The end of Tour de France 2020 week one gives us a chance to reflect on what the first nine stages have revealed. Here is what we’ve learned so far.
Firstly, we should be thankful there’s a race at all. The riders who departed Nice on 29 August would surely have been pushed along by a collective sigh of relief from organisers and officials who worked so hard to ensure the 107th edition of the Tour de France – 2020 – took place.
Their efforts have been rewarded, with a challenging route and an intriguing General Classification (GC) race, while Peter Sagan is fighting off his greatest green jersey threat in years.
Here are a few things we’ve learned from week one of the Tour de France 2020.
Roglic and Jumbo Visma look dominant
As the riders take their rest day in La Charente-Maritime, Jumbo Visma must be the happiest of all GC teams.
Primož Roglič took the yellow jersey during descent of the Col de Marie Blanque yesterday as a group that also contained Egan Bernal, Tadej Pogačar and Mikel Landa rode away from Adam Yates.
Roglič finished 11 seconds ahead of the second group, which contained other race favourites such as Rigoberto Uran, Guillaume Martin, and Romain Bardet.
With a bonus time from finishing second on the stage, Roglic now has a 21-second lead over Bernal and 28 seconds over Martin.
In fact, all of Roglič’s lead has come from bonus seconds, having also taken a race win at Orcieres Merlette on stage four.
Roglič, who won the 2019 La Vuelta, looks in imperious form, untroubled by his GC competitors on any of the climbs or during sprints for the line.
Moreover, he has the support of what appears to be the strongest team in the peloton. Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss have been phenomenal so far, maintaining blistering pace whenever at the front of the peloton.
Van Aert has also shown his class by taking two stage wins – stage five at Privas and at Lavaur two days later.
With such a strong team around him, the other GC contenders have an unenviable task in trying to wrestle the maillot jaune from his shoulders.
We were wrong about Pinot, again
Cycling fans could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu on Saturday as Thibaut Pinot once again fell out of contention for the Tour de France title.
His hopes for 2020 ended on stage eight as he blew up on the Port de Balès. His fellow Groupama FDJ teammates had to rally around him to bring their team leader to the finish line having been dropped by the GC group.
Pinot arrived in Loudenvielle more than 18 minutes behind Roglič and Bernal, claiming back pain had plagued him since the Grand Depart.
Of the 12 grand tours the Frenchman entered before this one, he has recorded DNF (did not finish) six times.
His best GC result was in 2014, when he finished third behind Vincenzo Nibali and Jean-Christophe Péraud.
Pinot has been tipped almost every year since he entered the Tour as the most likely Frenchman to win the event since Bernard Hinault in 1985. However, he has continually come up short and described Saturday as a possible “major turning point in my career”. Perhaps Pinot has realised he’s unlikely to wear yellow down the Champs-Élysées.
Ineos finding form
Before the Tour began, much was made of the omission of former champions Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome as Team Ineos looked to defend Egan Bernal’s 2019 victory.
Following poor performances in the Dauphine and a back injury for Bernal during the same race, questions were rightly asked about the strength of Ineos’ team this year.
Team Ineos director Sir Dave Brailsford may have found the first few days worrying. Jumbo Visma dominated all the early exchanges, taking over Ineos’ traditional role at the front of the peloton. Moreover, with Roglič having far more support than Bernal at the close of the first few stages, it looked as if Brailsford’s men were wilting under the pressure.
However, once the race reached the Pyrenees Bernal’s domestiques looked to have ridden themselves into good form, Kwiatkowski and Castroviejo especially.
Further, Bernal showed he has the legs to win again, making repeated attacks on the ascent of the Col de Marie Blanque at the end of stage nine. Albeit none of them stuck, he was able to chase away with Roglič to the finish line, demonstrating he is still a huge threat to the Slovenian.
However, with the final stage before Paris a time trial on La Planche des Belle Filles and Roglič being a much stronger rider in such stages, Bernal will surely need to take yellow on the four mountain stages that precede it if he wants to step back on the podium’s top spot on 20 September.
Sagan versus Bennett
Ever since his inaugural Tour de France in 2012, Peter Sagan has won the green jersey – aside from 2017 when he was disqualified from the race.
Sagan, who is reportedly the highest-paid rider in the peloton, has dominated the points classification. His narrowest margin of victory came in 2015 when he beat Andre Greipel, still with a comfortable margin of 66 points.
However, this year has seen Sam Bennett leave Bora-Hansgrohe (Sagan’s team) for Deceuninck Quick-Step, meaning he has been allowed to contest at the Tour for the first time since 2016.
Bennett, the Irish National Road Race champion, took the green jersey from Sagan on stage four.
The Slovak then had to respond as he manoeuvred his team on stage seven to capitalise on the wind en route to Lavaur to drop Bennett and prevent him picking up any sprint points. Sagan took the jersey back and would have extended his lead further had his chain not come off in the final sprint.
Sagan currently sits on 138 points, seven ahead of Bennett, and with five flat stages left to contest it’s anybody’s guess who will take the green jersey this year.
Social distancing out the window?
Despite all the pain in the saddle, it remains to be seen whether the race will reach Paris.
We have seen multiple posts on social media and interviews with riders asking for spectators to be more responsible.
Team Ineos took voluntary covid tests ahead of stage nine, while the rest of the peloton are due for tests on today’s rest day.
However, as the tour has entered the Pyrenees we have started to see worrying signs.
As Nans Peters powered up the Peyresourde he was met by a throng of spectators, few of them practising any form of social distancing. Moreover, a large proportion of them neglected to wear face masks.
The Tour, which has a proud history of fans being up close with the riders, clearly has a problem. Spectators ran alongside riders, screaming at them and even coming into contact with them at times, all with their faces uncovered.
As such, with individual lock-downs happening in cities across Europe, it may be such a massive event is deemed too risky to continue. This will be even more of an issue if any riders test positive today.
It must be said, though, sympathy for Peters is hard to muster given his refusal to wear a mask in post-ride interviews.
Pogacar is a star
Having shone on the climbs at the 2019 La Vuelta, much was expected this year of Tadej Pogacar – and he hasn’t disappointed.
In the early stages he was fighting among the big guns at the end of each stage, looking as strong as any other GC contender.
However, having been caught in the crosswinds on stage seven he found himself almost two minutes down on then-leader Adam Yates.
The class of the Slovak rider was evident on stage eight, however, as he rode away from the group of contenders on the Peyresourde. He managed to open up a 40-second gap in 4.5km, cutting his deficit on GC to 48 seconds.
He then cemented himself back in the competition by out-sprinting Bernal, Landa, Hirschi and compatriot Roglič to claim stage nine, picking up the time bonus as well.
He now sits in seventh, 44 seconds behind Roglič, and possibly looks to have the strongest climbing legs in the peloton going into the second week.
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