Yellow jersey-wearing Julian Alaphilippe finished safely in the bunch behind Van Aert, but was controversially given a 20-second penalty for taking a feed in the final 20 kilometers of the stage, meaning he loses the race lead to Adam Yates.
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Was the race jury’s decision to penalize Alaphilippe correct given the race “wasn’t on” with the group altogether and bound for a sprint finish?
Just 24 hours before van Aert took Wednesday’s stage, he was crushing the climbing field in the summit finish to Orcières-Merlette, and has proven phenomenal since racing restart in August. Is there anything the Belgian cannot do?
The majority of the stage was marked by the total absence of a breakaway, defying the script of how grand tour stages typically play out. Deceuninck-Quick-Step tried to send Kasper Asgreen on the escape only to see his move neutralized. What caused such an unusual situation?
The GC contenders will rumble back into life Thursday as the race returns to the mountains, with a second summit finish atop Mont Aigoual beckoning. How do you see the race playing out?
Time to get some takes, let’s roundtable!
Is Julian Alaphilippe’s time penalty fair given the circumstances of the race?
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): I think there does need to be a degree of leniency in how commissaires approach these situations – the group was together and destined for a sprint, so it made no difference whether Alaphilippe got a feed or not. However the problem is that if officials start applying flexibility to these decisions, riders and team will continue to push the boundaries – so it’s a lose-lose situation. The one thing that is clear is that the commissaire who made the call is likely enemy number one in France right now.
Fred Dreier (@freddreier): I think the problem here is that the UCI is often extremely flexible with how this rule is enforced — sometimes riders get caught, other times they do not. Sometimes it results in a fine, other times it is a fine and time penalty. It’s a shame that the enforcement today led to Alaphilippe losing yellow. Having a Frenchman in yellow is the best thing for this Tour de France.
Greg Kaplan (Digital Editor, VeloNews): While the race jury applied the rule as written, they’ve not been consistent in doing so in the past; Chris Froome several times benefited from the leniency of the race jury. Yes, there needs to be some standard in the application of rules especially when they affect the safety of the riders, but the race jury has also turned a blind eye to such technicalities in the past. I found today’s events kind-of curious—to so severely ding a beloved and charismatic French rider for a technicality.
Is there anything Wout Van Aert can’t do? What are his limits?
Fred: Wout van Aert is the most dynamic rider in the pro peloton right now, and his strengths on all types of terrain — climbs, sprints, hills, time trials, flats, dirt etc. — makes him a throwback rider from before the age of specialization. The big thing I’m watching now is how he fares at the 2020 cobbled classics. He’s raced them for two years now, and he has the experience and the strength to win. Can he? That would cap off what has already been an amazing season.
Greg: A world champion ‘cross rider who can rip it in the classics one week, smash the European road time trial championships the next, and then lead-out his team’s captain up steep slopes in a grand tour stage while putting pure climbers into distress just a few days after that? All as a prelude to a grand tour stage win? I won’t be betting against van Aert any time soon.
Jim: At the moment, it seems he truly can do anything – but we’re yet to see him on an Alpine-mega climb, and that will undoubtedly reveal a weakness. However, if he were to try to become a climber he would no longer have the massive motor that lets him punch over shorter climbs and contend in the classics. For me, Van Aert is the most exciting rider in the bunch right now and I can’t wait to see what the next few years hold in store for him.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step tried to start a breakaway at the start of the stage but failed, and the rest of the race played out with no escape group. What’s your take on why this happened?
Greg: This would have been a lot of work for just one team so early on in the Tour: To manage the front of the race from a break for the stage win, protect the yellow jersey, hunt down the green jersey, and also let riders try to recover after the carnage and climbing from the previous stages.
Jim: I guess Deceuninck-Quick-Step didn’t want to take responsibility of dragging the race through the entire stage and so tried to place a rider up the road, and when no other escape went, the peloton decided to ease off. A lot of riders are still nursing bumps and niggles from the crash-marred opening stage and are likely cooling their jets while they can.
Fred: I think the peloton is resting its legs after four hard opening stages. My guess is they chased Asgreen down and expected another breakaway to go. But nobody had the motivation to do so, and so we were left with the strange dynamics today.
It’s the second summit finish of the race Thursday. How does the stage play out?
Jim: It will be fascinating to see if Mitchelton-Scott takes control for Yates. The team has made it clear they don’t want to ride for GC and are targeting stages, but once you’re leading the Tour de France, surely you don’t throw that away. Of course, Jumbo-Visma will be up there and I imagine them throwing more haymakers at Ineos Grenadiers. There could well be an angry Alaphilippe on the loose too, so expect to see him livelier than ever.
Greg: Roglič for the stage win, and Jumbo-Visma will keep Yates on a short leash. So far, I’ve seen no evidence that the Ineos Grenadiers could take on this responsibility.
Fred: I again see Jumbo-Visma flexing its muscles early to make a statement to Ineos Grenadiers. Primož Roglič is on such good form right now, so I see him taking the stage win