Analysis from the eighth stage of the race
Groenewegen looks like the Tour’s fastest winner
The sprinting hierarchy at this Tour de France has shifted quite dramatically over these past two days. Prior to Friday Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) was the man to beat, but since then Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) has burst into the race with two scintillating victories.
Despite seeming a little slow to react when Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) instigated the sprint finish, the Dutchman found an extra yard of acceleration as the finish line neared, and benefited from avoiding the kerfuffle between André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Gaviria (more on that below).
Both Gaviria and Groenewegen were widely hyped as two young sprinters to look out for at the Tour, having shown excellent early season form. The two hadn’t actually raced against each other all season until now, and the contest between the two has proven fascinating, with the momentum swinging firmly in the latter’s favour after the former’s explosive start.
We’ll have to wait a while for the next sprinters showdown – the race enters the Alps after tomorrow’s visit to the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix, and there won’t be another flat stage until next Friday in Valence. On the basis of today’s finish, it will be worth waiting for.
Gaviria and Greipel relegated
By its own standards of soap opera drama, the Tour has perhaps been a little short of controversy so far. That changed today when both Gaviria and Greipel were penalised for dangerous sprinting, losing their respective second and third place finishes.
The decision might be deemed harsh towards Greipel who seemed more sinned against than sinner, although did – probably unknowingly – deviate slightly from his sprinting line to force Gaviria into the barriers.
Gaviria’s retaliatory head-butt, however, was certainly ugly, and he can no complaints about incurring the wrath of the commissaires.
The biggest implication of the judge’s decision is what it means for the green jersey. Had the result stood, Gaviria would have narrowed his deficit to Sagan to just 21 points. Instead, Sagan now has a lead of 63 points, and can reasonably expect to extend that margin on tomorrow’s cobbled stage.
He might have mistimed his sprint today, starting a little early and fading by the line, but Sagan’s grip on the green jersey just became a lot stronger.
Dan Martin’s GC hopes on the brink
What a difference a couple of days make. On Thursday Dan Martin was riding high having won on the Mûr de Bretagne with an explosive attack in the final kilometre, his first stage win at the Tour in five years, and a sign that he was on top form.
Today, he went down in a painful looking crash inside the final 20km that might severely dent his hopes for a high overall finish.
The incident cost him a total of 1-16 as he trudged over the line in a small group lead by his UAE Team Emirates teammates, following a gutsy but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get back into the peloton.
That already puts him 2-47 adrift on the GC, and, depending on how bad his injuries are, Martin may yet have to pay a bigger price. Although it’s been reported that the Irishman suffered no broken bones, the cut to his left knee certainly looked painful, and his body language suggested that he was in pain.
The crash could hardly have come at a worse time. Riding through the pain barrier will be especially difficult on tomorrow’s cobbles, and falling today will likely only have exacerbated any nerves about competing on such unfamiliar terrain.
We’ll have a clearer view tomorrow regarding how hurt Martin is – in any case, he’ll need to pull out an exceptional performance tomorrow to keep his GC hopes alive.
Big name sprinters miss out again
Cavendish again made a statement of intent by having his Dimension Data teammates lead at the front of the peloton during the final kilometres, but was again unable to keep up with the pace once the sprint began, and had to settle for tenth place.
Kittel endured an even worse day. It began with his own sports director accusing him of being self-interested, and ended with him finishing fifteenth on the stage, well adrift from the action.
No wonder the German was heard letting out a wail of frustration upon entering his team bus at the end of the stage.
Riders again show little interest in getting into the break
Today’s stage picked up from where yesterday’s left off, with the peloton gong at a steady pace and an unusual reluctance from riders to attempt to get into the breakaway.
Eventually a two-man group consisting of Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie) went up the road, with little resistance from the bunch.
The lack of attacking intent was especially strange considering that it was Bastille Day, the annual celebration that French riders are typically desperate to honour by doing all they can to animate the race and give themselves a chance of success.
A lack of riders interested in getting into the break has been a feature of this Tour de France, and is difficult to understand. Perhaps there are more teams than usual placing all their eggs behind a single team leader, including smaller teams that might usually be expected to go for breakaways? Or could reduced team sizes be factor? Or maybe riders have simply grown weary of the extremely long odds of winning from a breakaway on a flat stage?
Whatever the reason, we should start seeing bigger, more committed breakaways once the race reaches the mountains next week.