The Take Out | TDF Week 1 What's Hot and What's Not

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Nine stages are in the books, and like all opening weeks of the Tour de France, they were eventful. We saw some podium contenders lose time in the chaos of the cobbles and the crosswinds and the crashes, along with the rise of some new sprint kings. We’ll take a look at some of the biggest moments from the opening week, and ask what's hot and what's not?

Quickstep’s hot

While BMC have worked the front of the peloton thanks to Greg Van Avermaet’s ownership of Yellow Jersey, there’s only been one team to set their pace of their own choosing – Quick-Step Floors. The Belgian Wolfpack has committed itself to the race, and come away victorious as a result. Yves Lampaert, Max Richeze, Bob Jungels and Niki Terpstra are riders who have their own ambitions at this tour, but they’ve all worked for others in the opening week. It’s a credit to Patrick Lefevre, who’s run the best teams in the world for decades now under one golden rule – finding the world’s best riders and getting them to leave their egos at the door.

Young sprinters are pretty hot

We’ve had four true sprints with all the sprinters here so far. Gaviria’s won two and Groenewegen won the other two. Those guys are 23 and 25 respectively, and are announcing themselves as the Cycling’s present, not it’s future. Gaviria was dominant in the opening says, albeit with great team support. Groenewegen has shown his outright pace is probably quickest in the peloton right now, even if it took him a few days to get rolling. There are a few older sprinters that came here looking for a swansong victory or two; that doesn’t look so likely now with these two riding this well.

Peter Sagan’s hot hot hot

Speaking of dominance, Peter Sagan’s been pretty good. The World Champ is on a revenge Tour after being excluded from the race last year, and it’s going to plan so far. Admittedly, he hasn’t beaten Gaviria, but he doesn’t need to if he wants to win Green; 2nd places and mopping up points where Gaviria can’t, is going to be enough. Sonny Colbrelli must be having nightmares about Sagan, who’s raised his arms in front of the Italian twice now. Stupidly, I convinced myself he wouldn’t win the Green Jersey this year, but that seems rather foolish about now.

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Lawson Craddock’s hot

Pulling out clichés about how Lawson Craddock has turned his fractured scapula into something good is probably going a bit far; I’m sure the Texan would probably prefer his bones to be intact, no matter what good comes from this. But he’s certainly making lemon-flavoured cordial out of lemons here. For every stage he finishes, he’s donating $100 to his local velodrome in Austin (that’s a heap in cyclist’s wages), and his fundraising efforts are gaining momentum, passing $90,000 at the time of writing. He deserves so much credit for what he’s doing in that sphere, as well as for bravely soldiering on in this race. 

The whole cycling world is now hoping his condition improves to the point where he can ride a semi-normal race. He looks to be on that path already though; with 50km to go in the Roubaix stage (the worst stage imaginable for someone in his position), he was still in the peloton with only 50 riders left, doing a job for Rigo Uran. Imagine how good it would be if he slipped into a breakaway, and stumbled upon a stage win. 

Mark Cavendish isn’t hot

While Kittel has no team, Cavendish has no form! The Manx Missle is five stage wins behind Merckx’ record, and that’s where he looks destined to stay. He had a torrid spring interrupted by crashes, and you can see that he’s a long way off from competing for the sprints here. It’s a visibly frustrated Mark Cavendish we’ve seen; he’s a guy that wins when there’s a fire in his belly, but it’s not working for him right now.

A few days ago, he mentioned that he ”just couldn’t match the speed Quick-Step or Bora – hansgrohe” anymore. He’s been riding Specialized bikes his whole career – the implication here is that he’s not happy with the Cervelo he rides with Team Dimension Data. But it’s also not something anyone in his lead out would want to hear.

8-man teams aren’t hot

When Grand Tour team sizes were reduced from 9 riders to 8, it was under the idea that a smaller peloton would make for fewer crashes. Has that worked? You’d probably say no, as there hasn’t felt like a noticeably lower level of chaos. At the end of the day, there’s still about the same number of riders gunning for the first 20 spots in the peloton. All this does is mean that 22 guys don’t get the chance to ride what’s possibly the biggest race of their life, and makes it harder for teams to bring a sprinter and a GC rider.

Drafting penalties aren’t hot (or consistently hot, at least)

After needing a wheel change in the finale of Stage 6, Tom Dumoulin chased frenetically to get back to the peloton before they started the final ascent of the Mur-de-Bretagne. He was adjudicated to have done this with the help of his team car and received a 20-second penalty. In isolation, it was probably the right decision. But it wasn’t in isolation, it was in a race where you could probably penalise half the peloton for the same offence. 

So why was Dumoulin penalized, when judges generally turn a blind eye to riders coming back from a mechanical? Was it because his incident came with 5km to go, at a crucial point in the race? Team Astana’s car paced back Jakob Fuglsang, after a mechanical around 20km earlier, and from the television coverage, it looked just as blatant as Dumoulin’s. It was also just as crucial, with the pace hotting up, and Fuglsang taking around a minute to find a new wheel. So why are we making the arbitrary distinction about who deserves a tow? Either enforce the rule all the time or don’t.


The Next Stage 

Out of one particular hell, and straight into another – after first week light on climbing, the peloton will face a pretty stern test to see who’s for real this year. The 158km route from Annecy to La Grand-Bournand will take in three category 1 climbs, and an Hors Category climb, before finishing at the bottom of a descent.

The Col de la Croix Fry is 11.3 km at 7%; the Montee du plateau des Glieres is 6km at 11.2%; the Col du Romme is 8.8km at 8.9%; and the last climb, the Col de la Colombiere is 7.5km at 8.5%. This is a supremely hard test, made harder by the fact that the only climbing they’ve done so far is the Mur de Bretagne, which is only tagged “the Alpe d’Huez of Brittany” for irony's sake, rather than actually, you know, being hard.

More GC men will lose time today - everyone’s always a bit rusty after a rest day, and this should be no different.


The Pick

The stage literally finishes at the foot of the descent; our descending specialists like Chris Froome and Romain Bardet will see this as an opportunity to find time. Both should have motivation; it’s classic Sky to make their mark on the first mountain stage, while Bardet loves to attack downhill and needs to start pulling time back after a hectic first week that probably should have been worse for him. We’ll fence-sit here and say one of those two wins.

See you back at the social club,


Joshua DugganComment