Tour de France 2020

Tour de France roundtable: Do gravel roads belong in the Tour de France?

We unpack the key talking points of the final major mountain stage of the race, from Ineos' consolation prize to Porte's untimely puncture. Time for some takes!

Michał Kwiatkowski took the first Tour de France victory of his illustrious career on the 18th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.

Former world champion Kwiatkowski has raced the Tour seven times, four times when working in the heart of the Team Sky / Ineos engine room for the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. After the disappointment of Egan Bernal’s abandon from this year’s race, the stage win marks a small consolation for Ineos Grenadiers, who also took the polka-dot jersey with Richard Carapaz.

The GC favorites rolled home together after Richie Porte had launched a desperate chase to regain contact having punctured on the gravel section of the Plateau des Glières. And while the world was waiting for Tadej Pogačar to attack Primož Roglič in the final in a bid to claw back some time on his 57-second deficit, the youngster didn’t make a move.

Time to deconstruct the last major mountain stage of this year’s Tour!

Should road races include gravel and dirt sectors?

Fred Dreier (@freddreier): Sure, why not? I think that gravel adds that element of unknown that leads to punctures and slide outs and other calamities that are all part of racing. The rider with the strongest legs and best bike handling deserves to win the Tour de France. It’s no different than adding cobblestones to the route, in my opinion. That said, the whole route shouldn’t be gravel.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): I don’t see why not. People object because of the risk of punctures, but if you want a race without an element of luck and unpredictability, you might as well have them ridden on specially-made closed-circuits with perfectly-paved tarmac. Also, if you can have a crazy climb like the Loze one day, you sure can have a few hundred meters of gravel the next day in my book.

Ben Delaney:  All the kids are riding gravel these days, right? Seriously though, variety is engaging. A gravel sector is akin to winding roads or an undulating climb — it’s one more challenge for riders to navigate at speed. Today’s sector was also at a safe spot — we’re two and a half weeks into the Tour, and the section came after the field has long been shattered. That to say, it was small groups crossing, not the entire peloton barreling through like on the cobbled sectors of the 2014 and 2018 Tours.

Let’s be honest: Risk is part of what makes bike racing exciting. Sure, no one would want to see the Tour decided by a flat tire or a crash, but the threat of both adds tension.

How important is Kwiatkowski’s stage win as a ‘good news story’ for Ineos Grenadiers?

Ineos Grenadiers got a one-two on the stage and the polka-dot jersey/
Ineos Grenadiers got a one-two on the stage and the polka-dot jersey. Photo: Stephane Mahe – Pool/Getty Images

Jim: Well, they sure needed some good news, and I guess Kwiatkowski taking the stage and Carapaz getting the polka dots makes for a nice PR spin for one of their hardest-working riders and the guy they denied the chance of defending his Giro d’Italia title. It’s far from a replacement for even a GC podium-place with Bernal, but at least it showed they have the team spirits and cojones to go back out there and fight.

Ben: That was an impressive move, no doubt. When was the last time you saw two teammates riding alone to the finish together at the Tour de France? It was good for Carapaz and Kwiatkowski to be able to soak up the moment. But does that salvage the Tour for Ineos? Heck, no.

Fred: It’s a nice consolation prize, for sure, and it will be a reason for everyone in the Ineos Grenadiers squad to guzzle some champagne tonight. But let’s be honest: A stage win isn’t good enough for a team of that caliber. Is this Tour de France a success now that Kwiatkowski has won a stage? Nope.

Why didn’t Pogačar attack in the final?

Fred: He looked le tired

Ben: He’s tired, like every other guy in the race. But more importantly, what is he going to do as a lone rider on a stage that ends with rolling downhill and flat land? Even if he were able to pry himself free by a few seconds on the last climb, he’s still miles from the finish. He’s a good time trialist, but the basic math and physics are stacked against him. He’s no dummy.

Jim: Like Fred said, he didn’t look very lively today – you could see after the stage Wednesday that he was broken at the finish. Also, with the gradual downhill run to the line like that and the GC group together, I imagine Pogačar would have needed a bit more support with him to make an attack stick – he was alone against Roglič and three other Jumbo-Visma riders.