After the dust settled, literally, on a decisive stage in the Vosges mountains atop the steep finishing climb of La Planche des Belles Filles, there were some clear winners, some clear losers, and a few big surprises. What did we learn? Let’s roundtable!
Who was the biggest winner?
Fred Dreier @freddreier: Giulio Ciccone. We saw Ciccone make huge strides during the 2019 Giro d’Italia, where he won a stage and took home the KOM jersey. He was present in nearly every break in the mountains at the Giro, and emerged as one of the big heroes. On their own, those are big results that would undoubtedly help Ciccone take the next step in his career. Wearing the KOM jersey is one thing—wearing the maillot jaune is an accomplishment that is in a completely different stratosphere. Ciccone will now become a household name in global cycling. Plus, he’s such a great climber that he could conceivably hold yellow for a few stages. Ciccone’s battle to hold yellow in the mountains could become one of those transformative stories that turns him into a star.
Chris Case @chrisjustincase: With all the rumors swirling around Geraint Thomas’s form coming into this Tour, the performance he put in today, on steep terrain that is arguably not his forte, proved he is actually in top form. Perhaps there was really nothing to worry about all along: The defending Tour champion actually knows how to prepare and peak for the big race — and he also knows how to deflect attention by not bragging about it. He now sits a few seconds in front of teammate Egan Bernal, which could be a crucial difference if the Team Ineos train falls apart and Thomas and Bernal are left to fend for themselves.
Andrew Hood @eurohoody: Geraint Thomas. Though it’s hard to draw too many conclusions based on just one summit, the defending champion proved to everyone he’s up to the task of winning this Tour. Ineos did what it had to do, using Movistar’s late-stage prominence to its advantage. Egan Bernal was solid as well, so the team is in pole position going into the second week. Momentum counts for a lot in the Tour, and Thomas and Ineos will take a lot of it out of Thursday’s stage.
Who was the biggest loser?
Fred: Romain Bardet. Poor Bardet lost more than a minute to Geraint Thomas in that final push to the line. It’s a big setback because Bardet is supposed to thrive on steep, painful hills like this. We saw him win that stage to Peyragudes two years back on a 22 percent ramp. Today is a sign that perhaps poor Romain just doesn’t have it this year. And if that’s the case, he is likely to lose his ‘French darling’ status to Julian Alaphilippe.
Chris: Among the GC teams, three had particularly rough days. Fred already covered Bardet’s collapse.
EF Education First had its fair share of struggles, as well. Tejay van Garderen was dropped on the penultimate climb. He fought back just before the final climb and was immediately distanced again, finishing eight minutes down. On the steep finish seemingly tailor-made to Mike Woods’s strengths, the Canadian was only able to finish 16th, 2:02 down on stage winner Dylan Teuns and, more importantly, 18 seconds down on Thomas. Not massive, but not expected given the terrain. Rigoberto Urán also struggled in the finale, losing 18 seconds on Thomas.
Finally, Bahrain-Merida, which came in with Vincenzo Nibali and Rohan Dennis, who downplayed his secondary role, also floundered. Nibali, coming off his second place at the Giro, crawled up the final slopes of Belles Filles, losing 51 seconds to Thomas. Dennis, meanwhile, came in a staggering 13:45 back on stage winner Teuns.
Andrew: Romain Bardet. The French climber started going the wrong way when the accelerations began in the closing kilometers. His favorite status took a blow when he could not follow the GC favorites. The explosive nature of the climb isn’t his forte, but to be lagging so far behind in the first major test is the wrong kind of signal. If a Frenchman is going to win this Tour, it’s looking like it won’t be Bardet.
What was the greatest surprise?
Fred: Geraint Thomas. He’s been the big question mark all spring, due to his crappy buildup to the Tour de France. And now, G survived the steep climb and still had enough strength in the legs to accelerate in the final 500 meters and gap his rivals (yep, even his teammate Egan Bernal). I did not expect to see that from Thomas.
Chris: Who would have expected the Team Ineos train to start jettisoning its strongest superdomestique, Wout Poels, well before the closing moments of the final climb? Who would have expected Groupama-FDJ to take over the front of the favorites’ group, driving the pace into the final climb of the day? It feels like it’s been seven years since we’ve seen so few Ineos (and before that Team Sky) riders amassed at the front of the peloton in the mountains.
Andrew: Alaphilippe was impressive again, but that was no surprise. The surprise was that Ciccone held on to take yellow. He was pedaling squares in the final 100 meters to the line, after Teuns had wrapped up the stage win. Losing yellow will hurt Alaphilippe, who could have held the jersey for several more days. But it’s confirmation for Ciccone that his breakout Giro performance hints at a bright future.
Did the stage live up to the hype?
Fred: I think so. The stage was hilly enough for a breakaway to survive, and the fight for the stage win was thrilling. Plus, the GC contenders didn’t hold back, and really walloped each other in those final two kilometers. Plus, the sight of Julian Alaphilippe, resplendent in yellow, attacking on the stretch of brown dirt made for beautiful imagery.
Chris: Yes! This is what the best Tour stages are made of: long-range breakaways, nasty climbs, aggression, drama, dirt, dust, and an unsettling of the norms. It gave new riders like Ciccone a chance to shine, and established riders like Thomas to quiet the naysayers. So many interesting storylines from one day of racing. More, please.
Andrew: Bien sur! And even surpassed it. These Vuelta-like steep walls make for explosive racing. The differences are small for such an intense effort, and that means it doesn’t blow apart the GC battle with race-changing time differences. The gravel/hard-pack finish meant that riders were saving their matches for the final 2km but it was more than just a novelty. Having such a finish so early in the race has capped a solid first week of the Tour. Chapeaux to the Tour organization for keeping things interesting.