Tour de France 2020

Inside the Tour de France’s weird stage without a breakaway

Why was Thursday's stage 5 of the Tour de France a day without a breakaway? Tired legs and unfavorable winds helped keep the bunch together.

PRIVAS, France (VN) — A Tour de France stage without a breakaway? No one can remember seeing that before.

It what could be a first in modern Tour de France history, a road stage went start-to-finish without riders peeling off the front.

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“It was surprising to see,” said stage-winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). “It was quite weird to see.”

No one at the Tour de France pressroom could remember the last time, or if any time, a Tour stage unfolded without a breakaway. Tour officials said there have been stages on the final day into Paris when there were no breakaways until the final laps on the Champs-Élysées. That typically is not a “real” race until it hits the final laps, so that doesn’t count.

Wednesday’s fifth stage was certainly peculiar in that the entire race unfolded without a breakaway. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), who made a tepid attempt early in the stage, posted a Twitter message: “First breakaway of the Tour done — breakaway of 172 riders until 10km to go.”

De Gendt, of course, was joking. There wasn’t a breakaway with 10km to go; riders were getting dropped.

So what happened?

Wednesday’s course didn’t help. After a small climb out of Gap, the route was largely downhill and against the wind all day. Reports of strong winds and the threats of echelons waiting in the Rhône Valley kept everyone nervous. And four brutally hard days of racing to open the 2020 Tour seemed to knock the air out of everyone.

“Yesterday was quite tough, and today was downhill and a headwind, so to go into a breakaway, you’re not going anywhere,” said Adam Yates, who inherited yellow from Julian Alaphilippe after a controversial penalty.

“The Tour de France is three weeks long,” Yates said. “Everyone was playing it smart, and trying to save as much energy as possible.”

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) joked that he’s never seen it while he raced, so it must be a long time.

Just like everyone else, the Spanish veteran, who raced his first Tour de France in 2005, was surprised to race an entire stage without a breakaway.

“I have never remembered a Tour stage without a breakaway,” Valverde said. “I guess it’s because there is a lot of Tour ahead of us, and everyone knew it would end in a sprint.”

Still, it was surprising to see no one at least try.

Perhaps it’s another sign that the allure of the breakaway is losing a bit of its value.

Before the Internet and social media, teams would rely on getting their jerseys seen in the race for valuable TV coverage, be it winning stages or riding into breakaways.

That’s changed now that teams can promote and push their image via social media channels, not relying so much on valuable “TV time” that accompanies a breakaway, even one that will not come to fruition.

More than anything, it seems the riders were simply tired.

“Maybe the first four days were quite hard,” Van Aert said. “Everyone knows it’s a long way coming before this Tour is over.”