Under the former Sky domain, this year’s 8th and 9th stages would have unfolded with predictable smash-mouth style, ending with Chris Froome riding out of the first major mountains uncontested in yellow.
Jumbo-Visma has been trying its best to photocopy Sky’s playbook this weekend, but a few things unfolded in ways that the Dutch squad probably wouldn’t have liked.
Primož Roglič is now in yellow, but it’s a rather slender grip, with Egan Bernal, Nairo Quintana, Tadej Pogačar, and a host of others nipping at his heels. The good news for fans is that we still have a wide-open race.
With two downhill finales both days, many expected breakaways to hold sway, with the GC riders to cautiously mark each other, knowing that the Alps were looming in the final week.
Thankfully, Tadej Pogačar did not receive the memo. The young Slovenian has thrown a spanner into the works, and it’s been a blast to watch.
A single rider can rarely turn a Tour de France upside down. For the past several years, Sky/Ineos was so strong, no one dared to attack. Fear is clearly not part of Pogačar’s vocabulary.
Jumbo-Visma certainly seems as menacing as Sky at its most formidable, but Pogačar has boldly taken on the challenge. Who knows? Had he not lost time in the crosswinds Friday, he might not have attacked so much because he’s been trying to gain back time in the GC. I doubt it. Even if he hadn’t lost time, Pogačar would have attacked anyway.
The Slovenian is the most exciting grand tour rider to come down the pipe in years. He’s not calculating, and he doesn’t ride too cautiously. He attacks and attacks again. These are no measured or calibrated surges based on a spreadsheet or a power meter. His aggression feels more emotional, more spontaneous.
Thank goodness for youthful exuberance.
It’s just what the Tour de France needed after so many years of a familiar script.
With this course profile, I was expecting to see Pogačar challenge for the podium. With the way he is climbing, who knows how far he can go.
Pogačar has that rare blend of pure class, brute strength, and reckless abandon that comes with youth. I hope he keeps attacking, because so far, his attacks in the Pyrénées blew apart the control that Jumbo-Visma was trying to impose on the race.
If it wasn’t for Pogačar, Jumbo-Visma might have had this race under their collective thumb.
First rest day comes with tension
Most Tour de France rest days mean a light spin, maybe a press conference, or a visit from friends or family.
Not this year. Family visits are banned. Press conferences will be done via video conferencing. The only thing that seems “normal” will be a light spin to keep the legs fresh.
Overnight Sunday, staffers were scheduled to be controlled for COVID-19. Riders will be tested Monday morning after driving late Sunday from the Pyrénées to the team hotel. Officials canceled a planned flight citing health concerns, so riders made the long five-hour drive Sunday evening.
Everyone is walking on eggshells because two positives among riders and staff could see teams ejected from the race.
George Bennett told me at the finish line Saturday that the riders are worried also about false positives. There have been a few cases when a rider test positive, only to test negative in follow-up tests.
Tour officials brought a mobile testing laboratory on the race this year, and promise to test any positive samples a second time before the start of Tuesday’s stage.
So far, we haven’t heard of any positive cases. We are also wondering if the test results will be publicly revealed. Probably not.
Managers are worried that there will be positive cases, and that some teams could be removed. There’s already been some grumbling among teams that say they’ve held up their end of the bargain, but have complained about conditions at team hotels not being as safe as they’d like to see.
You might have noticed ropes along the top of the Marie-Blanque. That came after the huge crowds Saturday gave the Tour the wrong look in the COVID-era.
Let’s see if the peloton clears the controls Monday, and we can roll on with this Tour.
If not, the “rest day” is going to be a very busy news day instead.