Half of this dramatic, surprising and crash-filled Tour de France is behind us and we are a little wiser about who may be standing on the podium in Paris on September 20. Here are some of the main takeaways following Wednesday’s 11th stage.
1. The favourites for the General Classification remain Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglič and Egan Bernal of Team Ineos with outside chances – based on their form to this point in the race – for UAE-Emirates’s Tadej Pogačar, Guillaume Martin of Cofidis and Nairo Quintana of Team Arkea-Samsic.
Roglič currently wears the yellow jersey, 21 seconds ahead of Bernal, with Martin in third place, 28 seconds adrift. However, Pogačar has been very impressive, winning Sunday’s gruelling stage 9 in grand style and displaying speed, aggressiveness and power on the climbs. But does he have the team to support him in next week’s decisive Alpine climbs?
The same might be asked of Roglič. Jumbo-Visma has been very visible so far, controlling many of the stages. But Tom Dumoulin who had been touted as its other GC candidate was dropped on the Category 1 ascent to the Col de Marie Blanque in stage 9, as were Jumbo-Visma’s other support climbers, Sepp Kuss and George Bennet.
Meanwhile, Team Ineos must have been grateful that Jumbo-Visma did so much of the early work controlling the peloton so its riders could be passengers on the train and save their energy for the last week, and Bernal looks to be in fine form again. Is Jumbo-Visma saving its support climbers for the Alps or are they just not strong enough? We’ll find out next week.
In any case, the winner of this edition of the Tour will be the rider who has conquered the Alps and managed to survive injury from crashes and infection from the novel coronavirus.
2. Peter Sagan is no longer the best rider in the world. That honour must now be bestowed on Jumbo-Visma’s Flying Dutchman Wout van Aert. The 25-year-old former Cyclo-Cross world champion has won two stages via the sprint and has also been remarkable on the climbs, leading his team up the first part of the ascents. There’s little doubt that if he were not vital to Jumbo-Visma’s plans to win the yellow jersey, he would be a favourite to keep Sagan from winning his record eighth green jersey.
It is hard to say if the 30-year-old Slovak Bora-Hansgrohe rider is in form or if he has simply chosen not to go all out on the early sprints and collect points in the later stages. His stage 12 sprint, where he finished second behind Cadel Ewen of Lotto-Soudal suggested that he has a long-range strategy. But that strategy has been thrown into disarray by Sagan’s relegation to last place in the stage for leaning into van Aert in the sprint to the finish. The points he lost as a result may very well put an end to his dream of an eighth green jersey, which is currently worn by Sam Bennett of Deceuninck-Quickstep.
3. Thibaut Pinot will not win the Tour de France – again. A back injury from a fall in the second stage caused the perennial Great French Hope to lose loads of time in stage 8. If he recovered over Monday’s rest day, perhaps he will try to regain some pride in the Alps with a stage win or two.
To add to France’s disappointment, Julian Alaphilippe committed an amateurish blunder – taking water from a team helper too close to the end of stage 4 – and lost the yellow jersey, which he’d held since stage 2.
But the host nation still has a few irons in the fire. Guillaume Martin sits third in the standings, 28 seconds behind Roglič, with AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet in fourth, 2 seconds further back. Of the two, Martin looks the stronger but will one or the other be able to challenge the race leader or Bernal? My money is on no.
There was mostly good news on the COVID front. Testing on Monday’s rest day revealed that not a single rider had been infected with the virus. But, ironically, race director Christian Prudhomme tested positive and was forced to isolate for a week.