It must be strange for Ineos Grenadiers to be chasing the Tour de France after the first mountains are finished. Aside from last year, when Julian Alaphilippe had everyone snapping at his heels, Ineos are usually a dominant force at or near the top of the general classification, have won a stage and sown panic in the peloton as soon as they massed at the front. Even if it wasn't a critical moment.
However, Ineos have been replaced by a Jumbo-Visma team that has had almost every situation under control, no matter what the circumstances. Come rain or shine, sidewind or climbing, the Dutch team have protected their leader Primož Roglič until it's the right time for the Slovenian to unleash his power.
There's not quite the feeling of the race being held in check until Roglic and company decide it's time to ‘go’ but there's certainly a reticence hanging over everyone to show what they've got as we approach the end of the first week. It's not really a surprise that the Jumbo-Visma leader is riding as he is because all the races that he has won are carried out in a similar style.
It's a tactic that has been fruitful for many of the Tour de France champions: control the peloton, take the lead in the mountains and consecrate the advantage in the time trials. That there is only one TT in this year’s race changes the formula slightly, but on the ascents ridden so far, Roglic hasn't been in any difficulty at all. It isn't exactly the case of his biggest rival Egan Bernal. Of course, the defending champion doesn't have the same power to play with and so he's waiting for the third week with the longer mountains, however he and his team will have to be better than they've been up until now.
There's been a bit of sparring between the two big squads but the rounds haven't lasted long and I suspect they've been more probing than proper tests. It's more likely that Dave Brailsford needs to remind everyone that his Ineos team are still present, even if they’re not totally at full strength.
Talking of paying attention, what can you say about the totally bizarre circumstances that Julian Alaphilippe relinquished the yellow jersey after stage 5. On a day when literally nothing, nada, niente, le rien, happened, he takes a bottle in the last 20km, which cost him a 20-second time penalty, the race lead, and the €500 that the race leader receives every day. It's not a new rule and there's a big sign on every road stage at 20 kilometres to go indicating no more feeding. Add to that, that it wasn't a boiling hot day or a particularly important moment in the race. If desperate he could have taken a bidon from one of his teammates but just as crazy is why was the soigneur - in this case a relative - handing up drinks on the wrong side of the no more feeding sign. Unbelievable.
His only saving grace for this stunted opening week is that maybe Alaphilippe can go back to being extravagant in his attacking. No one is quite sure if they can believe the daily repeats of him saying he's taking it day-by-day. In fact, there are only three riders who are willing to even mention a podium or winning option, and from the Roglič-Bernal-Pinot trio the message emanating from them is that they're waiting.
After two days were basically not much changed, the only thing worth noting is that Wout van Aert continued his run of impressive performances and EF Pro Cycling are at the top of the team classification. Movistar aren't bothered apparently.
With the second mountaintop finish neutralised by a high pace on Thursday, Adam Yates was slightly less embarrassed to be the new race leader thanks to Mitchelton-Scott assuming their responsibilities and doing a control job on the front of the group, when they didn't really have to. The surprised sentiment will wear off if the British rider can keep the jersey after the first day in the Pyrenees. One thing is for sure, he won't be able to fall asleep in the bunch like he usually does now that he's more visible. Actually it might be the shock to his positioning that he needs because with the burden of the yellow jersey comes expectations, so there'll be no more giving out the tickets to the autobus for him when it goes uphill.
When you looked at the route of this first week the expectation was there'd be excitement every day, but the reality hasn't quite matched up to the idea of one stage hard, next stage easy. Maybe it's the lack of the usual Tour de France atmosphere as we're definitely missing the party feeling in every town and village, or even the sight of miles of campervans with flags and banners lining the route. It's become more like a normal French race but with the full ASO package trying it's best to entice people in and being met with the question of "Is this a good idea?"
And that seems to be the problem with the race in these pre-Pyrenean stages. Everyone seems to be thinking that if they attack they'll be exposed to the counter from Jumbo-Visma. One demonstration from Primož Roglič has been enough to induce Project Fear.
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