Into The Pyrenees, On Toward The Alps – Tour de France 2019 Turns Serious
After another week of exciting bike racing, with plenty of heroic efforts, unfortunate setbacks, some mystery and even tragedy for a few riders, the mood of the Tour has shifted. In the first week riders had commented that the race felt more relaxed than previous years. Now the stakes are clear and the remaining contenders are doing battle…
The key stages in the second week of the Tour de France 2019 seem to have been Stage 10, classed as a flat stage, the Individual Time Trial, and Stage 14, to the summit of Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees. These stages included surprises, and produced swings in the rankings that sealed the deal against many of the riders hoping for a podium finish.
The Wind Shapes The Race – Stage 10, on July 15th, from Saint-Flour to Albi
The race profile for this stage seemed as hilly as it could be and still be classified as flat. It was the kind of day when you might expect breakaways to be reeled in by a speeding peloton, with a mass sprint at the end.
Instead, strong crosswinds may have turned this stage into the turning point of this year’s TDF.
Late in the day, teams Ineos, Bora and Quickstep formed at the front and accelerated, a tactic often used to control the race in crosswind conditions.
The risk is that riders get tired, the wind forces echelons to form as riders try to shelter behind those in front or beside them, and the peloton can easily split. It’s much better tactically to force the pace at the front, keep together and rotate the leaders to avoid individual fatigue. Further back in the peloton it is too easy to find yourself in an echelon out of touch with the leading peloton.
That’s what happened to many of the leading GC contenders in the race. With the teamwork at the head of the race the gap eventually opened to more than a minute. Alaphillipe kept his yellow jersey, Thomas and Bernal remaining around 1 minute behind, while all the other expected GC riders fell to 2 minutes and more behind – gaps big enough to be very hard to overcome.
Individual Time Trial, July 19th, Pau – Suspense and Surprises
The course was technical and demanding, and perhaps fatigue played a part in a number of unfortunate crashes, which in a couple of cases took riders out of the Tour, notably young Belgian Wout van Aert, who had a great race so far.
The story of the day shows just how powerful the yellow jersey can be to its wearer. Already second in the GC ranking, Welshman riding for Team Ineos, Geraint Thomas, was expected to use his time trial prowess to gain time against Julian Alaphillipe of Deceuninck-Quick Step, the French rider wearing yellow for the 8th day. Thomas did surpass the best mark of the day at all the checkpoints on the route, but Alaphillipe pulled out an extraordinary performance, energized by the drive to keep his maillot jaune, along with the cheers of a crowd delighted to see a French rider wearing it. He bested all Thomas’s marks, and won the stage convincingly, improving his leading time margin.
La Course – The Women’s Tour de France Race, 2019
A multi-day Women’s Tour de France is still a remote prospect, but the ITT was preceded by the current incarnation of La Course: a one day race featuring cycling’s top women road riders in the limelight.
They delivered a worthy spectacle. The 121 kilometer circuit was based on the upcoming time trial course. Its hills set the women up for an attacking race that winnowed out the field, but still ended with trains leading out for a mass sprint finish. The Netherlands’ legend, Marianne Vos, seized her opportunity early and outsprinted them all, showing clearly why she is one of cycling’s most impressive riders, male or female.
Asked afterwards about the status of the Women’s Tour, Vos was diplomatic, and positive about women’s bike racing. She pointed out the steady growth in the level of competition and support in women’s racing: “I think it’s getting more and more professional, but La Course is one moment in the year when the whole world is watching and that’s a big plus for women’s cycling.”
As the quality of riders, organization, and the race calendar continue to improve, and the women attract their share of the spotlight, surely a true Women’s Tour de France will become inevitable.
Stage 14, July 20th, Tarbes to Tourmalet Barèges – Toughest Test So Far
The next day’s stage, ascending the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees, was an opportunity for a strong rider to open a wide rift, with a 20 kilometer mountain grind to the finish. Instead, it was a day of erosion, where riders who had been in reach of the podium slid off the back and out of the running.
Alaphillipe showed that his outstanding time trial performance did not weaken his ability to defend. In the final kilometer of the stage it was Thomas who came adrift when Thibault Pinot, a French favorite, attacked to win the stage. He moved up the GC ranks, while Alaphillipe, in second, widened his overall lead.
Now on to the Alps. The race is starting to get interesting…