Tour de France – Hot Takes
For the first time in a long time, I kept up with the Tour, day-by-day, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Taking a long vacation from pro cycling served as a palate cleanser and allowed a lot (but not all) of the old, dope-tainted riders to retire. This is not to say the pro peloton is clean now. I, frankly, have no idea, and history suggests it never will be, but the racing was good to watch regardless.
Here are some brief observations:
A Tale of Two Prodigies – In any generation a rider like Tadej Pogacar would dominate the grand tours much as Fausto Coppi once did. In the high mountains, no one can stay with a climber like that. Except, Pogacar isn’t the only climbing prodigy in this generation. Jonas Vingegaard is his equal, and on some days, his superior. No one could stay with these guys, Geraint Thomas, Nairo Quintana and the rest dropping out the back of the lead group more or less whenever Pogacar or Vingegaard decides to fly away. This is rivalry that will go on and on, I think. In 2022, Vingegaard had the stronger (and healthier) team.
The Sprinters Have Left the Building – Wout van Aert won the green jersey, traditionally the province of the fastest sprinter, with very little difficulty. Van Aert is not a sprinter. He’s a rouleur, French for all-rounder. Over seem the days of Cavendish and Greipel, Sagan and Kristoff. Even today’s sprint specialists like Jasper Phillipsen were nowhere really to be found at this Tour.
Sportsmanship – We’ve left the era of mind games and spiky press conferences apparently. Seeing Pogacar high-five Vingegaard after a tight stage was refreshing. This happened not once, but twice at least. And then on Stage 18, Vingegaard sat up and waited when Pogacar went down in a tight corner. These guys smile at and respect each other. That’s weird.
CX is Coming – Pidcock, Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Thys Benoot, and I’m probably missing a few. I’ve never seen this many elite riders make the jump from cyclocross to the road so successfully. It seems like not that long ago (but was) that Zdenek Stybar was going to win all the Spring Classics, but then…not so much. Conventional wisdom was that the two training programs and skill sets were not compatible. Apparently, they are now.
Revenge of the Breakaways – Is strategy shifting? Or is a lack of dope keeping the GC teams from being able to track down the escapees. It’s a refreshing break from watching Team Sky (now Ineos Grenadier) dominate every stage with clocklike precision. For sure, the GC teams weren’t letting any threats get into those breakaways, but not that long ago they’d crush the breakaway’s dream, just because. It made a lot of stages boring. I’m glad to see more Red Kite Prayers being answered.
The Waning of the Grenadiers – Speaking of the former Team Skye, it’s quite a thing to watch Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte and Chris Froome fading away. Fortunately for this team, they’ve got Pidcock, Yates, Bernal, and few other talented younger riders in the wings, but on this year’s evidence, no one was really ready to make the jump to top podium step. Thomas acquitted himself very well, but for a few years, this race was a promenade for Froome. Bernal has been a winner here, but does any of this crew look like being able to deal with Pogacar or Vingegaard?
You can get stunning digital art from some of the big names at this TdF from:
SPRINTERS: I’m not sure that I agree that the sprinters have “left the building.” Of the 6 flat stages, 5 were won by “pure” (or near pure) sprinters. Fabio Jakobsen on Stage 2, Dylan Groenewegen on Stage 3, Mads Pedersen on Stage 13, Jasper Philipsen on Stage 15, and Jasper Philipsen again on Stage 21. Only Christophe Laporte’s Stage 19 was a miss by the sprint teams.
As for Wout van Aert, I agree that he’s a rouleur. But, unlike just about anyone in recent memory, he’s also a puncheur. And, a sprinter. One does not win a bunch sprint on the Champs-Élysées (2021) unless one is a sprinter. And, we should not lose sight of the fact that the green jersey is NOT the sprint jersey, it’s the points jersey by virtue of the presence of intermediate point-scoring opportunities. A sprint jersey would be earned only by face finishes on flat stages.
CYCLOCROSS: Thys Benoot doesn’t come from any CX background to speak of.
BREAKAWAYS: Silca CEO Josh Poertner has spoken about the ability of the breakaway to win. Higher overall speeds owing to much better attention to aerodynamics make it that much harder for the bunch to reel the breakaway back in. One result is that the bunch doesn’t give the breakaway nearly as much of a gap as they used to. This year, Stages 5 (Simon Clarke), 9 (Bob Jungels), 10 (Magnus Cort), 12 (Tom Pidcock), and 16 (Hugo Houle) were won from the break. (I’ll leave to others to debate whether Michael Matthews’ win was a breakaway.) I’m not sure that 5 breakaway wins out of 18 (I’m not counting the two TT stages and the final stage into Paris) counts as excessive breakaway winning.
GRENADIERS: I’m with you. Except Egan Bernal, I don’t see any of the current Ineos riders being legit GC contenders. Pidcock is touted as a possibility, but I’m not buying it. He’s small, but not thin the way that GC riders need to be. And I’m not sure I see him giving up his excelling in CX (when the big boys–WvA and MvdP–aren’t there) and MTB in order for one or maybe two chances a year to win a grand tour.
I’ll say I’m happy to see this post here. I enjoyed the dynamics of this years tour. There seemed to be a lot of genuinely positive emotion expressed by riders. Not the “must crush the opponent” attitude I’ve seen in past years. I enjoyed WvA’s strengths, the GC battle, etc. Fun stuff. On my group ride yesterday we even got into a great conversation about the tour. That hasn’t happened in years!
Emlyn, like you, I took a loooooooong break from watching Le Tour. I was utterly disgusted by how it became Le Tour de Dope. But like you, I was glued to this one. The Pogacar v Vingegaard competition was worth the watching. Geraint, to be sure, is 36, when these long stage races start to drain the geezer class. Watching the green jersey power the climbs was cool.
As far as being 36 and on the podium? Not everyone is a Joop Zoetemelk. Thomas acquitted himself.
I’ll leave the tech talk to those who know something about it. It was just a lot of fun.
So where did I get the recollection that CX was typical training in the road off season? Am I wrong or just old enough to remember how Hinault etc did it back then?
That’s right. Guys like Hinault would race CX back in the day, but none of them was world champion then. It was just training, whereas now, the big CX racers are having very fruitful road careers.