MONT AIGOUAL, France (VN) — It was another odd stage Thursday at the Tour de France.
A day after we saw the first stage in modern Tour history without a breakaway, today we saw a classic, hard-man’s group off the front to deliver the winner.
I was a bit surprised not to see more movement out of the yellow jersey group. But after listening to the riders say how hard the opening stages have been, and to hear their trepidation about what lies ahead in the final week, you can understand their lack of motivation to go all-in today.
The factors added up nicely for a breakaway and for a GC cease-fire. Mitchelton-Scott wanted the time bonuses out of play in order to give Adam Yates the best chance to defend his accidental yellow jersey. The climb up the Lusette was harder than what we saw Tuesday, but the finish line came further up the road following a descent and some false-flats, hardly ideal terrain to mark real differences.
And with the Pyrénées looming on the horizon, well, no one really wanted to punch the gas pedal right now.
Ineos Grenadiers went to the front to control things, but you have the feeling Jumbo-Visma could have come over the top if they wanted to. That team is just flying right now, and I think Primož Roglič could have won again today if he really wanted to.
The Tour is three weeks long, and Jumbo-Visma doesn’t want to go too fast out of the gate. The Tour is about pacing and choosing the moments.
Still, in racing, you punch a rival when they’re down. If Bernal could have been isolated today, Roglič might have taken a few more seconds out of him. As Adam Yates so often says, it is what it is.
Powless celebrates birthday in the break
American rider Neilson Powless celebrated his 24th birthday in style.
The EF Pro Cycling star rode into the main breakaway and even led briefly once the eight-rider group hit the Cat. 1 Col de la Lusette, the day’s main obstacle.
“I am so proud of that ride,” Powless said. “As soon as we had over a minute, I thought someone from this group would go to the line. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me. It was just amazing to be off the front in the Tour de France. It’s pretty amazing. I was just happy to be among that group.”
How cool is it to see Powless in the move? He’s a big GC hope for the future, and he’s such a well-spoken young man. Here’s to hoping he has a bright future.
Only six riders have won on their birthday in Tour history. Louis Mottiat won in 1924, while Gino Bartali won on three occasions, in 1938, 1948, and 1949. Federico Bahamontes in 1958, Roger de Breucker in 1963, Jo De Roo in 1966, and Erik Zabel in 1995.
Today will likely be Powless’s first and last chance, but it’s unlikely the Tour will be held in September again.
Roche 10 for 19 at Tour breakaways
This is Nicolas Roche’s 10th Tour de France, and his 19th Tour breakaway attempt.
The son of 1987 Tour-winner Stephen Roche won the day’s most aggressive rider prize for his efforts.
“Exhausted and disappointed. Unfortunately, the change of rhythm on the first category was just too much for me,” Roche said. “I lost time yesterday to be a bit down on the GC, so I could have freedom. I had this one ticked off.”
Roche has won stages at the Vuelta a España, but so far, he’s come up short at the Tour. In nine previous editions of the Tours, he’s been in the top-10 seven times on stage-win attempts. Like any pro, he will keep trying.
Adams didn’t miss his chance on signing Froome
I had a nice chat with Israel Start-Up Nation owner Sylvan Adams yesterday in Gap. He confirmed the team will ride on Factor bikes in 2021. The Canadian-Israeli has quickly emerged as one of the most active team owners in the bunch.
His signing of Chris Froome for 2021 on a multi-year deal is one of the biggest transfers in years.
“I am naturally an opportunistic person. At the beginning of the year, I didn’t expect that Chris Froome would be available, but as soon as I heard he was, we moved,” Adams told me. “The same thing with the Katusha WorldTour license last year. We had our plan to move into the WorldTour, but when that became available, we made it happen.”
So far in cycling, Adams has gotten what he wanted. He brought the Giro d’Italia start to Israel, put his team into the Tour de France earlier than he could have hoped. Now to win it?
“Chris Froome wants to make history, winning a fifth and then a sixth yellow jersey,” Adams said. “We’re going to do everything to help him make happen.”
Friday’s stage: Another shot for the sprinters
If this siesta-mode continues into Friday’s stage, we should expect another bunch sprint.
We could see Thomas De Gendt on the move because there is some lumpy terrain to open the stage as he prefers. More than anything, he might jump just to rev up the engine for later in the Tour.
Forecasters are calling for high temperatures in the low 90s F, with some gusting winds out on the flats in the closing 30km. Teams will be on edge for fears of echelons, but it’s not likely to see enough gusting winds to really threaten the top teams.
My pick: Sam Bennett is on a roll, so he’ll have a clean shot to the line for the win.