Stage 19: Edvald Boasson Hagen makes a gap

2017 Tour de France, stage 19

A lesson in the value of riding behind someone else today and the challenge of preventing others from doing so. Drafting means that it is tough to make a gap and gaps need to be created if you’re to leave your rivals behind.

Depending on the speed a group is travelling, the rider at the front might be putting out 20-30% more power than those behind due to the added wind resistance. That’s tiring enough in itself, but now imagine what you’d need to do to detach yourself from them and ride away? You don’t just need to ride harder. You need to ride harder by a significant degree.

Most of the time when we talk about riders ‘attacking’ what we mean is a short burst of speed to create that gap before easing into a steady effort in the knowledge that those behind will need to make an appropriate effort to catch up now that they too are equally hampered by wind resistance.

When you’re already moving at high speed this is incredibly difficult to do, but Edvald Boasson Hagen found a bit of a short cut. Or, more accurately, most of the other riders in the break took a long cut.

Arriving at a roundabout with what we might call a one o’clock exit, Boasson Hagen and Nikias Arndt went the French way round and the others went British.

On this occasion, it paid to ride on the right.

Edvald Boasson Hagen (via YouTube)

According to the Tour’s on-screen graphics, the two of them navigated the roundabout at 54km/h and upon realising that they’d fluked a gap, Boasson Hagen then stepped on it.

Not many riders are capable of accelerating from 54km/h at the end of a 222.5km stage. Boasson Hagen is one of them. Arndt, apparently, is not.

That crucial gap to Arndt swiftly grew into an unbridgeable one and this time there was zero chance the Norwegian would be edged out by a tiny margin on the line, as he had been on stage seven and stage 16.

The moral of the story for Boasson Hagen is to get his sprint in long before the finish and then just ride home alone.

A life in the break

A word for Thomas de Gendt, who has now ridden over a thousand kilometres in the break during this year’s Tour de France.

As you’ll be aware from reading the previous section, that’s a thousand kilometres where the Belgian’s opted to have fewer people to ride behind. Impressive/insane in itself, but even when he’s been in the peloton, more often than not de Gendt’s been the one trying to reel the break in.

The Belgian’s riding style is one that might generously be described as ‘uncomplicated’. He has one tactic and one tactic alone – he tries to ride so bloody hard that no-one else can stand it. In other words, he tries to make life even more difficult for himself by assassinating even his temporary allies.

That this ever works (and to a surprising extent, it does) is testament to what a phenomenal athlete he is. If the whole Tour de France were an individual time trial with everyone riding alone, I reckon it’d be between Thomas de Gendt and Team Sky’s Vasil Kiryienka, a man so relentless a rival team has named its motorbike after him.

Stage 20

2017 Tour de France, stage 20

A 22.5km time trial that features a lump that’s nowhere near as dramatic as you may think from this profile. It’s fairly important though. It’ll decide the race.