Primoz Roglic leads – but how? | A recap of stages 1-9 of the 2020 Tour de France
The story of the first nine-day “week” of the Tour de France is that Primoz Roglic leads Egan Bernal by 21 seconds, pretty much exactly as I predicted. (Not the time gap part. That would need insane. Just the hierarchy.)
That doesn’t tell the full story though because we’ve also shed a lot more contenders than we normally would have in the first block of racing.
So how did we get here?
The Alaphilippe equation
Stage 1 was unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
Stage 2 saw the first rider culled from our cast list after Dani Martinez – who won the big warm-up race last month – crashed and got paced back, only to then get dropped again and lose three minutes.
More strikingly, Julian Alaphilippe took that stage and the yellow jersey with it, dragging Adam Yates a few seconds ahead of the overall contenders in the process – a detail that would become more significant as the week wore on.
Alaphilippe is a fun rider; a man who just wants to win on the day; a man who would go for each and every stage if he could. He can’t help himself. If you bumped into Alaphilippe while doing your weekly shop, he would race you to the till. At one point halfway through the week, the Frenchman raced for a minor placing at an intermediate sprint, even though it’s a competition in which he doesn’t feature and stands no chance of winning.
This is exactly why it’s such a shame that he decided against trying to win the Tour overall this year – but it’s also exactly why it would be so hard for him to triumph. Grand Tour racing is about conserving energy and Julian Alaphilippe does not conserve energy. Julian Alaphilippe pisses away energy any chance he gets.
For a few glorious days it seemed like maybe he’d have a tilt at the general classification, but then on Stage 8, as the field thinned down to only those with a legitimate chance of winning, he put in the ultimate showy attack, pinging 20 yards up the road before immediately being caught and dropped, and losing no fewer than 18 minutes.
The great sieving
The First Mountain Sort-Out is a key moment in every Grand Tour. It’s the moment when all the no-hopers are sieved out of the top ten and we finally have half an idea who’s going to genuinely contest the race.
The First Mountain Sort-Out usually comes at the end of the first week, but narratively speaking, there’s much to be gained from having it sooner. It brings clarity to the story.
This one, on Stage 4, served its purpose particularly well. It was a summit finish, which in itself is enough to do for all the impostors. At the same time, it was a pretty easy one, so it didn’t trim down the cast list unnecessarily brutally.
At the finish, the front group comprised 16 riders, which seemed a decent number of names to be juggling at this point in the race.
Primoz Roglic was the quickest over the last couple of hundred metres – which is what was supposed to happen – and the only significant players to lose time were Emmanuel Buchmann, who lost all of nine seconds, and Richard Carapaz, who lost a somewhat more striking 28.
Don’t drink and ride
Any parent of young children will tell you there are grave penalties for drinking too late.
On Stage 5, Julian Alaphilippe was given a 20 second penalty for accepting a bottle from a member of team staff too near to the finish.
This put Adam Yates – another rider who claimed not to be going for the overall but who now kind of looked like he was – into the yellow jersey.
For a few days Yates seemed tempted by the hope that maybe he was in Tour winning form after all, but then on Stage 9, when the racing really kicked off on the steep final climb, he discovered he was a fraction off the pace of the real contenders.
I think he has now reverted to Plan A (going for stage wins) for the rest of the race.
The stage that was unexpectedly inconsequential
Stage 6 was a summit finish, which is usually a guarantee of time gaps between the overall contenders, even when it isn’t the hardest climb.
But racing is carried out by racers and on this occasion the racers didn’t really race. The yellow jersey group was thinned out a fair bit, but then everyone seemed to conclude, ‘okay, that’s enough, let’s just ride to the finish like this’.
The stage that was unexpectedly consequential
In contrast, Stage 7 looked like a certain sprint finish and an easy day for the overall contenders – but this went out the window with a mere 150km to go when Peter Sagan’s team dropped pretty much all the other sprinters.
Unlike every other year, ebbing results seem to mean that Sagan may actually have competition for the green jersey this year. That’s good because it means his team do things like this.
There are two ways you get points in the green jersey competition: by being among the first across the ‘intermediate sprint’ line part-way through each stage and, more obviously, by being among the first across the line at the finish (with more points on offer on flat stages than mountainous ones).
Ditching all his rivals in the first few kilometres meant Sagan had a much easier time hoovering up points at both the intermediate and final sprints (even if a dropped chain prevented him contesting the win). It also made the rest of the stage bloody brilliant.
Tired riders + crosswinds = entertainment
As the wind sliced the race into small groups, everyone frantically battled to stay in touch. Tadej Pogacar, Mikel Landa and Richard Carapaz all lost 1m21s.
After winning the majority of the major one-day races since the season restarted, Wout van Aert won again. He’d also won stage five and a day later he was drilling it on the front and dropping major contenders on a climb.
The Belgian would have a good chance at winning the green jersey competition if he weren’t primarily working to help Primoz Roglic. As it is, Sagan’s now in his customary attire.
If you’re going to fail to win the Tour de France, fail to win the Tour de France in style. Thibaut Pinot was dropped early on Stage 8 and lost 25 minutes. He says he has a bad back.
Tom Dumoulin also lost touch and lost nine minutes.
Of the remainder, quite a few people put in attacks but come the finish line only Tadej Pogacar’s proved meaningful.
The Slovenian (well, ‘the other Slovenian’ really, given we also have one leading the race) went a couple of times on the final climb before a really big effort that saw him gain a minute in what felt like not much more than that. He still had 40 seconds of that advantage at the finish.
This first foray into the Pyrenees was also notable for fans getting in everyone’s faces, exactly as they always do. This year it all seems rather more threatening. The ones without masks always seem to be the biggest face-screamers and the ones without masks are obviously the ones most likely to be infected.
Rest day is coronavirus test day, incidentally…
Stage 9 was also Pyrenean and brought the most serious racing thus far. Emanuel Buchmann was dropped on the final climb and lost four minutes – but it wasn’t all back door action. (What do you mean ‘poor choice of words’?)
Primoz Roglic, Egan Bernal, Tadej Pogacar and Mikel Landa were first over the top and even if it was only seconds ahead of the rest, they were seconds that seemed to say a lot.
Adam Yates finished almost a minute back and so did Miguel Angel Lopez (thus graciously accepting my preview label of “also-ran”).
Despite all of this, the stage was arguably most notable for breakaway rider Marc Hirschi corkscrewing downhill to the line. The way he took the descent wasn’t quite unhinged, but there was no more than one hinge in play and it was only secured with a couple of flimsy screws.
He didn’t win though. Pogacar did, while Roglic moved into the overall lead.
Realistically, we’re already down to just seven riders who could win this race. Maybe Mikel Landa’s on the up, in which case it could be eight, but that’s the kind of thing you don’t need to pay attention to because if he starts making a comeback, you’ll notice it.
These are the seven, and these are the time gaps. (A Cofidis rider in third! Crazy times.)
The first two and Pogacar seem like the standouts to me – although Nairo Quintana has a history of finishing strongly.
Just the six stages this week.
Stage 10 is flat.
Stage 11 is flat.
Stage 12 to Sarran (Thursday) is long and gets hillier and hillier with an uphill finish. It could be a good one.
Stage 13 (Friday) is a summit finish up the Puy Mary, which kind of sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t. (Yet.)
Stage 14 (Saturday) is a bit bobbly, but I dunno. There’s a good chance everyone will save their strength for…
Stage 15 (Sunday) is a monster summit finish atop the Grand Colombier. Just the 17km of climbing at an average gradient of 7.1%.
I’ll be back with a Week Two recap on or around the second rest day, this time next week.
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