction…
Evaluate the Tour route so far. Has it provoked exciting racing?
Fred: I give it a solid B. Considering the abundance of flat stages, the GC battle has already undergone several twists and turns, due to the narrowing roads and nervous racing. Today’s hilly finale kicked in a jolt of adrenaline too. It feels like all of the anticipation is building for Sunday’s pavé stage to Roubaix. Having a major test at the end of the first week is a great way to turn up the heat.
Spencer: This first week of the Tour has been fairly surprising with GC riders crashing and the TTT mixing up the overall standings, but that’s not entirely chalked up to route design. These sprint stages have been snoozy, and there’s a super-long slog coming up Friday. Stage 5 could have been more animated, but it wasn’t. Hopefully, the Mur de Bretagne on stage 6 and the cobbles on stage 9 will give us a little more blow-for-blow action.
Chris: I like the overall route of Le Tour this year, but I’m lukewarm on the first stages. I’m no big fan of relying on crashes and sketchy finales to shake up the racing. And I wouldn’t mind at all if I never saw another team time trial in a pro bike race. Fortunately, the punchy fifth stage was entertaining and the Mûr-de-Bretagne and then Roubaix are just around the corner.