Monday’s 10th stage of the Tour de France was supposed to be easy, right?
The innocuous profile of the 217.5 kilometers between Saint-Flour and Albi had many fans, journalists — and perhaps Tour de France riders — believing this to be true. And then, as we all know, the peloton was ripped to pieces by a potent combination of crosswinds and aggressive racing inside the final 30 kilometers.
There were winners and losers in the GC battle. Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, Steven Kruijswijk, Romain Bardet, Nario Quintana, Dan Martin, and Julian Alaphilippe made the split. Thibaut Pinot, Rigoberto Urán, Richie Porte, Jakob Fuglsang, and Mikel Landa did not. And poor George Bennett lost nearly 10 minutes.
What the heck happened? Who goofed? Let’s roundtable!
How important is today’s stage for the GC battle?
Fred Dreier @freddreier: Immensely important. Before today Thibaut Pinot looked like one of the danger men at this year’s Tour de France, and perhaps the best climber in the bunch. He gained 20 important seconds on Geraint Thomas on stage 7, and his aggressive riding placed him in a perfect position to go for the win. Now, Pinot is all the way back in 11th place, more than a minute behind Thomas.
Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: It was, by far, the most decisive stage so far in this Tour. As we’ve seen in a race that’s ever more equal, the big time differences most often don’t come in the mountaintop finales or in the shortened time trials, but during these types of hiccups. It’s a crash, an ill-timed puncture, or a split in the peloton like we saw today that can make or break a rider’s Tour. Of course, the race will be won or lost later in the major climbs, but today reshuffled the overall GC more than any stage we’ve seen so far. It was disastrous for many, and takes the wind out of the GC fight just when things were looking interesting.
Chris Case @chrisjustincase: Massive. Not only were the gaps between some of the contenders much larger than we saw at the other decisive stage of the first week, La Planche des Belles Filles, but it was also a huge mental blow to those that got caught out. Those five riders who lost time will be kicking themselves.
Who is the biggest winner?
Fred: The obvious answer is Team Ineos, so I’m going to choose someone else: Nairo Quintana! On paper, you might pick Quintana as a guy who would be caught out by a massive gallop in the crosswinds, but Quintana somehow made the split. Surviving the move erased all of that time he lost in the team time trial, and now Quintana is less than a minute behind Thomas in 8th place.
Andy: Ineos. The team had both Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal in the front group, and then poured on the gas to drive the wedge between the chasers. Nairo Quintana, who’s often been on the losing end of these bargains, Bardet, Kruijswijk, Yates, Mas, Martin, and Buchmann were all there, and all see a big boost.
Chris: Team Ineos, collectively, is right back where we’re used to seeing them — comfortably in control of the race, with two riders in the top three, and the strength to dominate the proceedings in the Pyrenees which loom. There were other winners, but in the war for Tour supremacy, Ineos had its biggest day yet.
Who is the biggest loser?
Fred: All of the GC riders who missed the split can fall into the ‘loser’ category today. But I’m going to call out Jakob Fuglsang. On paper, Fuglsang has one of the strongest teams at this year’s Tour de France, with strongmen like Alexey Lutsenko, Luis Leon Sanchez, and Magnus Cort on the team. Astana is strong and smart, and yet they missed the move entirely. That puts Fuglsang way back in the GC hunt. And honestly, the team should have been up there.
Andy: Thibaut Pinot, Rigoberto Urán, Richie Porte, and Jakob Fuglsang were the big names chasing behind. Despite some teammates beside them, they simply could not close down their difference even when it was a mere 20 seconds with less than 20 kilometers to go. Pinot perhaps took the biggest morale blow after enjoying such a spectacular start to this Tour. Even worse was Mikel Landa, who once again found a way to lose time when he couldn’t afford to, ceding 2:09. When the differences on the top mountain stages can be 20 to 30 seconds between the leading favorites, today’s losses could be hard to overcome.
Chris: Among the five main GC riders to lose time, Pinot may have lost the most, given how well he seemed to be riding, and where he was sitting in the overall before the start of the day. He started the stage in third, in the virtual GC lead if you remove Julian Alaphilippe. He now sits 11th, 1:21 behind Geraint Thomas. He has some serious work to do to take back that much time on an intelligent rider on a powerhouse team. And poor George Bennett, left for dead, losing 9:41 after sitting fourth overall at the start of the day. That stings, even if he was riding in support of his teammate Kruijswijk. He’s now 27th, 11:11 back.
How would you describe to someone who didn’t watch the stage what, exactly happened in that split?
Fred: EF Education First saw an opportunity to ride hard in the crosswinds and split the bunch, and their influx of pace got the power riders from Team Ineos, Bora-Hansgrohe, and Deceuninck-Quick Step to really up the pace. The mixture of winds and strong riders guttered the peloton, and more than a few spindly GC riders were spit out the back. Poor George Bennett had about 20 water bottles in his pockets when the whole thing happened, and he lost 10 minutes.
Andy: The alert went out in the bunch that there was a sector ahead with heavy crosswinds. That means the tension was sky high in the bunch. EF Education First was among the first in the bunch to push the pace, but somehow the team’s leader, Urán, was one of the top riders who got caught out. Smelling blood, Ineos, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, and Bora-Hansgrohe piled on. A round-about also seemed to help snap the elastic. A group of riders went wide around the corner and gave up dozens of positions just as the main pack was splintering.
Chris: Someone knew the winds were coming, whether riders or sport directors or both. EF seemed to get the message first, and drove the pace to try and gap some of the riders at the back of the field. Things began to splinter, and chaos ensued. It seems like a roundabout caused the next issue, because the next time we saw the front of the field, Quick-Step and Ineos were smashing the pace, and EF was gapped, trying to regain the group and tow their leader Urán back to the field. From then on, it was a day of surprises, and more chaos, as riders were jettisoned from the field, or left with their tongues hanging out trying to chase back. That was some hard racing.