Is This Thing Over?
After race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) showed a few tantalising cracks on Stage 11’s double ascent of Mont Ventoux in his otherwise-solid armour, it left race fans wondering if there was more to come. Pogačar has been vastly better than his rivals so far, which led to the suggestion that perhaps he’d peaked too soon and would fade in the Pyrenees. So far, those hopes look unfounded.
There is more yet to come, but on the difficult Stage 15 to Andorra, Pogačar was masterfully in control. Even after Ineos Grenadiers came to the front and drilled it on the Port d’Envalira, the race’s highest summit, and dropped all of Pogačar’s UAE teammates, he kept his cool, following wheels on the descent and staying alert. When attacks started on the steep Col de Beixalis, he smartly let others do some of the chasing, playing the podium aspirations of his rivals off against one another.
Pogačar’s least-favourite conditions are hot weather, and Sunday had it: the south-facing Beixalis climb was baking in late-afternoon sun. And yet he seemed largely unruffled by it all.
Second, Pogačar’s rivals don’t look to be giving up. Even if they’re just fighting amongst themselves for the other podium spots, they’ll keep attacking—and every time they do, they put Pogačar under at least some pressure. With the riders in places 2 through 6 separated by less than a minute, there are still a number of guys motivated to race aggressively.
Finally, it may (might? possibly? kinda?) be working. Late on the Beixalis climb, Pogačar appeared to decide he’d had enough of the constant attacks and counters. He went to the front and set a hard, steady pace to discourage any more aggression. It’s a smart tactic, but it may betray a weakness. He clearly didn’t like the surge-recover-surge pace of the climbing to that point; while actually slower than a steady tempo, that kind of dynamic is also harder on the legs, as it forces riders to do repeated above-threshold efforts. Most of Pogačar’s time gains have come in the form of a brief jump followed by essentially a TT effort. If you make him surge to respond to attacks, especially if he’s already riding near his FTP limit, you might cause a crack.
That’s a lot of ifs, for sure. Right now, it’s hard to find much weakness to probe in Pogačar’s fitness, and he’s also racing with a lot of maturity and savvy. He’s got a big lead, and every day there’s less road to cut into it. But we don’t expect riders like Vingegaard, Ineos’s Richard Carapaz, or EF Education-Nippo’s Rigoberto Uran to just roll over.
Cavendish Looked Great in Andorra
As Whit Yost wrote in his Stage 15 preview, the first 20km of the day might have been some of the most crucial in the race for Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), winner of four stages and leader in the Points competition. That’s because he needed to stay in contact with the main field over the day’s early, uncategorised climbs to have a good shot at making the time cut on a long, hard day.
Cav passed with flying colors. He held on to the field to almost halfway into the stage and then rode a disciplined team time trial of sorts with his leadout men to finish comfortably inside the time cut, even if he was the last racer to finish. What’s more, his indispensable teammate Tim Declercq, who is still fighting injuries from a crash two days ago, did the same; in fact, the team may have been waiting and working for Declercq during that stage more than Cavendish.
Meanwhile, another sprint rival (Arkea-Samsic’s Nacer Bouhanni) dropped out, leaving even fewer sprinters who can challenge him in bunch finishes. There’s still a lot of climbing left this Tour, but on Sunday, at least, Cavendish was more than up to the challenge.
The KOM Competition Could Go Down To the Wire
Most of the jersey competitions at this year’s Tour have been pretty sleepy so far. Pogačar seems firmly in control of the overall and, by extension, the Best Young Rider classification, over Vingegaard. Michael Matthews of BikeExchange is nibbling into Cavendish’s lead in the Points competition, but Cav is still well clear.
The KOM standings, however, are tight. Six different riders have led the classification, swapping the jersey seven times. A four-way fight seems to be developing, with current leader Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) eight points clear of Israel Start-up Nation’s Michael Woods. Arkea-Samsic’s Nairo Quintana and the versatile Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) are tied in third. Just ten points separates the four, and with all of them repeatedly factoring in breakaways, none seem to be able to get distance from the others.
What’s more, there are eight climbs left in the race rated Category 2 or higher, including a load of HC summits with big points on offer. This one may not be settled until the summit of Luz Ardiden, the finish of Stage 18.
By the Numbers
13,272 — Meters of climbing left in the race (a third of them during Stage 17)
€4,800 — The amount of prize money DSM has won in this year’s Tour
€4,200 — The amount of fines the DSM team has accumulated so far (most in the race)
484 — The number of kilometres spent in breakaways by Brent van Moer (Lotto-Soudal), the most in the race
147 — Riders left in the race from 184 starters
38 — Number of Tour de France starters who live in Andorra, site of Sunday’s finish (they like the combination of high altitude, great training routes, and low taxes)
10 — Years since an American won an individual stage of the Tour de France before Kuss won Stage 15. BMC won a team time trial in 2015 with Tejay van Garderen, but Garmin’s Tyler Farrar (Stage 3, 2011) was the last road stage winner
6 — Teams left in the race with their full complement of eight riders: UAE-Emirates, Israel Start-up Nation, Trek-Segafredo, Deceuninck-Quick Step, Cofidis, EF Education-Nippo
5 – Rider dropouts by Arkea-Samsic, the hardest-hit team for abandons
4 – Lead, in stages finished so far, held by Lachlan Morton, the EF-Nippo rider doing his own, self-supported “Alt Tour” (Morton started the same day as the race and is also riding the transfers between stages). He finished at 05h30, 13 July…