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Monday’s third stage of the Tour de France was a snoozer. Nearly four hours into the six-hour slog, the average speed was a mere 33kph and the peloton was a half hour behind schedule. “I was thinking in one moment we were going to take the coffee, like old times,” Peter Sagan said. Lawson Craddock agreed: “I got bored after about five hours,” he said.
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Why? There was no ceasefire proclaimed by a peloton patron — we asked. So it was simply a gentleman’s agreement that resulted from a few rather predictable factors.
First, it was a sprint stage, so entering breakaway was a suicide mission. Only a single Frenchman dared, and once he was away he didn’t ride particularly fast. If the peloton got too close, more attacks might come. So it slowed way down. “It felt like we were going to take him, so we had to wait,” Sagan said.
Second, the first two stages were hard and the next two will be harder. Tuesday’s stage is long, 237km, and Wednesday’s is hilly, with four categorized climbs in the final 40km. Monday was a natural reset between the two.
Third, Monday’s stage was also quite long. Its 223km route was intended to transition the Tour peloton as far south as possible, as it heads toward the pyrenees on Friday. These long stages don’t tend to inspire enthusiastic racing. This natural lackadaisical attitude is compounded by those first two factors, mentioned above.
To help avoid these day-long snoozefests, all three grand tours have experimented with shorter mountain stages in recent years. The results have been quite good, for the most part. So good, in fact, that some pro riders believe long stages shouldn’t exist at all.
“You get much nicer stages if you make them shorter,” Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin told NOS.nl. “I believe that this kind of stage no longer belongs in the Tour. Longer than 200km is so outdated. I do not see the point of it.”
“These stages don’t do anyone any favors,” he said. “It will be the same tomorrow. There is absolutely nothing to gain. Perhaps tomorrow nobody will ride away.”
As fans, we hope that’s not the case. For the commentator’s sake if nothing else.