This weekend’s opening salvo of Tour de France stages around Nice may not have seen the shock early GC fireworks some were hoping for, but it could well signpost things to come.
Going into stage 3, some leaders and their teams are already dangerously close to falling off the back, while others are sitting comfortably mid-pack.
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While the likes of Egan Bernal, Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič, Thibaut Pinot, and Nairo Quintana all sit on the same time after a quiet day in the Alps Sunday, the much-hyped “you can’t win the Tour here but you can lose it” mountain tussle of stage 2 did serve to put a dent in the ambitions of a few.
Off the back
The majority of the yellow jersey hopefuls are sitting pretty at the same time, 17 seconds back on race leader Julian Alaphilippe. The two most notable absences from the GC group are Fabio Aru and Daniel Martínez, who both have a lot of ground to make up after only two stages.
Martínez, crashed twice in the mountains Sunday, is nearly four minutes off the pace.
“I’m feeling really disappointed after today,” said the 25-year-old, who went into the race as a dark horse contender for the GC. “I have a bit of pain in the knee, it’s a little bit swollen, but it’s normal, I’m just hoping that it recovers quickly over the next few days.”
Martínez’s EF Pro Cycling Team’s other cards for the GC, Sergio Higuita and Rigoberto Urán, are nestled safely in the wheels of the GC group. Though Martínez is arguably EF Pro Cycling’s hottest prospect for a yellow jersey, the team may need to pivot toward a focus on one of his Colombian teammates for the yellow and let their recent Dauphiné winner fly for stages.
Fabio Aru is also dangling out the back of the GC group, 2:24 down after shedding time in the mountains Sunday. Was he ever a real GC contender? Maybe not, but his UAE-Team Emirates outfit liked to tout him as one.
It’s far from over for UAE-Team Emirates though. Aru’s co-leader and his squad’s brightest star Tadej Pogačar is bubbling away nicely after placing in the top-20 of both stages so far. The young Slovenian has barely shown his face as he settles into the tempo of his first Tour, but the signs are looking good.
“Today was really a difficult day,” he admitted Sunday. “In the final, I tried to be on the front and follow some attacks. In the end, I wasn’t feeling super good on the last climb so I stayed in the bunch for the sprint and got a top-10 so it was a good day all things considered.”
Pogačar is one of those most likely to pose a threat to the might of Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers in the mountains in the coming weeks. The Tour de France’s two superteams and their key leaders all sit comfortably in contention going in to stage 3’s sprint showdown.
There was a brief scare for Tom Dumoulin in the closing hour of Sunday’s stage when a clipping of wheels sent the Dutchman to the deck. He was rapidly paced back to the bunch by star teammate Wout van Aert, and as far as Dumoulin is concerned, all is on track.
“Ultimately, Primož [Roglič] and I are fine and where we should be. For us this was not the weekend to unpack, we didn’t have to,” Dumoulin said, before joking about his tumble, “We got through the weekend safely … Relatively safely.”
Jumbo-Visma rode through most of the weekend like they did through the Tour’s French tune-up races – at the front of the bunch and in control. Dumoulin indicated it won’t stay that way for the next 19 days of racing.
“We have to be careful not to carry the weight of the entire race from day one,” he said. “We did that this weekend, but it kept us out of trouble. That’s okay. It was also a great weekend for us.”
Ineos Grenadiers sheltered behind Jumbo-Visma for much of the weekend, only to take control of the peloton Sunday to lead the pack down the final climb of the day, keeping key men Bernal and Richard Carapaz safe.
The British outfit knows when to keep its bullets in the chamber and when to lock and load having amassed seven Tour wins in the past, and that was exactly what it was doing this weekend as it keeps the massive final weeks in the Alps front of mind.
“We have saved our legs as much as possible,” Bernal said Sunday. “It’s the Tour. We have to look at it day by day and try to save energy for the last part of the Tour.”
So far it’s all-par and going per the script for this year’s two powerhouses.
It’s not been all plain sailing for Ineos Grenadiers, however, as Bernal’s rookie wingman Pavel Sivakov crashed twice on the slick, greasy roads around Nice on Saturday, losing the freshly-healed skin he’d grown back after a dramatic fall at the Dauphiné earlier in the month.
After Sivakov lost nearly half an hour in the mountains Sunday as he nursed bumps and bruises, Ineos Grenadiers is going to be putting all its knowhow into healing the young climber before the big climbing days in the Pyrenees this coming weekend and later down the road in the Alps.
Like Bernal, Roglič, and Dumoulin, Pinot is sheltering quietly in the bunch of favorites. Although the Frenchman was one of many to come down in a mass pileup Saturday, limping to the line disconsolate and downbeat, the Groupama-FDJ leader came through the mountains Sunday in one piece.
It didn’t look like it was going to be that way for his right-hand-man David Gaudu however. The youngster was out the back from kilometer zero as the breakaway formed yesterday and looked close to calling it quits before rallying to see out the stage without losing time.
“I was very, very scared, as was the whole team when I was dropped,” Gaudu said. “I couldn’t force the pedals without feeling immense pain in my sacrum area.”
Gaudu’s staffers insisted Monday that their key domestique is on the recovery trail from his fracture, but with two of Groupama-FDJ’s other support riders – William Bonnett and Rudy Mollard – also battered and bruised, it’s far from the start they’d like as they look to take Pinot to the podium.
While there’s hope for Gaudu, the same can’t be said for Rafa Valls, a key teammate for Mikel Landa. The experienced climber pulled out of the race after stage 1 having fractured his femur, while it was confirmed Sunday that his Bahrain-McLaren teammate Wout Poels had a fractured rib and bruised lung, but would keep battling on. Basque rider Landa could be looking lonely when the roads tilt upward, if the Dutchman isn’t at 100 percent.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the GC guys, however. Emanuel Buchmann and Nairo Quintana, both who started the race nursing injuries, have been jostling in the bunch and have confirmed themselves to be on the comeback trail.
Sticking to the script – unless your name is Alaphilippe
Israel Start-Up Nation’s leader Dan Martin is way off the back going into stage 3 Monday. The Irishman is now 18 minutes down as he nurses a fractured sacrum after crashing at the Dauphiné, making his pre-stated aim of riding for stages rather than GC now his only option.
Well, who knows what that guy is up to. He said he wasn’t going to ride for GC, but now he’s found himself in yellow, he’s stated he won’t be giving up his treasured possession easily.
Looking ahead to Monday’s grippy sprint stage and Tuesday’s explosive summit finish, Alaphilippe may well be in the maillot jaune some time yet.