A picture-perfect finish for Ineos Grenadiers
It has not been a good Tour de France for Ineos Grenadiers by any stretch of the imagination, but today will be remembered very fondly.
The image at the finish of Michał Kwiatkowski and Richard Carapaz crossing the line arm-in-arm, with no other rider in sight having all been dropped ages ago, is one that sponsors dream of.
As a finish line photo, it was reminiscent of the famous occasion on Alpe d’Huez when team-mates Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond also rolled over the finish line side-by-side, although on this occasion you sense that the camaraderie between the two riders is a lot more genuine.
Kwiatkowski was crowned the stage winner, in a decision presumably reached by the powers-that-be behind the scenes at Ineos Grenadiers, and it’s easy to see why. The Pole has been a tireless team worker throughout his stint at the team, and had ridden in a typically dutiful manner all day today, riding at the front to ensure Carapaz could collect as many points in the mountains classification.
With Kwiatkowski at last adding a first-ever Grand Tour stage to his illustrious palmarès, and Carapaz taking over the polka-dot-jersey, everyone at the team ends the day happy.
Roglič is imperious once again
The hoped-for fireworks never really went off in the race for the yellow jersey, as Primož Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma team-mates were once again too powerful to give any hope to their rivals.
As expected, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) did at least attempt to make up some of the 57 seconds needed over his Slovenian compatriot, putting in two accelerations near the top of the day’s hors categorie final climb, Plateau des Glières. But with Sepp Kuss still with him to latch on to his wheel, Roglič never seemed under any pressure at all, and even made his own acceleration on the gravel section just after the summit.
In the end Roglič finished comfortably in a group of around a dozen riders behind the Ineos Grenadiers duo, including the superlative-defying Wout van Aert, who found yet another way to help his leader by sprinting for third place to ensure the bonus seconds at the line did not get taken by Pogačar.
Roglič has now survived every road mountain stage of this race without being dropped, save arguably for the time he chose not to chase Pogačar on stage eight. It’s been a display of dominance that even Chris Froome might envy.
With just one rolling stage tomorrow and the time trial on Saturday to navigate before Paris, and with a lead still of 57 seconds ahead of Pogačar, it will take something spectacular for him to lose the yellow jersey now.
Bahrain-McLaren and Mikel Landa earn redemption
Not deterred by the embarrassing unravelling of their plan on yesterday’s stage, Bahrain-McLaren again adopted aggressive tactics in service of leader Mikel Landa — this time to far greater success.
It was clear from the start of the day that they were taking on a very different approach than yesterday, when two of the riders responsible for pacing the peloton yesterday, Pello Bilbao and Damiano Caruso, instead went up the road on the attack.
The plan was for Landa to attack on the Plateau des Glières, with Caruso dropping back to help him at the top of the climb, and Bilbao doing the same to lead him down the descent to the finish.
Although he was not able to gain any time on the three riders currently on the podium (Roglič, Pogačar and Miguel Ángel López), who all managed to stay on Sepp Kuss’ wheel as he slowly reeled in Landa on Plateau des Glières, the move did help drop two of the Spaniard’s main rivals on GC, Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
That moves Landa up from seventh to fifth overall, his highest rank of this Tour de France so far. With López still two minutes ahead of him in third, and strong time trialist Richie Porte in fourth, a longed-for podium finish is probably beyond him, but kudos to him for giving it a real go these past couple of days.
Richie Porte struck by yet more ill-fortune
It can only be assumed that Richie Porte has spent most of his life breaking mirrors and walking underneath ladders, as once again he was the victim of a horrible dose of bad luck.
Having made it to the summit of Plateau des Glières in the lead group, the Australian came down with a puncture on the subsequent gravel roads that followed, and was left in the lurch as the neutral service car was unable to provide him with an appropriate wheel change.
Porte’s whole career has been plagued by bad luck, with something like this always seeming to go wrong at the Tour de France and other Grand Tours, whether it be a crash, badly time mechanicals, or even harsh time deductions. As a result, he’s very rarely had the chance to show what he can do riding for GC deep into the third week of a Grand Tour.
The 2020 Tour has been a rare exception, and proof that, even at 35-years-old, he has it in him to compete for a high place on GC, if only he can catch a few breaks.
Fortunately, today’s puncture was not as fatal as it could have been. The yellow jersey group ahead of him were not as committed to distancing him as they might have been, and he found an alley in Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma), who assisted in the pace-setting with a top ten overall finish for himself in mind.
Eventually the Porte and Dumoulin group made it back to the yellow jersey group, meaning Porte holds onto his fourth place on GC. His dream of a first-ever Grand Tour podium finish remains alive.
Ineos Grenadiers chase the polka-dot jersey
Former Team Sky rider Peter Kennaugh told a revealing anecdote while commentating for ITV today.
When out training once for the team, Kennaugh, just to amuse himself, sprinted for an arbitrary landmark. When he jokingly explained to coach Tim Kerrison that he was “sprinting for mountains points”, Kerrison was nonplussed, replying: “We don’t do king of the mountains jerseys at Sky.”
It speaks volumes for how far from the plan Ineos Grenadiers’ Tour de France this year has gone that they’ve resorted to chasing the mountains classification. Today, their rider Richard Carapaz was locked in a battle all stage-long with Marc Hirschi for points over the summits, with Hirschi coming out on top over the first two, and then Carapaz taking the rest after Hirschi went down in a crash on one of the descents.
As a result, Carapaz moves into the lead of the mountains classification, and will wear the polka-dot jersey with just three stages left to climb.
The Ecuadorian would already have the jersey sewn up, were it not for the category one climb present on Saturday’s time trial stage to Planche des Belles Filles. Ten points are available on the climb, and he holds a lead of just two and seven points ahead of Pogačar and Roglič respectively — both of whom are likely to be in the mix to win that stage and, therefore, the points.
Having now finished runner-up on two stages in the Alps, it would be cruel for Carapaz to again finish runner-up in the mountains classification. But, as a rider not noted for his abilities against the clock, will likely have to hope for other riders to better Roglič and Pogačar in the time trial if he’s to keep the jersey until Paris.