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The Tour de France ripped back into life Friday as crosswinds blew across the plains of southwest France.
Stage 7 into Lavaur lit up within the first 30 kilometers of racing as Bora-Hansgrohe stretched out the wind-battered bunch, sending a whos-who of sprinters off the back.
With the pace high all day, the action hit warp speed in the final hour when a shift in the race route and a cranking of the pace by Ineos Grenadiers, Astana, and Bora-Hansgrohe kickstarted the echelons, leaving a handful of GC contenders straggling in a second group on the road.
Time to deconstruct the key action from a thrilling day – let’s roundtable!
How much did the Tour need a bit of spice today after a couple of slower days in the GC battle?
Fred Dreier (@freddreier): Today was a welcomed treat, for sure, after Thursday’s stage turned into a truce up the Col de la Lusette and Mont Aigoul. That’s the best part of bike racing — excitement and drama can strike when you least expect it.
Jim Cotton (jim_c_1985): The race had gone to a bit of a simmer Wednesday and Thursday as riders looked to save some bullets for the Pyrénées this weekend and recovered from the tough opening stages. However, with riders only having a finite amount of power in their legs, an aggressive day now could just equate to a slower day in a week or two. But stage 7 Friday certainly did bring back some spark and injects some added intrigue as the race heads to the mountains.
Ben Delaney: Depends on who you ask? Fans at home and those who gained time will say it was needed and welcome; those who lost out will have other terms for what happened today… Just goes to show that nothing is a given in the Tour.
Pogačar, Landa, Porte, and Mollema all lost over one minute today. Is their race over given the current dominance of Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers?
Fred: Their race for the podium or the top-5 continues, but in all honesty, their fight for the yellow jersey is over. I just don’t see any one of those riders making up that big of a deficit against Jumbo-Visma or Ineos Grenadiers on this course. Never say never, of course. But I’m pretty close to saying never for Landa or Porte.
Ben: A moment’s inattention turned into an afternoon of panic and a minute lost. But we are still a long way from Paris! This of course means that the GC guys who lost out will have to attack in the mountains to get back on terms — good news for race fans. Bring it.
Jim: Maybe not for Pogačar, who has shown through the past month that he’s one of the best climbers in the bunch. Though teams will keep a close eye on him, if he surfs the wheels of the dominant squads and manages to escape to gain 20 or 30 seconds here and there, he’s right back in the mix. I have less confidence for Landa and the Trek-Segafredo pair though. Landa’s Bahrain-McLaren team is nursing a lot of walking wounded right now, and I think Porte and Mollema don’t quite have it to hold the pace when the race hits the real big mountains.
There are two mountain stages both with downhill finishes to come over the weekend. How do you see them playing out?
Fred: I do not believe that either stage will be decisive in the GC battle, however both will give us a sense of the strongest four or five riders in the race. I see Saturday’s stage to Loudenvielle finishing with a small group of GC leaders sprinting for the win. On Sunday, I believe a strong breakaway will make it to the finish alone, as the GC riders will try and conserve some energy after the hard day on Saturday. On both days, however, I see the race separating the top GC contenders from the second-tier contenders. How that shakes out is something we’re just going to have to wait and see!
Jim: There will be riders with time to gain back after losing out in the echelons Friday. That said, both stages finish with a descent and steady drag to the finish line, meaning climbers like Pogačar and Landa have less advantage. I think we will see some shakeup between the 12 riders at the top of GC that are currently all within 22 seconds of each other, but the gaps won’t be big.
Ben: Three major climbs on stage 8 Saturday will obliterate the front group. In theory, a breakaway that’s not a threat to the GC could stick, but I expect to see the men with yellow ambitions to be fighting for time all the way to the line. Stage 9 on Sunday has two cat 1 climbs, but as with Saturday, it is not a summit finish. I see a very small group contesting — likely with GC guys who lost time today — and I’m eager to see Alaphilippe fighting back.