We all love Team Sunweb
Jumbo-Visma have a hat-trick of stage wins, but given their roster, that’s almost to be expected. Behind them with two wins? Ever-present Deceuninck-Quick-Step, Caleb-Ewan's Lotto-Soudal, and the little fancied Sunweb.
Let’s get one thing clear first: the Dutch team are not underdogs. Heck, one of the pre-race favourites Tom Dumoulin raced for them as recently as last year. But without Dumoulin, and before Romain Bardet joins them this winter, they are experiencing a leadership hiatus.
But they’re not rudderless. To the contrary, actually. Free from the pressures that come with having a favoured GC rider or an established sprinter, the Dutch outfit are enjoying their freedom to animate the race whenever it suits them (read: almost any occasion).
Overseen by British director Matt Winston, their task every day is simple: in the sprint work for little-known Cees Bol, and if it's not a sprint, get in the breakaway, or if the break comes back, win from an attack. Marc Hirschi finally did just that on stage 12 after two previous agonisingly close attempts, and today Søren Kragh Andersen repeated the success. The same Danish rider, by the way, that was third behind Hirschi two stages previous.
To illustrate their confidence, swagger and abundantly obvious enjoyment, Anderson was the third and final rider from the team to try his luck, after Tiesj Benoot led solo for four kilometres and then Hirschi (of course Hirschi) briefly broke away.
Rudi Kemna, one of the team’s sports director, told Cycling Weekly last week: “We’re a team that likes innovate, try new things, think about possibilities.” Quite.
They’re a wonderfully joyous team to watch at the moment and long may it continue. If there was a team of Julian Alaphilippes, it would be called Sunweb. Or maybe it should be a team of Marc Hirschis? Or Kragh Andersens? [Insert questioning emoji].
Bora-Hansgrohe are desperate to deny Bennett
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is not giving up his fifth to retain his green jersey. Beleaguered after his disqualification on stage 11 and sitting more than 60 points behind current occupant Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) ahead of stage 14's start, some commentators have remarked that should Bennett make it to Paris, his lead is already unassailable.
That observation is made based on an assessment of the stages in the forthcoming week: without analysing them in detail, the simple fact is there aren’t many chances to scoop up points both in the intermediate sprints and at the finish lines for the jersey’s contenders.
Bora know this, and their relentless rhythm on stage 14 (aided by CCC, whose rider Matteo Trentin still holds a fading but reasonable chance of winning green) indicated that perhaps they’re trying a new tactic: to race Sam Bennett out of the Tour. Bluntly, tire him so much that in the mountains he misses a time cut and is thus sent packing.
It would be a brutal way to cease the green jersey – and add further to the chorus of supporters suggesting that the classification needs an overhaul given that a sprinter can no longer win it just by winning sprints – but it would be effective.
Despite a visual struggle, Bennett responded well to the pace of Bora initially: Sagan collected 15 points at the intermediate sprint to the Irishman’s 10, thus reducing the gap to 61 points. Then Bennett slid backwards, conserving his energy for the mountains that lay in waiting. At the finish, Bennett’s lead was 43 points.
Ideas about just riding through the mountains might need to be dispelled, however: Bennett could be set to race as hard as ever to keep his race number, if Bora do indeed enact an Eliminate Bennett ploy.
But Sagan is losing the green jersey battle - despite clawing back points
One of the greatest cyclists of the current century, it’s difficult right now to escape the opinion that Peter Sagan just simply isn’t as good as we’ve become accustomed to.
The latest exhibit was the finale into Lyon. After his Bora-Hansgrohe team worked so hard to help him take the maximum points available at the intermediate sprint (15), their next task was to get him to the finish to claim the 50 points on offer.
That was taken away by Andersen’s victory, but still 30 points remained on offer – even more lucrative considering Bennett was floundering in the gruppetto. Sagan had to secure them. He started his sprint from a fair way out, but finally came home fourth, behind Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) and Simone Consonni (Cofidis).
The latter has won one professional race in his career (a Tour of Slovenia stage in 2018, for those wondering), and the former hasn’t proven victorious since the Tour of Poland’s 2019 edition. Basically, Sagan should not have been out-paced against the duo. Or, at least, the Sagan-we-know would not have finished behind the pair.
It feels futile, the work Bora-Hansgrohe are doing, if Sagan doesn’t take advantage at the finish line. The same happened on stage seven when he finished 13th, although a dropped chain was admittedly to blame on that occurrence.
There is no doubt that Bora are doing everything in their power to deny former employee Bennett green, but the suspicion is starting to rise that the Irishman will not win green, but rather Sagan will lose it, in spite of Bora's efforts.
Why do Jumbo-Visma hate breakaways?
Much has been made that this is the closest the Tour de France in decades, the top-10 settled by comparatively small time margins. It is evident that the form and condition of the GC favourites is very, very similar – even if Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) do look that bit better.
Thus, bonus seconds at the line are not just a welcome gratuity, they could indeed swing the Tour. Before the finish at Puy Mary, Roglič’s lead over Bernal was all gained through bonus seconds.
It appears that maximising such prizes is a key part of Roglič’s and his team’s strategy. Repeatedly throughout this Tour we have seen the yellow and black team either block the road to prevent breakaways or reluctantly let one pass after a hard first hour of racing.
Today was no different. They were one of the key drivers behind the failed breakaway of Stefen Küng (Groupama-FDJ) and Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), which when considering the profile of the stage, is quite remarkable for if any of this year’s stages looked suited to a breakaway, this one would have raised its hand and shouted persistently until it got its own way. This was a stage for the break.
Why are Jumbo-Visma so loathe to breakaways? It’s a question we can only speculate about, but one assumes that Roglič believes a key weapon of his in his quest to win this Tour is time advantages accrued at the finish line.
Why is he putting so much energy into it? Maybe it’s because he’s anxious about a resurgent Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) in the Alps, or one his Colombian countrymen like Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), Rigberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling) or Miguel Ángel López (Astana). Roglič already has a stage win. He doesn’t need another one to crown an expected maiden yellow jersey triumph. Or maybe he thinks he does. One to continue to watch.
Did Bernal attack? Yes!
As the flurry of attacks expectedly sprung in the final five kilometres like a clockwork Jack in the Box who no longer shocks his host but rather draws a tut and an “oh, he’s off again” remark, the curious sighting to Julian Alaphilippe’s move (he’s the Jack, by the way) was the counter punch by Egan Bernal.
Yes, the same Bernal who everyone seems to think has no hope in hell of defending his yellow jersey, being an unscalable 59 seconds behind Roglič; a whole 121 seconds better off than he was at the same juncture in last year’s edition. But, still, the 23-year-old just doesn’t have it anymore, apparently.
His attack was short-lived and ultimately fruitless. He remains an apparent unconquerable minute off the top. But we’ve not seen him try and attack in this edition before.
There’s a thought doing the rounds among fans from Bogota to Brighton and from Lyon to León that the Colombian will come good in the Alps, starting with tomorrow’s stage to Grand Colombier.
Such conjecture will be put to the test on Sunday and in the ensuing days, but the sight of the zero-on-the-sides, mop-on-top rider actively trying to attack is something that we can all rejoice in. Roglič does have to be wary of Bernal, and how concerned he will be will become evident in the next week.
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