Well, we didn’t see that coming.
What had been shaping up to be an innocuous day in the saddle for the GC race burst into life when crosswinds helped initiate some major splits in the peloton.
There was a sign of things to come earlier in the day when Team Ineos and Bora-Hansgrohe upped the pace, causing a small group to be ejected out of the back of the peloton.
But it wasn’t until later, when first EF Education First then Ineos and Deceuninck - Quick-Step hit the gas that the major damage was caused. With domestiques as powerful as Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Ineos) and even the yellow jersey of Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) himself contributing, a whole contingent of GC contenders, most notably the on-form Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) were distanced.
A thrilling chase between the lead group and the stragglers ensued. At one point the latter had the former within eyeshot, and needed little over ten seconds more to make it back to safety, but it was at this point that their desperate efforts began to take its toll and the gap expanded inexorably.
At the finish line, the Pinot group arrived 1-40 behind the peloton, with more groups even yet further behind. It made for thrilling racing, which will leave some riders elated, and others devastated.
An unexpected GC shake-up
The time gaps caused in the crosswinds has caused a major shake-up in the GC ranking, with those caught out sliding down the rankings.
Thibaut Pinot had looked to be on a flyer so far in the Tour de France 2019 and lay third overall overnight, but fell out of the top-10 altogether, into eleventh overall at 2-33.
Other serious overall contenders find themselves even further adrift on GC. Former runner-up Rigoberto Uran is now 3-18 despite the fact that it was his EF Education First teammates who instigated the action; Critérium du Dauphiné winner Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) is now 3-22; Richie Porte suffers another blow to add to Trek-Segafredo’s poor team time trial to find himself 3-59 adrift; and his teammate Giulio Ciccone loses the white jersey and any hope of reclaiming the yellow jersey from Alaphilippe’s back.
By contrast, Alaphilippe will be delighted at strengthening his hold on the jersey; the Ineos pair of Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal look in a formidable position in second and third on GC; and Steven Kruijswijk rises to fourth overall to become Jumbo-Visma’s outright GC contender, after teammate George Bennett was among those caught out.
Strikingly, the rest of the top nine overall is also made up exclusively of riders who finished safely in the lead group - namely, the stealthy Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), young Enric Mas (Deceununick - Quick-Step), Britain’s Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), plus Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), who did well to survive in conditions where they’ve struggled in the past.
All of these riders can still harbour ambitions of winning the yellow jersey. The hopes of the rest are in peril.
Wout van Aert claims stage win on Grand Tour debut
What an opening week this has been for Jumbo-Visma. First Mike Teunissen took a shock victory on the opening day, then came a trouncing in the team time trial, followed by a bunch sprint victory for Dylan Groenewegen, and now Wout van Aert triumphs in a reduced bunch sprint.
It may have been a reduced peloton that made it to the line, but most of the top sprinters were present, including Elia Viviani (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Sunweb).
Van Aert got the better of them all, launching his sprint early, then demonstrating extraordinary strength to hold them all off to the finish line.
Given his form both prior to the race, when he claimed two stage wins at the Dauphiné, and during it (he was second behind Sagan on stage five), the victory does not come as a surprise. But it should not be forgotten how amazing it is that a 24-year old who specialises in cyclocross and the spring Classics, and with barely any past experience of sprinting, is able to beat the best in the world in a bunch finish. This prodigious talent is making the extraordinary look mundane.
Fine work by Deceuninck - Quick-Step nearly results in perfect day
Whenever a race is disrupted by crosswinds, Deceuninck - Quick-Step tend to be right at the front of affairs, and stage 10 was no exception.
The team’s all-for-one attitude was exemplified by the fact that both the yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe and star sprinter Elia Viviani took turns at the front to help.
Alaphilippe was awarded handsomely for his efforts, with many of the immediate threats to his yellow jersey distanced, while their potential GC rider Enric Mas rises to sixth overall.
The only way the day could have gone better would have been had Elia Viviani managed to win the sprint for the stage. He appeared to do everything right in the finale, latching onto the wheel of the storming Wout van Aert when the Belgian started his sprint, but couldn’t quite match his extraordinary speed and missed out in a photo finish.
Movistar’s dodgy tactics
Movistar’s tactics once again left us scratching our heads during the stage.
We’ve questioned their commitment to using multiple GC co-leaders at Grand Tours plenty of time in the past, and their decision to select all three of Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa for this year’s Tour seemed questionable, but they deserved the benefit of the doubt after pulling-off such an impressive Giro d’Italia victory in May with Landa and Richard Carapaz working so well together in tandem.
However, they appeared to make totally the wrong call today when the decision was made to send several domestiques away from Nairo Quintana in the front group to the chasing Mikel Landa instead. Landa was unfortunate to crash inside the final 20km having survived in the front group, but surely Movistar would have been better off accepting that a time loss for Landa was inevitable, and instead doing everything they could to look after Quintana.
Fortunately Quintana managed to look after himself, but just imagine if he had suffered a puncture and had no teammates to swiftly supply him a wheel. The work put in for Landa was totally in vain, as he reached the finish with his domestiques at 2-09, behind even the Pinot group.
Now Landa lies 4-15 down on GC, with a 2-11 deficit to Quintana, perhaps Movistar will now unite behind him as sole leader - and perhaps they will be in far better shape for doing so.
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