Bye bye Bernal | A recap of stages 10-15 of the 2020 Tour de France



It’s not often that the reigning Tour de France champion cracks like old plaster and waves his chances of winning the race again goodbye.

Egan Bernal had a very bad stage and everything else that happened this week is secondary. That was the final stage before the rest day though, so let’s build up to it as a climax.

Easing back in

The race recommenced with Stage 10, which was basically flat and therefore unlikely to result in much unless there were crosswinds. There actually were a few, but they didn’t do for anybody this time around.

Stage 11 was flat and there weren’t any crosswinds.

The finish was fairly close though…

Peter Sagan’s disappointing third became a disappointing 85th after he was relegated for shouldering Wout van Aert in the final straight.

Sagan argued it was self-preservation as there had been something protruding from the barriers in his path, but apparently this didn’t wash with the judges.

Caleb Ewan won the stage, but Sam Bennett is still in the green jersey.

Sagan doesn’t seem quite his normal self. It could be age, it could be the weird lead-up to this year’s race, or it could be a bit of both.

Technically Stage 12 isn’t of interest to us either because all the favourites finished together. However it’s worth mentioning the stage winner, Marc Hirschi – he of the ultimately futile, half-mad descending on Stage 9.

The young Swiss rider was one of several who tried to make a go of things with about 40km to go. He was easily the strongest, following whoever tried to push on until the point when he concluded there was no-one left worth following.

Then, like Kaiser Soze…

… poof, he was gone.

Somehow this was Hirschi’s first win as a pro. It’ll be interesting to see how he approaches the race next year. I’m thinking he might be aiming for more than just stage wins.

How slow can you go?

It’s a weird feature of cycling that it generally gets more dramatic the slower they go. At the end of Stage 13, the Puy Mary climb provided a Vuelta-steep final kilometre that was conquered at not much more than walking pace.

For once, the favourites group split.

There were three main groups: a Slovenian group, which was the fastest; a French group, which was the slowest; and everyone else of note somewhere in between.

Technically, the French riders – Romain Bardet and Guillaume Martin – were in separate groups, but both lost minutes and are now out of the running, so it’s okay to group them together.

It later transpired that Bardet had lost time because he was concussed from a crash midway through the stage. Footage showed the Frenchman trying to stand in the aftermath before immediately collapsing again. He then clambered back on his bike and was given a push start by a member of team staff.

Bardet’s boss, Vincent Lavenu, later lauded Bardet’s “admirable courage” and how he “fought like a lion,” which is one (incorrect) way of looking at how the day went. A different (correct) way is to think that riding your bike on mountain roads after a brain haemorrhage isn’t something to be celebrated and maybe the sport should make a bit more effort to prevent it from happening.

At the front of the race, the Slovenian group of Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar dropped Egan Bernal like a hot turd and while the Colombian only lost 30 seconds or so, the striking thing was how utterly cream-crackered he looked at the finish.

I know that competing to win the Tour de France is pretty much all about being cream-crackered and that everyone feels kind of like this at the finish – but there are still different degrees of cream-crackery and this appeared fairly extreme.

Commenting on the setback, Bernal said that his “numbers” had been good, meaning he thought he was performing near his best.

But sometimes the exact same output takes a lot more input. This seemed like an effort that had drained his energy reserves. Two days later, he would proclaim himself “empty”.

Roglic, in contrast, looked completely and utterly blank going up the final climb. Same as he always does. I’m absolutely with him on that: emotions aren’t for displaying.

Sagan v Bennett

Stage 14 was a fascinating day in the green jersey competition which must have left the leader, Sam Bennett, feeling victimised.

Just as on Stage 7 last week, Peter Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team-mates made life utterly miserable for the whole peloton purely because they wanted to ditch his main rival before the finish.

They succeeded.

The tactic was only a qualified success though. While the Slovakian took points at the intermediate sprint, he could only manage fourth at the finish. Still, if you’re going for the green jersey, fourth ahead of Sam Bennett is a much better result than fourth behind Sam Bennett.

To put all of this in context, Sagan’s efforts saw him gain 23 points on Bennett. With a week to go, he is trailing the Irishman by 45 points.

Marc Hirschi’s team-mate Soren Kragh Andersen won the stage. Sunweb used to be built around Tom Dumoulin until he left last season. Now they’re a whole bunch of strong riders with no one to support. They’ve therefore hit upon this tactic where they all take it in turns to attack until eventually they reach a point where there’s no one left in the peloton willing to chase them down. You need a lot of good riders who aren’t challenging for the overall to make this viable – which is exactly what they’ve got.

There’s no real hierarchy and they’re all willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They’re a bit like the Borg.

The long protracted moment

Coming up to the final stage of the week, quite a few people were saying that Egan Bernal is maybe one of those guys who fares better on longer climbs.

Viewed in that light, the 17km Grand Colombier seemed like a great opportunity.

Turns out it just meant a good half hour or so of riding uphill dwelling on his inadequacies.

Imagine being a 23-year-old Tour de France winner for a moment.

Road racing is not a sport that rewards a balanced lifestyle. Grand Tour contenders are obsessives. The sport is all-consuming. These guys know little but ‘ride, rest, repeat’. At 23, Bernal has had time for almost nothing else in his short life.

First he was a cyclist, then he was a fantastic cyclist, then last year he was effectively crowned the best road racer in the world.

That’s Bernal’s identity. That’s who he is. Now imagine enduring that half hour when all of his rivals were riding away from him.

You’ve no energy, your body’s by definition reached its limit and who you are is rounding the hairpin ahead of you and disappearing from view.

Tough times.

Bernal was dropped by what was still a fairly sizeable front group with 13km to go. It wasn’t even a rival setting the pace. It was Wout van Aert. By the time he finished, ITV4 had gone to an ad break. The ad break might even have finished. He lost seven minutes.

This was a development so dramatic, I don’t really know what else I can say about the stage.

I’ll just give you the facts: Nairo Quintana was dropped at pretty much the exact same moment as Bernal; Richie Porte did quite well; the two Slovenians were again the fastest (with Pog narrowly edging out Rog for the stage win).

Standings

Ever the innovator, I gave you a top seven last week. For no real reason at all, let’s stick with that number. Everyone else is over three minutes back anyway.

Has anyone seen Rigoberto Uran? The fact he appears to be third by default seems to sum up the race so far.

It seems like Rog v Pog from here, but you never know. Think of it this way: a one-week stage race is very tough and there’s still that amount of racing to come.

Week three

Stage 16 (Tuesday) is up and down with an uphill finish.

Stage 17 (Wednesday) is an absolute monster. A 17km ‘beyond categorisation’ climb up the Col de la Madeleine as a softener before a 21km climb to the finish in Méribel. The final 7km are on a mad cycle path that hits 20% at one point. Inrng reports that the gradient’s totally inconsistent for this stretch. Things could get messy.

Stage 18 (Thursday) is bastardly hard in an entirely different way. Where the stage to Méribel is two brutal ascents, this one’s up and down and up and down. Note in particular the Plateau de Glieres climb that starts with 30-odd kilometres to go. It’s ‘beyond categorisation’ despite being only 6km long. That’s because it’s unrelentingly steep.

Stage 19 (Friday) is bobbly for a sprint day, but there are no major climbs.

Stage 20 (Saturday) is the time trial, which has the La Planche des Belles Filles climb at the finish.

Stage 21 is the usual pissing about round Paris before a sprint finish.

I’ll be back with a final week recap this time next week.

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