BAGNÈRE DE BIGORRE (VN) – The three Tour de France rookies who spoke to VeloNews at the outset of the race have survived the Tour’s rough-and-tumble first half. And, despite a few crashes and setbacks, Michael Woods (EF Education First), Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott), and Joey Rosskopf (CCC Team) all have clear goals in mind for the push into the Pyrenees and Alps.
We caught up with these men during Thursday’s 12th stage of the Tour, which saw the race enter the Pyrenees. With a mountainous final week and a half facing the peloton, the Tour rookies all spoke about conserving energy for the final push to Paris.
“An emotional rollercoaster”
Michale Woods has had more than his share of setbacks in his Tour de France debut. The Canadian has already crashed twice; the second crash took down defending Geraint Thomas. Woods has lost his EF Education First roommate, American Tejay van Garderen. His team leader, Colombian Rigoberto Uran, the 2017 runner-up, lost 1:40 in a team move that went wrong. Despite all of this, Woods has not lost hope.
“It’s been a classic Tour de France—tons of drama,” Woods told VeloNews. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster.”
Woods said he was riding high for the opening seven stages, which saw him ride inside the top 20 on the general classification, despite a crash on the fourth stage. Then, disaster struck on stage eight, when Woods crashed just 15km from the finish in Saint-Étienne. The crash took down Thomas and all but erased Woods’s run at the GC.
“I was feeling like I had a whole country behind me,” Woods said. “Going into the final climb with an opportunity to move up in the GC, crashing and taking out the guy who won the Tour last year. That was a real low. But I’m starting to bounce back. Even in the lows I was really enjoying the fact I was here at this race.”
Woods is still miffed by what caused the crash—perhaps a greasy patch or moisture on the road caused his rear wheel to slip out. Still, the Canadian took the blame for the pileup, and on stage 9 he apologized to Thomas for the gaffe.
“It still caused Geraint to go down as well as a couple of his other teammates. So, I made sure to apologize to those guys.” Woods said. “He understands what bike racing is. Sometimes you know, there’s things are under your control. Sometimes crap happens. Sometimes guys make mistakes. He was really classy about it.”
Looking forward, Woods is excited about the challenge he and EF-Education First now face, rather than crestfallen for the situation that they found themselves in after their failed bid on stage 10 to split the peloton by putting numbers up front, but ended up seeing them cast adrift once Team Ineos and Deceuninck-Quick Step turned it on. “We had the right idea,” Woods said of the move. “We just got a bit too excited. Went to too early. We clearly had the right intuition, just not the right timing.”
Woods said he, Uran and EF-Education are hellbent on making a race of it in the Pyrenees and Alps.
“This race is still wide open. The race isn’t going to be decided by seconds. It is going to be decided by minutes,” Woods said. “’Rigo’ [Uran] is still in GC contention. We still have a lot of opportunities. We came in to this race thinking of the last two weeks, not the first 10 days. We just wanted to try and stay safe. We didn’t truly accomplish for our first goal of the first 10 days. But we’re not done yet.”
“It was panic stations”
The Tour has already opened with a successful run for Mitchelton-Scott. The Australian team has won two stages with Daryl Impey and Simon Yates. And the battle for the GC with Adam Yates has progressed, thus far, without a major hiccup.
Australian debutante Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) had a box seat to witness the drama that unfolded on stage 10, as Yates made it into the lead group with teammates support him. Haig rode in the rear group and watched as other GC riders panicked as the front group separated in the crosswinds, and accelerated up the road.
“I just told, [Mitchelton-Scott head sports director Matt White] who was there and what was happening. And he said, ‘All right, just sit on, see what happens. Don’t use too much energy to follow anyone trying to come across. Just stay calm,'” Haig said. ” [It was] panic stations. It was a little strange. But it is nice to be an observer sometimes, just see what’s going on when there’s no pressure and you’re just watching and trying to save energy; and you see people on the radio screaming, trying to not panic.”
A talented climber, Haig has spent the opening half of the Tour de France largely resting in the peloton. It’s his talents on the climbs that will be called upon to help Yates in the Pyrenees and Alps.
“I haven’t really had to do much for the team to be honest in this first part. Also, I am just a little more experienced another year older,” Haig said. “It’s now my fifth grand tour. Every single one gets a little bit easier. You learn how to manage yourself a little bit better, manage what you eat while you ride, what to do on the rest day and things like this.”
“You can be fighting for an hour and then lose position.”
American Joey Rosskopf and his CCC Team teammates are chasing stage wins at the Tour. Team CCC have been hindered by the loss of two riders: Patrick Bevin and Italian Alessandro Di Marchi. “We lost a couple of really strong riders, a couple of the best,” Roskopf said. “That means less guys to cover moves and have a chance. But it would be harder if we had to control the race or something. That would be tough for six guys, but we’re not in that.”
Making it into the Tour’s breakaways has not been easy. The fight to get up the road is often hampered by stiff pace in the peloton. Then, on other days, the break has gone from the gun.
“I expect we’re going to start getting longer and longer fights as the race goes on,” Rosskopf said. “We all have to be there in the beginning to cover each other’s backs; especially at this point in the race. No one can keep going with each attack.”
And then there has been the daily challenge of trying to ride efficiently in the Tour de France peloton. The speed is high, and nerves frayed. It’s hard for a debutante to save energy amid such an intense setting.
“You can be fighting for an hour and then lose the position, like on one corner just before the key moment,” Rosskopf said. “You’re already tired, you are wasted, and you have just wasted an hour for nothing. Everyone, every rider and every team feel they have the most important job in the race.”