Stage 10: Enter the High Mountains

Stage 10 brought the start of the mountain stages. Today’s route included 4 categorized climbs plus a beyond-categorized climb (labeled HC for hors catégorie in french) meaning, it’s too difficult to even be on the category list.

A group of 21 riders went out in front of the main group, among them the yellow and green jerseys. Twenty-nine kilometers into the race, these front riders hit the intermediate sprint and Peter Sagan secured top points to increase his lead in the green jersey competition to 319 points over Fernando Gaviria with 219 points.

No one expected Greg Van Avermaet to keep the yellow jersey beyond today’s stage, but going out in that break, he looked like he was going to do what he could to do the yellow proud.

Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe, on the other hand, looked like he had plans today. He chased every breakaway and finally got into one with about 30 km to go on the category 1 Col de Romme where he caught and then dropped Direct Energie’s Rein Terramae.

Team Sky powered the pace at the front of the peloton for Geraint Thomas who was second in the GC competition and expected to take the yellow jersey today.

But BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet surprised everyone by holding his own out in front and extending his lead over the GC riders.

In the final climb of the Col de la Colombiere, Alaphilippe increased his lead to over 1:30 ahead of his first chaser, Ion Izagirre from team Bahrain-Merida, and he made his way through the crowds eyeing the top, knowing that that once there, it was just a 15 km downhill ride to the finish.

Van Avermaet crested the Col de la Colombiere just 2:15 behind Alaphilippe and more than 1:30 ahead of the main group. A surprise to everyone, even himself it seemed, he was securing another next day in yellow.

Teejay van Garderen was suffering from his difficult day in Roubaix and dropped off the main group on that final climb with 16 km to go.

EF-Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran, with a bandaged left elbow and knee, also got dropped from the main group and was also losing time on the stage.

Down the last kilometers to the finish, Alaphilippe smiled at the camera, shook his head in disbelief, and got ready to deliver the first stage win of this Tour for a Frenchman and also the 50th victory for Team Quick-Step. What a day for all of them!

Ion Izagirre and Rein Terramae followed about 1:30 behind in second and third. And continuing to gain time all the way to the finish, Greg Van Avermaet crossed the line in 4th more than 1:30 ahead of the peloton and the main GC contenders. He would in fact wear yellow another day.

Rafal Majka, Illnur Zacharin, and Baulke Mollema all lost time on the day, as did Rigoberto Uran,

I expect the big attacks from GC riders will start on stage 11 with two beyond-category climbs over just 108.5 kilometers (about 65 miles), one of the shortest stages in the Tour’s history.

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Stage 9 Cobbles: Tragedy & Triumph

Today Le Tour took on the pavé! And boy was it the wild ride everyone expected!

Before we go there, though, I want to revisit yesterday’s finish because the race commissaires did review the “head-butting” between Andre Greipel and Fernando Gaviria on stage 8 and they decided to penalize both of them for their physical contact down the finish line. They were both relegated to the end of the finishing group losing their 2nd and 3rd places and their green jersey points.

As a result, Peter Sagan extended his lead over Gaviria for the green jersey.

Moving on…

Stage 9 contained 15 cobble sectors and before they even began, a big crash on smooth road saw BMC GC rider Ritchie Porte on the ground in the middle of the road holding his shoulder.  It wasn’t long before race radio reported that Porte was abandoning the race for the second year in a row. Last year, Porte crashed out on stage 9 (same stage as this year!) with a broken collarbone and pelvis, and he spent the whole of last year recovering and regaining shape for this year’s tour. Horrible news!

Also abandoning early was Jose Rojas of team Movistar. And Team Katusha rider Tony Martin did not start today’s stage due to a fractured vertebrae from a crash on Saturday’s stage 8.

A lead group of breakaway riders hit the first cobbles sector with 109 km to go and about a 3 minute lead over the peloton.

The peloton arrived at the cobbles with Bora-Hansgrohe at the front taking care of their man Peter Sagan. He won the Paris-Roubaix cobbles classic race this year, so he was definitely a threat for the win today, but Greg Van Avermaet in the yellow jersey and Trek-Segafredo’s John Degenkolb are also past winners of that race.

GC rider Romain Bardet and sprinter Andre Greipel were both hit with flat tires in the first sector and received quick attention.

At the intermediate sprint, Sagan took the remaining 5 points with no contest from the other sprinters.

Lotto Jumbo sprinter Dylan Groenewegen went down hard on the third section of cobbles with about 84 km to go.

At the 4th section of cobbles, a crash smack in the middle of the main group split the peloton in two. The front group including Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Greg Van Avermaet, and Peter Sagan took advantage and set out to create a gap between themselves and the teams who were caught out in the back of the peloton. Contenders in that back group included Vincenzo Nibali, Adam Yates, Dan Martin, and Rigoberto Uran, and they found themselves over a minute behind.

Fortunately, they were able to rejoin the first group and the peloton was back together for the 6th sector of cobblestones with Team Sky controlling at the front.

And then Teejay van Garderen went down in the dust entering that sector 6. A tough day for BMC to be sure. Greg Van Avermaet in the yellow jersey took over at the front looking strong and on a mission.

After his crash, Van Garderen ended up with a tire puncture as well, and Romain Bardet pulled to the side of the road with flat #2 and found himself chasing the peloton AGAIN.

And Bam! In the next cobbles sector, two Sky riders went down, including Chris Froome. They got back on their bikes fairly quickly but Froome’s rivals took advantage and accelerated.

Fernando Gaviria attacked at the front of the peloton and the group let him go, with Movistar organizing at the front to try to gain time on Chris Froome. Neither of these gaps lasted long and the peloton was back together with 37 km to go and Romain Bardet chasing them about 40 seconds behind.

Michael Kwiatkowski of Team Sky went down in the dust. Mikel Landa went down while taking a drink of water. And another rider went down on a right turn sliding off the road. —> I was thinking maybe conditions would be easier with no rain in the forecast. Often, these cobble stages are wet, muddy and slippery, but it seems the dry weather creates equally challenging conditions with the loose dust on the cobbles and then tracking onto the roads.

Meanwhile, Van Avermaet and Tom Dumoulin at the front of the peloton were chasing down the breakaway riders 42 seconds ahead of them.

With 25.5 km to go, Tom Dumoulin looked over his shoulder, Sagan was there, I thought there might be an attack, but not yet.

Three riders, including Van Avermaet, Degenkolb, and Yves Lampaert from Quick-Step, accelerated and got clear of the front group by 40 seconds. They led with Sagan, Gaviria, Chris Froome and Movistar riders chasing behind.

Teejay van Garderen continued to lose time.

Team EF-Drapac were chasing hard trying to get their leader Rigoberto Uran, who had crashed as well, back into the main group.

And Romain Bardet needed a THIRD tire change with 6 km to go. What bad luck for AG2R!

The 3 breakaway riders maintained their lead over the main group, while the attackes began in the main group. Froome tried an attack but Movistar responded. Tom Dumoulin attacked and Valverde responded. Sagan and 3 riders including Philippe Gilbert managed to pull away and gain 12 seconds on the main group.

At the front of the race with 1 km to go, John Degenkolb was effectively leading out the other two riders, but with 300 meters to go, they couldn’t top his speed and Degenkolb won an incredible stage 9 race.

John-Degenkolb-winner-stage9
John Degenkolb claimed an emotional victory on stage 9.

About 20 seconds behind, the Sagan group came across the finish with Philippe Gilbert edging out Sagan for 4th place.

Froome and Quintana came in together. Rigoberto Uran lost over a minute today.

For Degenkolb, who was badly injured 2 years ago and has spent the last 2 years fighting back hard, this was an emotional, redemptive victory for him, and one he dedicated to a close friend who passed away and gave him inspiration to commit to at least one more big win for his career in his honor. Congratulations, John Degenkolb!

See the turbulent and emotional action of Stage 9 in the highlights HERE.

The riders have certainly earned their rest day tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stage 8: That’s 3 with 2!

We are 1/3 way through this Tour and the sprinters had their last shots today before moving into the cobbles of Stage 9 followed by a rest day.

Two Frenchman went out in a breakaway to try to make something special happen on the French national holiday of Bastille Day.

A nasty crash with about 15 km to go bloodied up stage 6 winner Dan Martin from UAE Team Emirates, and also involved Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe, KOM jersey leader Tom Skujins, and Team EF-Drapac rider Simon Clarke.

The breakaway riders were both swallowed up well before the finish, leaving it to French sprinter Arnaud Demare to try to claim the day for France.

With 5 km to go, Team Dimension Data was doing their part to set up Mark Cavendish for the sprint. Lotto Soudal for Andre Greipel, Quick-Step for Fernando Gaviria, FDJ for Arnaud Demare, and Team Sky just to keep their men safe were all organizing at the front of the peloton.

Meanwhile, Dan Martin’s UAE team was working hard to get him back up to the peloton as close as they could to minimize the time loss from that crash.

With 1 km to go, it was Lotto Soudal, Quick-Step, and FDJ taking charge at the front for their riders.

Sagan took an unexpected early leap out front and launched way ahead of Gaviria and Greipel who had some physical contact down the left side of the straight finish.

It was too early, though, for Sagan and he couldn’t hang on through the line. He was passed by both Greipel and Gaviria with Lotto Jumbo’s Dylan Groenewegen surging ahead of them all down the right side for a very strong SECOND win in a row.

That’s 3 sprinters with 2 wins this Tour so far. Sagan crossed the line in fourth.

There is speculation that Gaviria could be penalized for head-butting Greipel, so we’ll have to see how things shake out before the start of stage 9 on Sunday. And with Greipel and Groenewegen looking so strong, the green jersey could be in several men’s sights now.

As for the man in yellow, all those who bet on BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet to hold onto the yellow jersey to stage 9 can collect their winnings because Van Avermaet will start the much-anticipated and potentially tour-defining cobbles stage on Sunday in yellow.

It’s going to be tense and messy out there.

P.S. We love you.

And with Le Tour hitting 15 sectors of cobbles on Sunday’s Stage 9, it’s a good time to revisit Peter Sagan’s win at Paris-Roubaix earlier this year. Check out the highlights HERE and watch Sagan break away from the other contenders, conquer the cobbles and then win it in the velodrome.

Good luck on Sunday Peter!

 

Stage 7: Surprise!

143 miles today on a true sprinter’s stage with lots of green jersey points on the line. It was a day for a Sagan-Gaviria showdown again.

A sole breakaway rider went out early, gained some time, and was eventually caught, because, seriously, the sprint teams were not going to lose the chance to win when there is just one more sprint stage before the Tour hits the high mountain stages.

With around 100 km to go, unexpected crosswinds split the peloton, catching Mark Cavendish out in the back group, but the second group riders were able to catch back up for all teams to get set up for an exciting sprint finish.

Before that, though, at the green jersey sprint, Bora-Hansgrohe led their man Peter Sagan out, and it looked like a friendly ride across that line for a few sprint points, Gaviria arriving before Sagan who just stayed on Gaviria’s wheel.

Shortly after, at the time bonus sprint, Greg Van Avermaet was easily led out by his BMC teammates to grab a 3 second bonus on the day’s stage. I thought Geraint Thomas would have contested for that being just 2 seconds behind for the yellow jersey,  but he was nowhere in sight.

Moving on to the finish, there was a sharp right turn past 90 degrees at the 2 km mark that everyone was cautious about but cleared nicely. A small downhill followed before moving into the slight uphill finish with Sagan clinging to Gaviria’s wheel.

The French rider Arnaud Demare of team Groupama-FDJ was in strong position, but as the sprinters hit the 200 meter mark, Dylan Groenewegen of Lotto Jumbo came charging from behind like he was wearing jetpacks, passing Cavendish, Kristoff, Demare, Sagan, and Gaviria, and taking the win with impressive style as NBC’s Phil Liggett announced, “Gaviria is beatable!”

I wonder if this will be like when the 4 minute mile threshold was broken. Stage 8 is another sprint stage, the last one for a while, so it will be fascinating to see which other sprinters are inspired.

Big congrats to Groenewegen!

A Word on Marcel Kittel

Interesting to note, sprinter Marcel Kittel of Team Katusha-Alpecin won 5 Tour stages last year and this year has yet to seriously challenge for one sprint finish. Kittel relies on a strong sprint-train to lead him out and last year he was on the Quick-Step squad, clearly the strongest sprint team this year. Between the team change and the switch from 9 to 8 riders per team, it seems to me Kittel and his current team might have to rethink their strategy and/or their training.

P.S. We love you.

Today’s P.S. edition features a quote from a conversation between Sagan and Sonny Colbrelli, who has challenged for the final sprint a few times now this Tour, most notably for Sagan in his stage 5 victory.

I appreciate Sagan’s sage (and earnest) advice: “If you try day after day a win will come.”

That’s certainly how Peter has done it.

PS-quote-to-Colbrelli-stage6

 

 

Stage 6: Crosswinds and Climbs

There is almost always a stage that involves crosswinds in the Tour de France. It’s one of my favorite phenomenons in the race because it’s a great opportunity for teams paying attention, and it can really cause havoc for those who do not.

(Peter Sagan is my first favorite phenom, in case you weren’t sure)

In stage 6, another “bumpy” stage covering 185 kilometers, the peloton did hit some crosswinds when around the 99 km mark, the race changed direction. Team Quick-Step was paying attention and took advantage while several favorites were caught out and the peloton was split into 3 groups. Once there is a split with those crosswinds, it takes a lot of energy and cooperation to close the gap.


Curious for more on this crosswinds thing?

Eurosport presents: How to attack in the crosswinds.

Global Cycling Network (GCN) does a fine and kind of funny job explaining the crosswinds and how to ride in them.


While the crosswinds in stage 6 did ruffle some feathers for a while, all the key contenders were able to get back into the main group and the peloton succeeded in chasing down the five-man breakaway that had led the race by as much as 7 minutes. With time bonuses and two-times up the category 3 climb of the Mur-de-Bretagne ahead, they had a lot of motivation to do so.

The winds continued along the race route and NBC reporter Steve Schlanger described conditions at the top of the Mur-de-Bretagne as a “ripping headwind,” so riders were not getting any breaks today. The 2 km long Mur-de-Bretagne climb rolls at an average gradient of 6.9% with a max gradient of 11.7%. In many of the tv screen images, it looks like they are climbing up a wall.

Mur-de-Bretagne-climb
 

The 2.0 km long climb of the Mur-de-Bretagne with max gradient 11. 7% can appear like climbing up a wall.

 

Tom Skujins in the polka dot jersey planned things well for himself to get the 2 KOM points available at the top of the Mur-de-Bretagne allowing him to keep the KOM jersey another day. But after that, it was Jack Bauer from Direct Energie breaking away and staying out in front for the descent and as long as he could, but he didn’t last.

Geraint Thomas surprised his rivals by jumping ahead to snag a 2-second time bonus available putting him just 3 seconds behind the yellow jersey. This made the second round up the Mur-de-Bretagne ripe for attacks. Clearly someone didn’t want Greg Van Avermaet to hold onto yellow another day.

With 5.5 km to go and the main field charging back to the base of the climb at 45 mph, Tom Dumoulin got a most inopportune mechanical causing him to have to work mega hard to get back to the group. Chris Froome and Romain Bardet also experienced setbacks.

Stage 6 finished at the top of the Mur-de-Bretagne, and with so many riders salivating for time and position gains today, it was exciting all the way to the top, where the first 3 to cross the line were awarded 10, 6, 4-second time bonuses respectively.

Ritchie Porte decided to move to the front with Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates, and Dan Martin right there with him. Bora-Hansgrohe’s Rafal Majka was also there (and fantastically, Peter Sagan was keeping himself in the mix!).

UAE Team Emirates rider Dan Martin attacked with just over 1 kilometer to go, and he got away as the group behind him stretched out to a single-file line to try to catch him with only an AG2R rider able to make a jump into the gap.

Martin has experience in Brittany having tried to take the stage win in 2015 with an attack that didn’t work out for him then, but today he gained redemption. His strong attack worked and he won the stage! Congrats Dan Martin!!

AG2R rider Pierre LaTour and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde followed Martin capturing the remaining time bonuses in second and third, respectively. (Side note: If cycling were like baseball, I would totally queue up Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” song every time Valverde made a move.)

Chris Froome, Romain Bardet, and Dumoulin all lost time on the stage today with Dumoulin taking the biggest hit losing 40+ seconds on the stage. That’s just bad luck.

Yellow Jersey Standings After Stage 6:

  1. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) — he fought enough to hold on another day!
  2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) + 0.03 — he moved up thanks to picking up those bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint.
  3. Teejay Van Garderen (BMC) +0.05
  4. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) +0.06
  5. Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step) +0.12
  6. Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) +0:18 — Wow, Team Quick-Step is strong!
  7. Rigoberto Uran (Team EF-Drapac) +0:45
  8. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0.51
  9. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) +0:52
  10. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +0.53

Green Jersey: Peter Sagan gained a little more headway over Gaviria with his 8th place finish on the day. He leads with 199 points now over Gaviria’s 156.

Stage 7 is back to a pure sprint stage. After today’s winds and climbs, let’s see who has the legs to take the day.

2018 TdF Stage 5 Recap

Stage 5, a shorter stage covering 127 kilometers, but with multiple category 3 and 4 climbs, it’s what we call a “bumpy” stage, and it was ideal for Peter Sagan who has legs for those smaller climbs that can be too much for the other sprinters AND he has the speed for the finish.

Stage 5 also contained an important intermediate sprint in the last third of the course that awarded a time bonus of 3, 2, 1-seconds for the 1, 2nd, 3rd riders, respectively. For the riders competing for the yellow jersey, those seconds matter.

Seven riders broke away from the beginning of Stage 5, and from that group, Direct Energie rider Sylvain Chavanel took off to lead the race for some time.

Once the bumps came, though, breakaway rider Tom Skujins of team Trek Segafredo and KOM winner at the Tour of California, attacked the breakaway. There was some battling between Skujins and Direct Energie rider Lilian Calmejane, but it was Skujins getting the KOM points he needed to take the polka dot jersey at the end of stage 5. (Polka dot jersey is worn by the man leading the King of the Mountain competition, which is like the green jersey but for climbers. Riders accumulate points for reaching the tops of designated climbs first.)

Moving on to the main field, Team BMC protected the yellow jersey on the shoulders of Greg Van Avermaet and the peloton kept the pace controlled with no attacks. This changed with about 20 km to go. The peloton got serious and kicked things up a notch to catch the breakaway riders in order to fight for those time bonuses at the intermediate sprint.

Julian Alaphilippe of Quick-Step stole away to get those 3 bonus seconds and Greg Avermaet got the 2 seconds bonus, keeping him safely in yellow as long as he stayed with the group to the finish (which he did).

In the last 7 km, Team Sky charged to the front of the peloton to control things before the roads started narrowing for the finish. They wanted to keep Chris Froome safe, but this was also of great service to many of the other riders at the front, including Peter Sagan.

Sagan’s main green jersey rival Fernando Gaviria was unable to keep up with the quickened pace, and this opened things up for the other riders suited to this stage: Alejandro Valverde, Julian Alaphilippe, Philipe Gilbert, and Greg Avermaet, Vincenzo Nibali. A lot of guys were poised to attack that finish.

It was Sagan’s patience and speed that once again won the day! He tucked behind Van Avermaet who went out a bit too early for his legs and was able to jump at the right time and hold off a charging Sonny Colbrelli of team Bahrain-Merida. (Woohoooo!!!)

Stage 5 marked Sagan’s 10th Tour de France win, and you can watch him finesse the finish HERE.

Misfortunes and Opportunity

Stage 5 withdrawals included Lotto Soudal rider Tiesj Benoot who crashed hard in stage 4 and did not start stage 5. 2017 green jersey winner Michael Matthews also did not start stage 5 due to illness,  and a crash early in the stage left Robert Kiserlovski of team Katusha-Alpecin too injured to continue.

American Lawson Craddock who crashed in the feed zone on stage 1 and has been racing with a fractured shoulder blade and stitches in his left eye has turned his misfortune into inspiration by raising money for Hurricane Harvey relief and the Alkek velodrome in Houston, Texas.

Riding in massive pain, the Texan is determined to continue as long as he can. He spoke in tears after Stage 1 about the amount of preparation he’d done and feeling it’s too soon to go home with all that work and team support behind him.

So Craddock is motivated and pushing on even if it means riding out of the saddle to push up these punchy climbs, a position that’s darn uncomfortable for Craddock according to an interview with NBC. For every day he completes a stage, he is donating $100 to the velodrome that supports youth riding, and he is inviting donations from fans.

After completing stage 5, the Texan had raised over $40,000. That’s inspiring!

A Nail-Biter To The Finish: TdF Stage 4

With a long straight finish on a mostly flat stage today, conditions were prime for a battle royale between the big names in sprinting.

Four riders who went out in an early breakaway almost spoiled that party, though. They rode out front for 192 of the 195 km distance, fought headwinds near the end, and it sure looked close as the peloton was still 1:22 behind with 12 km to go.

Since Quick-Step has the strongest sprinter and sprint team, none of the other teams were helping them do the work to drive the push to catch the breakaway at the front of the peloton. If Gaviria is going to win the sprint anyway, why should they help him get there? And if the other teams do force Quick-Step to do the work of pulling the peloton, then better chance of them having worn out legs and less kick for the final sprint.

The engine of the peloton can ride over 20 km/hour faster than a small breakaway group, but with the peloton not cooperating, NBC reporter and 17-time TdF rider Jens Voigt was certain the breakaway riders would still beat them to the finish line.

And then with 5 km to go, there was a big crash that split the peloton and caused me to hold my breath until I saw Peter Sagan (I mean all the main sprinters) were clear. (Note: I never want anyone injured!) It looked like Jens could be right!

Just before the final kilometer, the breakaway was caught, and boy, did we get a stellar show of the top sprinters battling it out on the final straightaway.

Quick-Step did have the legs to lead their man out in perfect position, Sagan was there, and the great German sprinter Andre Greipel came from behind with a surprise jump to the front that looked like it could work out for him.

Gaviria’s ability to kick twice if he needs to (and he needed to) were too much for Greipel to hold off and for Sagan to catch. Gaviria crossed the line first about half a wheel ahead of Sagan who edged out Greipel for second.

Want to see it? (Of course you do!) Click HERE  and watch for Gaviria and his lead-out man in blue, Sagan in the green jersey and Greipel surging from way back in red. (And imagine me yelling, “Go Sagan, Go Sagan, Go Sagan, C’mon! Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go!”)

That makes 2 stage wins for Gaviria and he closed the gap on the green jersey race to just 4 points behind Sagan. The race for the green jersey will be just as exciting as the yellow jersey race this year.

 

P.S. We love you.*

Today’s P.S. edition comes from another pre-race interview with the man currently in green. Reporter Steve Porino asked Sagan about stage 3 and the fact that he dropped off the back of his team early in the stage. Sagan wagged it off as a “bad day”.

Porino asked Sagan if anything had gone wrong to cause the bad day, there was word something in the warm-up wasn’t quite right. Sagan didn’t flinch.

Porino went for the follow-up question: How do you stay so relaxed when the pressure is on like this?

Sagan answered: What is pressure?

(So perfect! 🙂

* P.S. We love you. is an ongoing i.heart.july highlight reel of all things Sagan.

A Good Team Trial Always Shakes Things Up

Stage3-BMC-TTT-finish

The Team Time Trial (TTT) is a beautiful thing and it’s not always included in the Tour de France route. But this year it was, and day 3 of the Tour gave us clean riding (no crashes) and, as expected, big changes in the standings.

This year’s TTT was 35.5 km around the city of Cholet, and each team had to have 4 riders cross the finish line together to get a time.

Big congrats today goes to the BMC squad, who puts tons of focus and preparation into their team time trialing. They won the stage finishing 4 seconds faster than the always strong Team Sky in second and 7 seconds faster than a determined-to-make-up-for-stage-2-disappointment Quick-Step team in third.

This result certainly helped GC riders Ritchie Porte of BMC and Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome of Team Sky gain time on their rivals.

Adam Yates also got a much-welcomed boost in the standings from 73rd to 20th place thanks to a strong performance from his Mitchelton-Scott team in the team time trial.

Other GC contenders were badly hurt by the TTT: The Movistar riders lost 0:53 on the stage moving Nairo Quintana over 2 minutes back. A disappointing effort by the UAE team has 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali now 1:06 behind. The AG2R rider Luis Leon Sanchez, who was injured in a crash yesterday, had to withdraw from the Tour before the start of Stage 3 and the 1:15 time loss by his team today would suggest they felt his absence.

So… at the end of day 3, Greg Van Avermaet of team BMC is awarded the yellow jersey for being the highest ranked rider of his winning team, and it sounds like his strengths suit him well enough to hold onto that yellow jersey through the end of this first week. We can expect to see Team BMC riding hard to protect him.

Team Bora-Hansgrohe pushed as hard as they could to try to hold onto the yellow jersey but it wasn’t happening. Peter Sagan didn’t have the legs today and fell off the back around the second time check. Good news for Peter is he maintains his lead in the points competition and today he was awarded his 88th green jersey!

Tomorrow brings a long, flat stage so we’ll see the sprinters back in action.

You know who I’m cheering for!

 

 

 

Stage 2: OM! EM! GEE! SAGAN!!

Eighty years ago, the reigning pro-cyclist world champion Éloi Meulenberg won in the city of La Roche-sur-Yon, and on Sunday, it happened again with current world champion Peter Sagan taking the Stage 2 win in the same city. (Yesssssss!!)

The final kilometers of stage 2 provided the chaos needed to throw off Quick-Step’s formidable sprint team as a crash at the sharp right turn with 2 km to go caught up their team leader (and stage 1 winner) Fernando Gaviria and a bevy of other riders, including sprinter Michael Matthews.

Sagan’s trademark patience and power along with strong help from his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates paid off for him. Sagan will start Stage 3 in the yellow jersey, and he also takes the lead in the green jersey (points) competition.

Crashes

Meanwhile, earlier crashes occurring during the last 35 kilometers of stage 2 caused delay and disappointment for other riders:

Luis Leon Sanchez, the Spanish rider for team Astana, went down hard at a round-a-bout leaving him pretty ripped up and bloody and unable to continue the race. He’s a strong time-trialist so his team is going to sorely miss him in the Stage 3 team time trial on Tuesday.

Adam Yates, Mitchelton-Scott team leader, got disrupted yesterday by a crash that split the peloton, and today he went down himself. While he didn’t appear too physically affected, 2 setbacks in a row like that have to be a mental hit, one I hope he can overcome because he should be exciting to watch in the mountain stages.

Silvan Dillier, a main man for AG2R team leader Roman Bardet, went down hard as well. After limping for a bit and looking like he would be another to abandon the day’s stage, he got back on his bike to continue. We’ll have to see how he’s affected in the coming days.

The only Ethiopian rider in the Tour, Tsgabu Grmay from the Trek-Segafredo team, did not start Stage 2 due to severe stomach pain.

All of these misfortunes plus the American Lawson Craddock still riding injured, while not uncommon to the first week of the Tour, do make me question the wisdom of race organizers reducing team sizes this year from 9 to 8 riders. I believe at least part of their strategy is to reduce the size of the peloton for safety reasons and that could be a good idea. But, man, when riders start going down or getting sick (and they always do), it sure makes things tight. When you have a sprinter to lead-out or a general classification (GC) contender to support through the mountain stages, or a team trial (Hello, stage 3!), you need as many of your strongest riders as possible to go the distance.

French Pride

Returning to the brighter side of things, French rider Sylvain Chavanel of the Direct Energie team, riding in his 18th TdF at 39 years of age, rode solo for over 100 miles in a one-man-breakaway and was aptly awarded the most combative (or aggressive) rider jersey. That’s a long haul and a lot of work alone, and he made the French proud today,

GC Contenders

And finally, here’s how the general classification (GC) contenders I am watching are looking at the end of Stage 2.  Keep in mind, there is so much Tour left and anything can happen, so mostly this is interesting to note to watch for who can recover time and when. We will see some significant changes after the team time trial.

  • Alejandro Valverde, Mikel Landa, Romain Bardet, Rigoberto Uran, Rafal Majka, Tom Doumalin, and Jakob Fuglsang are all down 0:16.
  • Ritchie Porte, Chris Froome, and Adam Yates are 1:07 back.
  • Nairo Quintana is 1:31 behind after that flat tire and (in my unabashed opinion) team abandonment yesterday.

P.S. We love you.*  

Or, in this case, P.S. Oleg Tinkoff loves you.

This P.S. comes from stage 2 of the 2016 Tour De France, which was the last Tour Sagan raced for Oleg’s team Tinkoff. Oleg Tinkoff is passionate about cycling and passionate about business, and he drove Peter hard. The owner and rider’s relationship was even questioned during Peter’s tenure with the team because of Tinkoff’s expectations and harsh comments that made news. They worked it out, though, which I credit to Sagan’s genuineness and his ability to stay humble, cool and confident, what I call “the Zen of Peter”. That makes watching Oleg celebrate Peter’s victory here oh so sweet! HERE it is.

I’m pretty sure he says, “F- them! F- them all!” (which is why I love Oleg so much too!)

Enjoy!

* P.S. We love you. is the i.heart.july continuing tribute to the spirit of Peter Sagan.

And They’re Off… TdF 2018 Stage 1 Recap

After what seemed like a cascade of crashes in the last 10 km, stage 1 goes to the Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria of the Quick-Step team finishing just ahead of Peter Sagan. History, and the fact that he’s got the best sprint team behind him, would say this win for Gaviria means it’s going to be his tour, as far as the sprinter’s go.

At the 1.5 km mark, Gaviria had five Quick-Step riders leading him out. No other team came close to that. Sagan expertly free-lanced as usual, but with the amount of fire-power generated by his team and the fact that Gaviria is just wicked fast and can hold it  longer than any other sprinter, it was too much for Sagan to overcome. I believe Sagan is happy with a second place finish today AND to have been spared from those crashes.

GC contenders Ritchie Porte, Adam Yates, and Chris Froome all crossed the finish line in a second group losing about 50 seconds on their GC competitors due to those aforementioned crashes. Froome himself went down, but recovered quickly and didn’t  look too beat up. Nevertheless, a crash is a crash and he’ll be riding with some pain over the next few days.

Nairo Quintana ended up down even further due to a flat tire outside the 3 km neutralization zone. (Any incident that causes a rider to lose time within 3 km of the finish automatically receives the same time as the finishing group. This did not work in Quintana’s favor today. Nor did the fact that there are 2 other leaders on his team! I didn’t see one Movistar rider help bring Quintana back into a main group.)

American Lawson Craddock had the ugliest spill with a busted up eye and a hurt shoulder but he finished the stage and so far no withdrawal notice on him.

So it’s Gaviria in yellow entering Stage 2 where we’ll get to see the sprint teams battle it out again over the 182.5 km course in western France. (Gaviria also took the first green and white jersey spot.)

Speaking of jersey winners, the podium girls are back afterall! I’ll have to research what happened with that because a few months ago all the outlets spilled that the Tour de France was following Formula 1 in eliminating them from the sport. Stand by…


Introducing… P.S. We love you.

Last year, my inaugural Tour de France blogging session was interrupted by the crash at Stage 4 involving Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan. Because the decision to DQ Sagan was so controversial (and in my opinion a huge UCI blunder) and because Sagan provides so much dynamism, inspiration, and animation to the Tour, I kept Sagan in MY 2017 Tour by dedicating the rest of my 2017 TdF blogging to Peter Sagan.

This year, I’m keeping that going with the introduction of P.S. We love you. — an i.heart.july blog exclusive feature that highlights the spirit of Sagan.

Today’s P.S. We Love You. is from an interview before Stage 1 in which reporter Steve Schlanger does his best to get the inside scoop from Sagan.

Steve Schlanger (SS): What’s your strategy for today’s sprint?

PS: I have never some strategy. I’m going by moment.

SS: When you decide to look for that key moment, how does it play out in your head?

PS: Well, you have to feel it.

SS: What is that feeling based off of? What kind of instinct? What tells you now it’s time to go?

PS: I think a lot of things you cannot learn. You have to have insight, or you have to feel it, by the moment, by heart, by your decision. It’s not about I’m going to teach you how to do it.

Paul Liggett: Good try Steve, but Peter never does give much away.”

Haha!