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The Tour de France has entered the Alps, and we just saw the first major battle that will build toward the conclusion of the race. Ineos sent Egan Bernal on the attack on the Col du Galibier. Julian Alaphilippe was dropped on the climb and then dropped like a stone on the descent to catch and momentarily pass his foes.
And Nairo Quintana, for the second year, squeezed lemons into lemonade and won a mountain stage after watching his GC ambitions go up in smoke. Let’s roundtable!
What is the significance of Nairo Quintana’s stage victory?
Chris Case @chrisjustincase: For him, it must feel really good. There is clearly something wrong at Team Movistar — his own team was leading the chase to pull him back at one point, and doing a good job of it — so it seems he may be the odd man out at that team. Perhaps that’s one reason he’s leaving. But to “stick it to the man” like that, must feel good. In the GC race, his efforts today were big, however they may limit what he is able to do in the next two stages. And he’ll not get such a big leash again this year.
Fred Dreier @freddreier: Nairo will continue to be promoted as a Grand Tour contender, and rightfully so due to his career palmares. But I think both this and last year’s Tour de France is confirmation that he’s moved into the stage of his career where he’s going to be a guy to either win stages, or shoot for the top-5. And kudos to him for winning a very tough stage of this and last year’s Tour de France after his GC aspirations went up in smoke. Victories like this can boost his next paycheck and keep him relevant.
Andrew Hood @eurohoody: It’s proving that Quintana’s days as a legitimate Tour de France GC contender might be over. He’s won important mountain stages now two years in a row at the Tour, but only after his yellow jersey ambitions crumbled in the first half of the race. Quintana clearly has the class to win in the mountains when he’s in a breakaway but hasn’t packed the horsepower to attack off the leading GC group in years. Perhaps he should give up on his yellow jersey dream, and swap it out for a Polka-Dot jersey dream. As he’s already proven, he can win the Giro and Vuelta, so focus on that, and come to the Tour each summer to light up the climbs. If he lets go of the pressure, maybe he’d even be better off for it in the GC as well.
Egan Bernal attacks and the favorites let him go. How does this change the Tour?
Chris: Every day, someone new seems to be the most likely to have the best form, on his way to winning the Tour. Today it was Bernal. If he takes 30 seconds tomorrow, and 30 seconds the next day, that still won’t be enough to take yellow. But, if he continues to attack, we may finally see Alaphilippe crack more spectacularly, and then the sky is the limit for where Bernal can go.
Fred: I have no clue why the GC guys let Bernal go. I think that was a bad move, because I don’t see Pinot or Kruijswijk taking 20 seconds out of him now. Despite what Geraint Thomas may tell the press, I think that Bernal is actually the GC rider for Team Ineos. And now, he’s the best one to try and dethrone Alaphilippe. I was wondering whether the more gradual roads in the Alps would suit Thomas or Bernal better, and it sure seems like they suit Bernal the best.
Andy: It tightens the screws ever so slightly in favor of Ineos on the GC. It was important to defend their GC positions even if they didn’t chip away too much on Alaphilippe. With Geraint Thomas now in third behind Bernal’s second, the team has two big cards to play in the closing weekend. If ever slightly, Ineos is in the driver’s seat among the GC group chasing behind the Frenchman. Either one of them could win. But Bernal’s gains were relatively slight, and he only trimmed 5 seconds off Alaphilippe’s grip on yellow. It’s clear that Ineos will need to put riders into breakaways over the weekend because the Sky Fortress is crumbling this year on the steeps. Here’s how they win the Tour: send a few riders up the road, put Bernal on the attack, forcing others to chase and crack Alaphilippe, and then have Thomas come over the top (or vice versa). Easy, right?
What did we learn about Julian Alaphilippe today?
Chris: Alaphilippe is a fighter. But we already knew that. He is a badass descender. But we already knew that. In nine hard minutes or so of attacking, Alaphilippe looked a bit more ragged than ever before. What that means to me is that he is right on the edge. Should he have attacked so much on the descent to try and grab a few seconds? Probably not. I was yelling at the TV to save himself for the next two days. One of these moments, the pin may be pulled and we’ll see a catastrophic failure. Then again, we all thought that was going to happen a week ago.
Fred: Again, we learned that there are cracks in Alaphilippe’s armor on these big, long stages. It just seems like those cracks may be too few and too small to totally erode his 1:30 advantage. I have no doubt that Alaphilippe will get dropped on these next two stages. But he’s such a fighter that the small gaps that Ineos will undoubtedly open may not be enough.
Andy: France is one day closer to the biggest party in decades. The Frenchman survived an important hurdle Thursday and rides into the final weekend with momentum and a significant lead of 1:30 to Bernal. Alaphilippe can give up just under 45 seconds per stage and still win. Maybe the dynamic of a long descent to the finish line meant that some of the GC favorites kept their powder dry for Friday’s and Saturday’s uphill finales. True, Alaphilippe faltered a bit on the Galibier, but the favorites left it too late to try to gap him over the top. If everyone was on their limit, and Alaphilippe could hold the high tempo, that doesn’t bode well for his rivals who cannot shake him. Friday’s stage suits Alaphilippe fairly well, and with the short, explosive climb to Tignes, he probably won’t lose much and could even gain time on some of his GC rivals if he follows the right wheels. It should all come down to Saturday’s grinder to Val Thorens. With the way he’s riding now, if Alaphilippe carries a lead of more than 1 minute into Saturday, he’ll win.
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) July 24, 2019
What is your opinion of the UCI jury’s decision to expel Tony Martin and Luke Rowe?
Chris: A bit harsh. It was certainly stupid on the two teams’ parts and the two riders most involved, but it was just that: stupid. In the end, they patched things up, realized their mistakes, and said so. Fine them; dock them points. But kicking them out of the race seems a steeper penalty than was warranted.
Fred: This is cycling, not hockey. I understand that shenanigans and pushing and shoving goes on in the bunch. But c’mon guys, don’t do your pushing and shoving RIGHT at the front of the peloton, in full view of the TV cameras! So many rules in cycling boil down to an I.Q. test, and in this case, those guys failed. The last thing I want is for the next generation of roadies to think that horsing around in the group ride is cool because Tony Martin did it. Send ’em home.
Andy: Personally, I think it was a bit over-reach. Kerfuffles like this happen on occasion in bike racing. It didn’t affect the outcome of the stage. No one was hurt. They both apologized after the stage. Fine them, relegate them, but don’t kick them out of the race. The UCI should do more surprise anti-doping controls rather than waste everyone’s time with this. After all, they didn’t punch a fan, did they?