Something else that has made this a singular Tour is its date on the calendar. As it turns out, holding the Tour in September instead of July has led to plenty of changes, both minor and major.
The Tour has always been anchored in July. Sometimes it might start in late June or spill over into early August, depending on how the days unfold.
There has never been a Tour in September, and we’re already noticing a few things out on the road that are different about this Tour of late summer.
First off, the trademark sunflower fields are all burned out. One of the most emblematic photographs of any Tour is the peloton rolling past brilliantly yellow splash of sunflowers. This late, the flowers are all wilted, brown and sullen after standing in the sunshine for months.
Another big difference is the lack of big crowds, which is due to a variety of factors. International travel restrictions are keeping away fans from the United States, Australia, and Colombia. But hometown fans are also missing. That’s because this readjusted Tour falls out of the traditional vacation window for French vacationers.
The hoteliers we’ve been speaking to said hotels were at 100 percent capacity just two weeks ago, in part because French families took their annual summertime vacations inside French borders due to the uncertainty in other European nations. But that was weeks ago, and now, in September, the French people have returned to work and school. Students went back to classes this week.
The stages over the weekend attracted big crowds, but during the weekdays, everyone is back to work and school. Thus, this year’s race feels more like Paris-Nice than the Tour de France.
And here’s another interesting twist caused by the new date: The shadows on the road are different in September than they are in July. Riders have been commenting that, because the sun is lower in the sky than it is compared to July, there are longer and deeper shadows across the road in the last hour of racing. Riders have told us that it’s harder to see bumps on the road, perhaps a contributing factor to some of the stress we see on the riders’ faces.
And finally, there’s the weather. There have been a few hot days thus far, but mornings are crisper, and trees are changing color at higher altitudes.
Who knows what lies in store at 2,300m in the Alps next week? Could we see rain or even snow? Only time will tell.
French fans think Sam Bennett is Peter Sagan
Who isn’t confused about seeing a rider other than Peter Sagan in the Tour’s green jersey? Apparently fans alongside the road are, as they have been misidentifying green jersey wearer Sam Bennett for the Slovakian superstar.
Even Bennett said fans are confusing him for Sagan. The first day he rode in the jersey, Bennett said people were yelling, “Allez, Sagan!”
So, what do we make of Sagan’s relegation on Wednesday for his sprint? When I watched the sprint finale, I was thinking: ‘Sagan didn’t do anything that bad!’ In fact, I predicted Sagan would have his revenge in hilly stages like the one we saw today.
And that’s when even yours truly suffered some green-jersey confusion. As I watched the peloton rumble through the hilly second half of Thursday’s stage, the cameras caught sight of the green jersey slipping off the back. I paused and thought: ‘Hmmm, I thought Peter Sagan would go better today.’ Looks like I also thought Sam Bennett was Sagan. Old habits die hard.
Old habits die hard.
Anyone watching the Tour for much of the past decade simply has it hard-wired into their brains that Sagan always rides in the green jersey. The color green has been synonymous with Sagan since he won his first of seven jerseys in 2012. So remember, everyone, Sam Bennett is in green, not Peter Sagan!
Climbing Europe’s widest volcano
After Thursday’s long stage — the only stage more than 200km in 2020 — the Tour peloton pedals into the Massif Central for a challenging stage Friday.
The 191.5km stage is a back-breaker, up and down all day on narrow, twisting roads, with six rated climbs before tackling the Cat. 1 to Puy-Mary. The stage features 4,400m of vertical, so it’s going to be a brutal stage if it’s raced fast. The last 30km are unrelenting, and will surely spark a major GC skirmish.
Another curiosity: Puy Mary is the remnant of the Mounts of Cantal, the widest volcano in Europe, with a diameter of 70km. Long dormant, it still packs a punch. On a climb so explosive, the GC battle is bound to erupt — and that’s my science joke for the day.