The big buzz right now is who will have the legs to last all the way to Paris.
Every team is taking a different approach to try to balance this odd edition of the Tour. During a normal Tour, everyone in the peloton would be at their physical peak just to make the selection. That’s just not the case this year due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
This year’s peloton is filled with uncertainty. Some are not sure they will endure the brutal last week. Others are hoping to taper into the final week.
Against that backdrop, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Pyrénées shake out.
With downhill finishes on both day, many of the sport directors I’ve talked to don’t expect too many fireworks. Teams will make it hard, but without a finish line at the top of the mountain, everyone knows that it’s not worth burning matches only to get caught on the chase down into the valley.
Having said that, I fully expect to see Primož Roglič come out swinging for yellow. He’s a faster finisher than Adam Yates and a better descender. You can imagine the scenario of Roglič attacking over the top of the Peyresourde on Saturday, and perhaps picking up some bonuses at the line.
But who knows? I’ve been trying to hit up the DS’s each morning to get the scoop on how each stage. Most admit they have no idea what is going to happen in this very atypical Tour. One told me the only advice they’re telling their riders is to “stay at the front.”
Sage advice in a very odd Tour.
Ineos Grenadiers vs. Jumbo-Visma gets interesting
It’s obvious that Ineos Grenadiers are going to have to finesse this Tour de France if the team wants to win again.
Jumbo-Visma has been awe-inspiring, with three wins out of seven stages. I fully expect them to go back into crush-mode in the Pyrénées.
The only thing holding the Dutch team back could be Tom Dumoulin. The team will want to keep him in the GC frame, and Dumoulin’s been saying he’s not quite at his best just yet. The Dutchman hasn’t finished a grand tour since finishing second in the 2018 Tour, so it’s understandable that he might not be flying right now.
So, if Jumbo-Visma doesn’t push the gas pedal this weekend, it could be to keep Dumoulin close on GC going into the Alps and the final time trial in the Vosges. Two aces up your sleeve is always better than one.
Against such firepower, it’s been interesting watching how Ineos Grenadiers has reacted. The team has lost a bit of its swagger, and they seemed to be on the back foot coming out of Nice. They’ve done a good job re-establishing themselves over the past few days, and ride into the Pyrénées feeling more confident.
Their mission is simple: Protect Bernal, avoid a major gaff, and chaperone him into the final week. The two big days in Alps — stage 15 and stage 17 — are tailor-made for Bernal’s style of racing.
Not even Roglic or Dumoulin can match Bernal on a third-week, long-distance climb at altitude, or at least that’s what Dave Brailsford is betting the entire house on.
Driving for miles and miles
No one likes to listen to journalists whine about being on the Tour de France. But that’s what journalists do best, so please indulge me.
Covering the Tour involves an insane amount of driving. On a good day, you’re lucky if it’s less than four hours. An average day is six, sometimes even more.
Friday’s stage 7 was a typical day of road tripping purgatory. After driving an hour-and-a-half post-stage Thursday, we were about 30 minutes outside Millau. Today we drove the route, looking to talk to some fans and take some photos along the way. We left five minutes before the stage started, and arrived at the finish line with 9km to go in the stage. We have another hour this evening, always with the threat of hearing the dreaded words of “très désolé,” and the restaurant is closed.
So far, we’ve had dinner every night. That’s the only race that counts.
Only the strong survive the Pyrénées
There’s some talk that the Pyrénées won’t count for much in this Tour, but I expect surprises both days.
At only 141km, Saturday’s three-climb stage is Vuelta-short. The HC Port de Balès is going to be a cruel master for anyone who’s been racing on fumes so far. And though the Peyresourde isn’t that hard from easterly approach, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Roglič unleash an attack near the top to gap everyone, and then fly down the valley to take yellow.
A break could make it to the line, which would suit Mitchelton-Scott just fine. If Adam Yates can follow the wheels, he could carry the yellow jersey all the way into the Alps. Nothing accidental about that.
Another scenario that could play out: Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers allow Yates to keep the jersey altogether. After all, having Mitchelton-Scott ride the front for the next week or so just saves valuable energy for the brewing battle that’s on the horizon in the Alps.
My pick? I have a feeling Jumbo-Visma want to carry the yellow jersey out of the Pyrénées, so watch for a Roglič raid over the top of the Peyresourde.
Remember, both of his previous Tour stage wins before Orcières-Merlette came after attacking on descents in the Pyrénées.