Dumoulin anticipates change in pace as Tour de France heads for La Rosière
Headwind and strength of Team Sky dissuade attacks en route to Le Grand-Bornand
The terrain was very different, but the first day of the second part of the 2018 Tour de France proved to be rather like the days that preceded it.
After a week in the big ring, the race's entry into the Alps was expected to provoke some degree of separation among the principal favourites, but most took a cautious approach on the road to Le Grand-Bornand on stage 10.
During Monday's rest day, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) had spoken of how "another Tour de France" would begin on stage 10. On Tuesday, he even entertained the notion of attacking, but Team Sky's brisk pace-making on the Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière – not to mention the block headwind – quickly dispelled the idea. But the race is still young, and there are more arduous battlegrounds to come, and soon.
"It was a very strong tempo that Sky set, and it was a full-on headwind. I think some guys, including me, had the idea of attacking if it was possible, but it really wasn't, actually," Dumoulin said after wheeling to a halt just past the finish line.
"You saw when Dan Martin attacked that they immediately closed it down, and I think today was an effort for nothing. But I'm in contention so I'm happy with today."
The selection, as is often the case on the Tour's first mountain stage, came at the rear of the group, where Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) were among those distanced.
UAE Team Emirates' Dan Martin was the only rider to dare to attack the cohort of Sky riders on the front, but, as Dumoulin pointed out, the Irishman's move was quickly brought to heel.
Dumoulin finished the stage in 16th place, alongside his main rivals, and 3:23 behind winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step). In the overall standings, the Dutchman moved up to 11th overall, 3:42 behind yellow jersey Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), while remaining 21 seconds behind Chris Froome (Team Sky).
For the final two ascents, Dumoulin maintained a watching brief behind Froome, who beat him into second place at last month's Giro d'Italia following an improbable 80km solo attack on the road to Bardonecchia. When the Sky rider turned to look back at his rival, Dumoulin swiftly made sure to arrange his features into a poker face. "I closed my mouth. That's how it works," Dumoulin joked.
Given the viciousness of the terrain, it would be a surprise if the coming two days in the Alps were defined by the same sort of caginess. On Wednesday, the peloton faces the hors-catégorie ascents of the Montée de Bisanne and the Col du Pré, with a summit finish at Tour first-timer La Rosière – all in the space of 108 breathless kilometres. Twenty-four hours later, the race climbs to Alpe d'Huez by way of the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col de la Madeleine.
"I know what's ahead. It was nice not to be completely dead after the finish. It's a good day for us," said Dumoulin, who expects Sky's approach to remain the same. "They'll try to do the same thing, but the coming two days are uphill finishes, so things will definitely be different there. We'll see."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.