Tour de France 2020

Commentary: Forgotten lessons in the Tour de France’s unforgiving crosswinds

History repeated in the crosswinds during Friday's seventh stage of the Tour de France. Just one year ago the race exploded in crosswinds, and some of the same GC riders lost time.

Some lessons at the Tour de France are oh so hard to learn.

Such as: If you see Team Ineos Grenadiers sprinting to the front of the peloton on a flat section of road, you had better ride to the front and hold on.

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That’s exactly what happened with 35km remaining in Friday’s seventh stage of the Tour de France. Ineos Grenadiers muscled their way to the front of the group and proceeded to detonate the peloton on a flat section of road that was buffeted by crosswinds. TV cameras caught sight of top teams and GC riders alike grimacing in the winds as the front group of favorites simply pulled away.

When the dust finally settled on the action, Wout van Aert won the stage and a handful of GC men made the split, among them Adam Yates, Egan Bernal, Primož Roglič, Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot, Rigoberto Urán, and others.

Meanwhile, GC hopefuls Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren), Bauke Mollema and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) were left behind, and all ceded 1:21 to the front group.

“We were caught out a bit there, which is not ideal,” Porte said after the stage. “Look, it’s far from a huge disaster for us, knowing what is coming up in the next two weeks.”

“I think we just made a mistake being too far in the back with 35 kilometers to go, and that’s a pity,” Mollema said. “The legs are OK and you shouldn’t lose time in a stage like this.”

Mollema said the team was positioned a bit too far in the peloton, and when the group went through a series of roundabouts, the field simply broke up.

Lesson learned, right?

I suppose so. But wait — didn’t we learn this exact lesson last year?

I realize the 2019 Tour de France may feel like eons ago, but the 10th stage of last year’s race played out in nearly identical fashion. I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes: Team Ineos took the front with 32km to go on the hilly approach to Albi and guttered the group just as the crosswinds kicked up. Deceuninck–Quick-Step then joined the fight, pouring more horsepower on the front. You can watch the video highlight below.

For several tense minutes the peloton stretched out like a glob of taffy until the group exploded over a small hill. Wout van Aert won, while Bernal, Yates, Quintana, and a few other GC men made the split. And when the dust settled, it was Richie Porte, Bauke Mollema, Mikel Landa, Rigoberto Urán, and  Thibaut Pinot who were left gasping in the dust.

Uncanny, right?

As Yogi Berra once said: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Hey, bike racing is hard, and surviving echelons in stiff crosswinds isn’t an easy task for any rider. Situations like the one that played out on Friday are among the toughest and most physically demanding ones in the sport. And just because a rider missed the break does not make him a weak or careless bum. Just one year ago the Vuelta a España exploded under conditions. The group went full-gas for 220km in stiff crosswinds, and the field exploded.

At that moment Quintana made the split and gained valuable time, while Roglič was caught out and saw his lead shrink. Roglič went on to win, of course, despite the setback.

Still, Friday’s stage was a firm reminder that history repeats itself in pro cycling. Sure, our sport is unpredictable. But again and again, the same story plays out. Smart teams set traps, and those traps ensnare riders and teams who are careless in the moment.

So, if we’re keeping score of who learned last year’s tough lessons in the crosswinds, then the answer is: Rigoberto Urán and Thibaut Pinot.

If the question is who suffered déjà vu all over again — look no further than Porte, Mollema, and Mikel Landa.