The 2020 Tour de France was supposed to be a battle of the superteams. The massive strength in depth of Jumbo-Visma and the Ineos Grenadiers was anticipated to leave slim pickings for riders on other teams. Instead, the Tour detonated on the Col de Peyresourde, the final climb of stage 8 to Loudenvielle, and left most of the GC riders in less than splendid isolation, with quite a long way to the finish.
All the way over the Col de Menté and Port de Balès, the pre-race assumptions looked assured to come true. A rotating vanguard of Jumbo-Visma riders pulled a shrinking peloton up and over the Balès, just as we thought it would. In order, Amund Grøndahl Jansen, Tony Martin, Robert Gesink, Sepp Kuss (surprisingly briefly), Wout Van Aert (unsurprisingly for a very long time) and George Bennett were deployed to squeeze the ambition out of their rivals.
But with almost the entire climb of the Peyresourde still to go, Jumbo-Visma suddenly looked thin on the ground - with the favourites group still counting around 30 riders, Jumbo were down to two. When Tom Dumoulin took over the pace-setting, it suddenly became clear that Jumbo-Visma is operating a single-leader strategy.
And so is everybody else. Behind stage winner Nans Peters and a few more of his fellow escapees, the first 11 GC riders home - Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Miguel Angel López (Astana), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Enric Mas (Movistar) - all represented different teams.
This bodes well for an attacking race. In recent years, with the exception of last year’s very open Tour, Sky’s mountain train has been so effective and intimidating that it discouraged most attacks and snuffed out the ones that did go. They’ve put two men on the final podium, including the winner, for the last two Tours. For the first week of the 2020 Tour, and unti the bottom of the Col de Peyresourde, the peloton has been similarly intimidated by the anticipated strength of Jumbo-Visma. But all it took was an attack by Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step), the main casualty of which was the Frenchman himself when he was instantly dropped, and the vaunted Jumbo-Visma mountain train came off its rails.
In the end, the time gains were insignificant, save for Pogačar going it alone at the end and taking back half the deficit he conceded in the crosswinds of the Tarn yesterday. But we still learned a lot on the Peyresourde.
The three strongest riders in the race are currently Pogačar, Roglič and Quintana. The young Slovenian rider for UAE Team Emirates put in the first really damaging attack by a GC rider so far in this Tour. Only Roglič and Quintana could follow. The next five riders also look to be grouped together at this point. Bernal, López, Urán, Landa and Martin couldn’t follow the first three, but they were clearly stronger than the riders behind. Yates, Bardet and Carapaz were next on the road. Then Dumoulin.
In the end, the wind discouraged the attacks, save for a second and then the decisive third move from Pogačar, while the others regrouped behind and Ineos managed to summon the faintest memory of their mountain train years when Carapaz attempted to pace Bernal et al to the top. Trek-Segafredo were the only other team with two riders near the front: Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema.
Adam Yates still has the yellow jersey, but the ease with which the others distanced him on the Peyresourde suggests that his hold on it will be temporary. On longer climbs or summit finishes, the smoothness with which Pogačar, Roglič and Quintana accelerated away from the others makes them the current favourites for the podium.
Bernal doesn’t quite look the Tour winner of 2019. But then again nor did he during most of last year’s race. Pogačar, Roglič and Quintana might regret not working harder to distance him today, while he’s still obviously not at top form. However, what’s clear is that if they want to do so, nobody else is going to help them, least of all their own teammates.
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