The Take Out | TDF Week 2 What's Hot and What's Not

 Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Week two is in the books, and the favourites for the overall have separated themselves from the pack. Three stages in the Alps, a sprint stage at the foot of the Alps, and two through the Massif Central, saw Geraint Thomas and Astana being the big winners. So what's hot and what's not?

 

What’s hot?

Geraint Thomas is hot

The G-Train’s never raced for three weeks before so he could blow up at any point here…. But he looks like the favourite for this year’s tour at the moment. He looks unshakeable in the mountains at the moment, and it would be hard to see him losing his entire advantage to Froome or Dumoulin in the Time Trial. It’s the dreaded “bad day” that’s his biggest rival right now, and Team Sky’s tone seems to be changing too. Thomas’ spare bikes have moved into the team leader position (maybe just because he’s in the yellow jersey), and the team seems to be talking about co-leadership a bit more.

With Froome holding only a 20 second lead over Dumoulin, a superior time-trialist, it would be an incredibly ballsy move for Sky to sacrifice Thomas for Froome’s sake – the buffer he’s built up over the two is the best argument he has about why the team should support him.

It’s a lot like England at the recent World Cup; any potential rivals Thomas had have been weakened or fallen over; Porte is out, Movistar are bad, Froome and Dumoulin are tired after the Giro, Bardet is Bardet. While Froome is on the cusp of history with a potential 5th TDF win, Thomas is never going to see a better chance than this to win.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo are hot

Like a poorly produced high-school musical, there have been some last minute casting changes in this year’s TDF; LottoNL-Jumbo is playing the role of Team Movistar. Everyone expected Movistar to be the team challenging Sky with aggressive racing and multiple cards to play, Roglic and Kruiswijk have come out of nowhere to fill that role.

There’s been a buzz about Roglic all year long after an impressive spring campaign, but it wasn’t potential podium-getter buzz. He was impressive on the steep climb to Mende, attacking the main favourites in an ominous warning ahead of the Pyrenees, Even a few months ago he was more of a rouleur, but his transformation has been incredible, as he’s visibly slimmed down, and become super punchy when the road points skywards.

We all knew Kruiswijk was good, but he’s been a guy who hasn’t put it all together over three weeks; the 2016 Giro being the closest he’s come to grand tour glory. His attack on the stage to Alpe d’Huez was the sign of a man unafraid to push all his chips into the middle of the table, and that’s a trait we haven’t necessarily associated with him either.

 

Caring about the Yellow Jersey is hot

The Malliot Jaune is likely the most famous garment in the sport, and with Sky desecrating it by forcing Thomas into working for Froome whilst in yellow, it’s nice to see a few teams understanding what it means to wear. BMC’s tour lost a whole lot of meaning when Richie Porte crashed out on the Roubaix stage, but they still had Greg Van Avermaet retain yellow that night and into the mountains.

While most expected him to cede the jersey to Thomas on Stage 10, Van Avermaet had other plans. He rode himself into the breakaway when he could have had an easy one at the back of the field, all to spend another single day in yellow. It’s just nice to see a team value it.

 

What’s not?

Gianni Moscon is not hot.

Moscon was disqualified after Stage 15, as footage emerged of Moscon punching Elie Gesbert of Fortuneo-Samsic in the opening kilometre. There are two sides to every story of course, but Moscon has form in losing his head; he's previously been suspended for racially abusing Kevin Reza, so its hard to see him favourably.

The other victims in all this are Team Sky, who already had a bit of an image problem. With Froome already having a mixture of fists and ‘unidentified liquids’ being thrown at him from the roadside, you wonder how much worse the treatment of them can get. With L’Equipe getting even more fuel to razz up the French punters with, you just hope Alpe d’Huez was the last time we see fans knocking riders out of the race.

 

Short Stages aren’t as hot as you think they are

On Wednesday night, while you watch the 65km stage to Col du Portet, save some thoughts for the sprinters out the back. The problem with jamming three mountains into 65km, as opposed to 200km, is that the sprinters lose the same amount of time, but the time cut is 1/3 shorter (they run off a percentage of the winner’s time). Greipel, Gaviria, Groenewegen, Kittel, Cavendish; they’re all gone, and Demare doesn’t look that far off either. At this point, it’s looking like Peter Sagan’s going to be sprinting against Impey and Gerro on the Champs Elysees. Is that really fun?

Short stages seem to be based on the with the idea that we’ll see explosive racing. Would it really change the complexion of the racing if on Stage 17 the riders raced along a flat valley road for 40km before hitting up the same 65km finish? The only difference would be that the time cut will be 10 minutes longer, and therefore we won’t see a Mickey Mouse sprint on the Champs. Or, at least they won’t have to plan as many 230km stages in the first week to drag the average stage length up.

 

Movistar aren’t as hot as they thought they’d be

You know your mate that’s all talk, but when push comes to shove they’re noticeably absent? Get him to ring Team Movistar, because they’ve probably got a spot on next year’s team waiting for them. There was a lot of confidence coming from their camp in the lead-in to the tour, but they’ve never even worried, let alone challenged, the might of Team Sky.

Alejandro Valverde spent the Alpine stages making foolish moves off the front that served little more purpose than passing time. He’s done well to ever come back from the injury he sustained in the first stage of last year’s tour. Nairo Quintana was cycling’s next best thing 5 years ago, but when you think of the exciting Colombians in the peloton, he’s slipping further and further down the list.

Mikel Landa is the biggest disappointment though; last year he believed he should have been allowed to race for the win instead of supporting Chris Froome at Team Sky. But on the first mountain test at Tour 2018, he was out the rear. He looked better on the hairpins of Alpe d’Huez, but he’s nowhere near legitimately competing.

 

The Next Stage

Stage 16 means we’re into the Pyrenees, and the day has some proper climbs in the tail. Starting from Carcassonne where the rest day was spent, the riders will cover around 130 kilometres of mostly flat roads, on the run to the testing mountain range. While there are two Category 4 climbs coming after 25 and 72km, the first main test will be the Category 2 Col de Portet d‘Aspet. It’s only 5.4km long at 7.1%, but when they reach the summit, there’s only 9km of descent and valley roads before the beginning of the Col de Mente.

The Cat 1 Col de Mente is far more challenging, being 7km long at 8.1% with its steepest section (9% for a kilometre) coming at the top. After a technical fast descent, the riders will start a 10km false flat to the foot of the Col du Portillon, the day’s final climb. 8km at 7% makes for a tough climb, and the gradient stays fairly consistent the whole way up. It’s another fairly technical descent down into the regular finishing town of Bagneres-du-Luchon, so look for Bardet and Froome (a previous winner here) to try their luck over the top of the climb.

 

The Pick

The first day in the mountains, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the main favourites hold their fire and let a break go. If it does, look for the usual candidates like Warren Barguil or Julian Alaphilippe. Adam Yates is our pick though; he looked keen to get in the break near the end of last week, and Mitchelton-SCOTT need something from this tour.

 

See you back at the social club,

Josh