Analysis
ALBI, FRANCE - JULY 15: Patrick Konrad of Austria...

Analysis: Brutal crosswinds reshuffle GC picture

Crosswinds and a brutal pace ripped the peloton apart on stage 10, and completely upended the battle for the Tour de France's general classification

Watch out for the wind, it can create havoc.

That’s the lesson for a host of GC specialists after a chaotic and exciting stage 10. There is a long list of winners and losers on the eve of the Tour’s first rest day.

While the stage results suggest today was “one of the sprinters” the big story of the day comes from a split in the peloton that began to open up with around 35 kilometers to go.

The irony of it all is that the team that started the echelon action, EF Education First, would become one of the big casualties. In one moment, the peloton seemed to be in cruise control. Within the blink of an eye, there was a mass of pink up front.

After the initial surge by EF Education First, riders from Deceuninck-Quick Step and Bora Hansgrohe took over. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

“We tried to take the front at around kilometer 174,” said EF’s Michael Woods. “We figured that would be a good spot to go.”

When the split formed quickly, the yellow jersey, Julian Alaphilippe, was still in the front group. He was surrounded by Deceuninck-Quick Step teammates and suddenly there was a genuine sense of urgency. Deceuninck’s big classics riders went to the front and set a blistering pace, and the peloton exploded.

EF were among the teams to be spat out the back.

“Unfortunately, I think it was just a touch too early as we got swarmed,” Woods said. “And then, in the chaos of things, [we all] ended up in the second group.”

As we’ve come to expect in a scenario like this – when wind and aggressive racing claims a few victims – Team Ineos’s strongman Luke Rowe then took over the pacesetting. A strong surge opened the gap, and in a matter of seconds, there were two pelotons on the road.

Team Ineos was very well represented in the front group, with both leaders, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, riding on the coattails of Rowe, Dylan van Baarle, Gianni Moscon, and Michal Kwiatkowski.

Seize the day, they seemed to say.

Team Ineos was well represented in the front group. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Moscon, the team’s engine for the flats, said the peloton knew that there was potential for chaos today. It wasn’t so much of if, but when the peloton would pick up the tempo. When that moment did finally come, Team Ineos was in a perfect position to capitalize.

“Everyone knew there was the risk of cross winds,” Moscon said. “We were at the front all day, like we always do. And we were in the right moment when Quick Step went. I think every little gain is important. And 1:40 is not a little gain, it is a big gain.”

Another surge ensued, this time it was the yellow and black of Jumbo-Visma who, despite knowing that its Kiwi in fourth overall at the start of the stage, George Bennett, had been spat out the back. “I’m 100 percent here for Steven Kruijswijk,” insisted Bennett at the end of the first week.

After that initial surge, the difference between the two pelotons was more than 30 seconds.

GC Favorites after stage 10

1. Julian Alaphilippe, Deceuninck-Quick Step, 43:27:15
2. Geraint Thomas, Team Ineos, at 1:12
3. Egan Bernal, Team Ineos, at 1:16
4. Steven Kruijswijk, Jumbo-Visma, at 1:27
5. Emanuel Buchmann, Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1:45
6. Enric Mas, Deceuninck-Quick Step, at 1:46
7. Adam Yates, Mitchelton-Scott, at 1:47
8. Nairo Quintana, Movistar Team, at 2:04
9. Dan Martin, UAE-Team Emirates, at 2:09
11. Thibaut Pinot, Groupama-FDJ, at 2:33
13. Rigoberto Uran, EF Education First, at 3:18
14. Alejandro Valverde, Movistar Team, at s.t.
15. Romain Bardet, AG2R-La Mondiale, at 3 :20
16. Jakob Fuglsang, Astana, at 3 :22
20. Richie Porte, Trek-Segafredo, at 3 :59
21. Mikel Landa, Movistar Team, at 4 :15

Who missed the split? Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) all languished in the second group. For a crucial few minutes, the gap shrunk as the second group accelerated to catch back on. The gap narrowed to just 12 seconds on a gradual slope.

But then the second group shattered, leaving just the GC men and a few helpers, and the margin flew open. The damage at the finish line was 1:39.

Pinot, the darling of the French media, was fuming at the finish, undoubtedly realizing the consequences of a brief moment of inattention. Pinot, a favorite before the Tour, drops from third overall (at 53 seconds) to 11th. He is now 2:33 behind Alaphilippe.

Other victims of the echelons

For Belgian fans, the maiden individual victory in the Tour by Wout van Aert is a major talking point of this tough 167km stage raced over the undulating terrain that the Tarn is famous for. Just about everyone else will be talking about the losses (or gains) of key GC specialists.

Uran, Porte, and Fuglsang lost more than a minute and a half by the end of the stage. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

EF Education First will be wondering what went wrong. “It’s not what we wanted today,” Woods said. “Quick Step did an amazing job of driving it and so did Team Ineos and we ended up getting caught off-guard. Then it was full panic stations trying to bring that group back.

“We got it down to about 10 seconds but that’s when I blew up and that was the last I saw of what happened.”

In a span of 21 minutes, the tone of the team’s Twitter feed changed significantly. It started with pride:

A little while later, it was a case of licking the wounds and searching for solace.

The loss of some men translates to a win for others. Of those who were in the top 10 of the general classification before stage 10, only Alaphilippe, Thomas, Bernal, Kruijswijk, Emanuel Buchmann and former race leader Giulio Ciccone remain in the top order.

Pinot was perhaps the day’s biggest loser, falling from 3rd place overall to 11th after he missed the split. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ambitions take a beating

“It’s disappointing but the race goes on,” Porte told reporters at the finish. He only dropped from 18th to 20th. Those numbers would suggest the damage isn’t too severe but the time differences tell a bigger story: 2:19 behind Alaphilippe at the start of the day; he’s now at 3:59.

He admitted his flaws and didn’t try to make excuses. “It was just a power thing to be honest.

“When they put it in the gutter on the left-hand side, it was just a different race – and I just wasn’t up to it today.”

Porte tried to see a silver-lining on a day his ambitions for another high GC result took a beating, and the gist of it is the very fact that he wasn’t alone amongst other pre-race favorites who faltered.

“There were quite a lot of other GC guys in my boat as well, so now we have to do something but there’s still a lot of hard racing to come.”

The wind and undulations in the Tarn took a toll but Woods concludes our overview of the ramifications to GC of an exciting stage to Albi. His team-mate, the runner-up from two years ago Rigoberto Uran holds down 13th place, 3:18 behind Alaphilippe.

Like others, it’s a loss he could well do without but Woods remains optimistic that the mountains that lie on the horizon after the rest day will even things out nicely

“This isn’t going to be a race decided by seconds,” said the Canadian. “When you look at those last three days before Paris, it’s going to be a race decided by minutes.”