Road Trip: What To Look Out For In The Final Week Of The Tour de France 2020

It’s the third and final week of our road trip all around the glorious nation of France. So far we have visited the vineyards of Cognac, the restaurants of Lyon as well as the lavender fields of Provence. This week we head for the mountains as well as the capital itself, Paris. The capital needs no introduction as I am here to show you the little wonders on route, so for the sake of intrigue we will bypass Paris in this list. Instead we will be looking at the must-see location en route in this week of racing through the Alps, the Jura and the Vosges.

Grande Chartreuse

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A hub of activity and innovation through history, the Grande Chartreuse Monastery has welcomed a whole host of festivities. Located in the stunning Chartreuse mountains that we will visit on stage 16, the monastery which is not accessible to visitors or vehicles has a history stapled in spirit making. Although it plays host to the head monastery of the Carthusian religious order, the monastery first produced its Chartreuse spirit in the 17th century with the recipe being codified in the 18th century. The authentic 130-ingredient drink has been spread around the world and holds a special place within Alpine apéritif culture.

The refuge was threatened by the hardline 1901 turn of secularism in French legislation, forcing many of the monks to flee to Northern Italy. The monastery has now re-assumed its place within the Carthusian order following the restoration of the French Republic following the Second World War and the sales from its liquor goes right back into the church as well as its affiliated charities.

Le Moucherotte

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By now I think that we are all aware of race leader Primož Roglič’s past as a professional ski jumper. Rather aptly, we will be passing by the site of the ski jumping program at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics on stage 16 of the race. The ski jump sits on top of the nasty Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte climb which will define the 16th stage of racing.

During the 1968 Games, it seated 50,000 spectators for the large hill ski jumping events. Nowadays it is abandoned and overgrown. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting site to explore as it is not protected, offering an exploration opportunity for anyone daring enough to visit the site. For any geocacher, be aware that this venue is actually a site of a cache (it is located in the judge tower). Let’s hope that Roglič makes a visit before heading down the valley for the next day’s stage. 

Lac de Roseland

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Sitting well over 1000m above sea level, the Lac de Roseland will be an oasis for the riders tackling the 18th stage to La-Roche-Sur-Foron. The lake is on the iconic climb to the Cormet de Roseland, a climb that we could not reach on the 20th stage of last year’s race due to adverse weather conditions. Characterised by its glistening blue surface, this reservoir is a great watering spot for anyone taking on the Cormet de Roseland or the nearby climbs of Beaufort and Pré which all come up to the lakeside. If you don’t suffer from vertigo, there’s a dramatic dam which produces 600 GW per year to power the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. 

The Three Valleys

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The largest linked ski area in the world, ‘The Three Valleys’, will be the amphitheatre for stage 17’s brutal finish on top of the Col de la Loze. The area was visited for the first time in a long while last year when the race visited the Henri Desgrange (the highest point in the race) summit finish at Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in this ski area. This year we are back, but instead, we visit the middle valley of Méribel.

The archetype of the glitzy skiing lifestyle of glam ski lodges, apres ski and snow-capped mountains of the Alps, The Three Valleys is a must-go for any avid skier.

Cheese In All Its Glory

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It would be rude to not mention cheese whilst we visit the east of the country. This part of the nation has a rich history in cheese making but on stage 18 we will make a flying visit to the home of Beaufort cheese, a common feature in cheese fondue up in the Savoy Alps (a region that also claims to be the home of tartiflette, a cheese-based bake). 

Beaufort will not be the only cheese that will make a big feature. The more widely available Comté cheese is produced all across the Jura mountains and the Franche-Comté region. Comté in fact is the most produced regional cheese in France. Many Comté farmers can tell the difference between regions of production purely from the smell of the Comté cheese, claiming that the Jura environment harbours a unique aroma.

Both have been protected in French law under the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée title which preserves the authenticity of localised culinary delights.


A mix of everything quintessential about the Jura mountains, the breathtaking village of Château-Chalon is a little gem. Perched on the rock, La Maison de la Haute Seille occupies the front of most of the postcards of this village, a multistorey house that overlooks, as well as storing, the vineyards of grapes surrounding the town. 

The unique vin jaune bears a yellow colour, a very different colour to that of nearby Burgandy. It is served in the traditional clavelin bottle which holds a capacity of 62 cl, differing from the usual 75 cl. Local legend dictates that this is the amount left of a litre of wine after ageing in cask for six years andIt’s celebrated at the Percée du Vin Jaune in early February, notably with a parade by Vin Jaune ambassadors. If you’re looking for at time of the year to visit and tate the wine for yourself, the Percée du Vin Jaune in early February is the time to come as the latest produce is released, attracting a parade of Vin Jaune aficionados and sommeliers.


Although the Tour de France has not gone to plan for Groupama-FDJ’s Comtois frontman Thibaut Pinot, he will make a passing visit through his home town of Mélisey on stage 20 of this year’s race, just 9 kilometres into the time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles. There are no points for guessing that the Pinot entourage will be out in force when he rolls through this town, maybe granting the darling of French cycling with an opportunity to meet and greet his most loyal supporters.

Interestingly, the Pinot name carries a lot of respect in Mélisey. Thibaut’s father, Régis Pinot, has been mayor of this village since 2008, even being re-elected in the spring of this year. On top of this, the old textile factory in the town bore the name of the rider as well, Textile Pinot et Thiault. The hero’s welcome awaits him.

Road Trip: What To Look Out For In The Second Week Of The Tour de France 2020

The second week of racing has arrived in this year’s Tour de France and yet again we will have the pleasure of touring around the wonderful host nation of France. This week we head to the west in the Charente-Maritime département before heading all the way across France to the Alps, visiting the Jura and Massif Central in the process.

La Rochelle

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The town of La Rochelle is known to many within France and beyond as it plays host to flocks of holidaymakers each summer. Boasting a long maritime history and medieval past, La Rochelle is known for its stunning harbours and picturesque alleyways that provide the perfect setting for any seaside French holiday. In addition, La Rochelle was one of the first cities in the world to launch a bicycle hiring system when the network set sail back in the 1970s.

It acts as the capital of the Charente-Maritime département, a département that we will roll through on the 10th stage of this race. No matter how many groups the bunch will be in, the flying visit through this walled city will be a visual treat for us at home.


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This heavy spirit is a staple of the West Coast of France and especially in the Charante region. Taking its name from a town en route on the 11th stage of the race, the brandy also known as eau de vie is synonymous with the French apéritif lifestyle.

Made using fermented grapes from the Cognac area, the drink is left to ferment for at least two years in oak barrels as the spirit eases down from 70% to a more moderate 40% alcoholic content. Although the brandy may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s one of the ways to a West Frenchman’s heart.

Puy-de-Dôme Volcano

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The Puy-de-Dôme volcano will act as the ominous backdrop for the start of the 14th stage in Clermont-Ferrand. The extinct volcano plays an important role within the area, even being the namesake for the département surrounding the mountain. Dramatically piercing out of France’s Massif Central, the Puy-de-Dôme is nevertheless very easy to find on a satellite map of the nation. A former stage finish location on the Tour de France, the volcano also houses one of France’s oldest archaeological sites in the form of the Temple of Mercury which wasn’t discovered until 1873. The climb was popular with the Romans too as an old Roman path provides one of the more popular routes to its summit, where you will be rewarded with impressive views over the Puy mountains that we will visit on stage 13 of the race. 

The Culinary Delights of Lyon

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Often regarded as the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon will serve as the finishing destination of the 14th day of racing at this year’s Tour de France. The city reaps the benefits of its neighbours in the Alps, the banks of the Rhône as well as the farmland of Provence in this city, giving them some of the world’s finest cuisine. Boasting Michelin star restaurants and top haute cuisine eateries, it’s hard to look past the culinary prestige of this city.

To get the full Lyonnais style at home, I’d suggest rustling up a Coq au Vin using Beaujolais, a local wine, as the base alongside some Lyonnaise Potatoes. If you’ve still got room for dessert, pralines trace their history back to this city so I’d recommend a rich Tarte aux Pralines.

Bugey Wine

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Fruit of the labour of farmers from the Ain region for centuries, the Bugey wines are the perfect hybrid between classic Burgandy wines and the different Savoy style that usually comes from the higher lands. As we pass through the Ain on stage 15, a Bugey wine would make the perfect companion to that tough day of racing as the racers head for the summit of Le Grand Colombier.  

Known more widely for its white wines, the wine is bound to be dry as 50% of the grapes must be of the Chardonnay type. This is protected under French agricultural law as the region holds the status of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, meaning that the methods and traditions of the Bugey wine are sealed and preserved solely for winemakers in the area.

King of the Mountains: 8 Climbs That Will Define The Tour de France 2020

The Tour de France is defined by its climbs. Whether it’s a yellow jersey battle or the epée for the polka dot jersey, the climbs are the main attraction for the 21-day long tour around France. With just a couple of days to go until the Tour de France sets off from Nice, let’s discuss the key climbs that are bound tio define the 2020 edition of the world’s greatest bike race.

Col de la Loze

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Standing at 2,304m above sea level, it’s hard to look past the new Col de la Loze as the stand-out climb in this year’s parcours. The fresh tarmac of the Col de la Loze offers a unique finale in this year’s race for many reasons, but most of all for its difficulty. Spanning 21 km and averaging 7.8% gradient, the climb’s final kilometres will be ridden on a cycling-specific pathway, the likes of which we have never seen before in the race. On top of this, the final kilometres will average at around 10% and will see slopes hit 20% at some points! A tougher challenge would be harder to find. We are sure to find out who the real climbers are once we reach the finish line of stage 17 on this Col de la Loze climb.

Col de la Madeleine

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The Col de la Madeleine has been a staple of the Alps since its first passage in 1969. The climb sits firmly between Saint Jean de Maurienne and Albertville, 2 common TDF  start locations, but this year the race will cross the climb before the peloton head for the Col de la Loze on stage 17. The climb is steady in gradient at 8% but lasts for 17 km. It is fairly categorised as hors catégorie (out if category) and could act as a springboard for those looking to make a daring move on this challenging day.

Col des Quatre Chemins

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The Col des Quatre Chemins may not be a categorised climb at this year’s Tour de France but it may be one of the most exciting and crucial climbs of the first week of the race. Usually ranked as a category 2 at the Paris-Nice stage race, the Col des 4 Chemins will be the final climb on stage 2 of this year’s Tour. As the riders approach Nice, they will tackle this 5.5 km long climb at an average of 5.5%. This may not seem quite as tough as the others that we are going to see in this list but with there being bonus seconds for the first over the climb and a fast downhill finish on the cards – this climb may prove to be pivotal for some riders Tour de France campaigns. The French will be hoping to see the likes of Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot attack on the climb to take the yellow jersey but I’m sure that Roglic and Bernal will try their best to light things up on this Paris-Nice staple.


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Placed at the finish of stage of the 2020 Tour de France, the climb to Orcières Merlette will be the first summit finish of this year’s edition. The climb may not look all that challenging on paper at just 7 km in length and a 6% average but the restless peloton will be sure to make this climb hard on stage 4 of the race. As the first summit finish, we are sure to be in for some surprises. Historically, the stage played host to a time trial back in 1989, a year considered by many as the best Tour de France in history. On that day we saw cycling legend Greg LeMond clinch the yellow jersey, could we be seeing another Tour legend port the maillot jaune on the summit of Orcières-Merlette this year?

Grand Colombier

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Known for its lush green hairpins, the Col du Grand Colombier has only been used twice before in the Tour de France including when Thomas Voeckler lead over the climb on his way to vanquish the polka-dot jersey in 2012. Le Grand Colombier, translating to the large dove house, will be one of the toughest summit finishes of the race. Taking place at the end of the second week of racing on stage 15, the climb up the Grand Colombier will test the riders over 17 km at a 7% average. The climb has no rest in it, ramping up and creating a truly testing climb where we will find out who the real title contenders are. In recent memory, it was Roglic who tamed the climb at the recent Tour de l’Ain – could he do the same again?

Col de Marie Blanque

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The Marie Blanque pass was last used in 2010 on the same day as the mythical stage up to the Col de Tourmalet. It averages at 8.6% over the 7 km ascension but the gradient ramps up to 11% at some points. This climb will be the last climb of the Pyrenees, thus proving critical for those looking to make the most of their time in this mountain range. It also sits at the end of the first week on stage 9, opening itself up to a frantic battle for seconds on the climb of the Marie Blanque and its descent.

Col de Peyresourde

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The Col de Peyresourde is one of the most frequently used climbs in the Pyrenees mountain range, featuring in the race on 67 occasions. The climb is the perfect example of a Pyrenean climb, short, narrow and tough. At just under 10 km in length and at an average percentage of 7.8%, this climb does not let up until the very end. The gradient comes close to 8 and 9% in many points, allowing for a challenging end to stage 8 on the way down to Loudenvielle. You may remember this climb from 2016 when Chris Froome launched his iconic downhill attack on his way to winning that year’s edition of the race. With a similar finish on the agenda, who will shock us cycling fans this time?

La Planche des Belles Filles

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The Vosges’ most iconic climb, La Planche des Belles Filles has taken its place as one of the most mythical climbs of the last decade of the Tour de France. With such moments such as Ciccone taking yellow, Aru’s maiden Tour win, Froome’s breakthrough – it’s no wonder why this climb is back again. This year however it takes a unique place as the final climb of the 2020 Tour de France on stage 20, but also, this stage will play host to the only time trial in this year’s edition. The riders will battle against the clock on the leg-breaking slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles which average 8.5% in gradient over the course of the 6 km long climb. However, the testing final slopes of the climb even hit 20%, proving to be the last challenge of the Tour de France. Upon the arrival of the final rider, we will finally know the name of the winner of the 2020 Tour de France.

‘The Remco Era’: Tour de Pologne Victory Brings In A New Age Of Cycling

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As we are all aware, the Tour de Pologne has taken place under a sombre backdrop following the horrific scenes at the finish line of the first stage in Katowice. The race that usually provides light relief for riders in the summer once again turned into a subdued procession as the peloton grappled with the severity of the crash on the opening day. No team had to come to terms with the reality of that incident more than Deceuninck-Quick Step who looked set to attack the race on the sprints and the hills of Southern Poland.

As the race unfolded the following days, the team still managed to provide quite the performance despite all that shook them in Katowice

The overwhelming favourite going into this race, Remco Evenepoel, was expected to pick up the fourth stage well ahead of the Tour de Pologne’s opening stage after having won the Vuelta a Burgos, one of the first stage races following the COVID-19 induced break. 

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Evenepoel was fixated on victory in his first UCI World Tour race of the year

Once the flag dropped at the beginning of the fourth stage, a rolling stage around the town of Bukowina, Deceuninck looked hungry to take a win that would proclaim the hashtag of #ForzaFabio for themselves, providing a beacon of hope for a sport so troubled by the news of Jakobsen’s crash. 

The team’s frontman would not leave anything to chance, emptying everything out onto the road. Once the Belgian struck out for victory, the elite group of favourites knew that it would be an incredibly difficult task to reel back the European Time Trial Champion, especially on the form that he has displayed since the season started back in January. 

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Evenepoel has not lost a stage race during 2020, taking GC the win in four races

Upon his arrival at the finish in Bukowina, Remco held up a sign of solidarity and respect that spoke larger than any words. In a gesture that shows his wisdom to be far beyond his years, the Belgian unravelled the number ‘75’ worn by Fabio Jakobsen. As the noise still echoes around the cycling Twitter-sphere surrounding the crash in Katowice, Evenepoel provided a moment of reflection and unity that is needed in this time of great confusion and emotion.

As a member of the new wave of cycling, Jakobsen would be honoured to see Evenepoel’s gesture as a way of unifying all generations of cycling during these times. 

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Evenepoel said after the stage that he ’took confidence in seeing the others struggle’

The 20-year-old phenomenon has already become the youngest UCI World Tour stage race winner since its re-vamp in the mid-2000s, but he has also become the first rider born in the 21st century to win a UCI World Tour race. This marks the changing of the guard at the highest level of professional cycling that is currently unfolding in the sport, headed by the likes of Evenepoel, Simmons and Pogačar who would identify as members of ‘Generation Z’. Who else should usher this era in than the man touted to become the next Eddy Merckx, certainly providing new hope for Belgian Grand Tour racing?

Following the mixed reception to Evenepoel’s victory salute in Burgos, this moment marks an important turning point in his career – not only in terms of his career as he takes his first UCI World Tour stage race victory, but also his maturity on the world stage. For someone aged just 20, many people were sceptical of Evenepoel’s maturity and self-control in comparison to the more mature and already established contenders. The threat of such young blood had certainly rocked the cycling community who are now bracing themselves for an era characterised by this young man, but now Evenepoel has shown to us all that he is ready for the big time. It’s hard to look past the fact now that his rise to prominence is a welcomed inevitability. Known simply as ‘Remco’, let’s appreciate this race win for what it is: the overture to the new age of cycling.

Italian Redemption: An In-Depth Discussion On Italy & The ‘COVID Monuments’

The story of Italian cycling is laced in a dramatology that underpins every aspect of this sport’s prestige as the lives of Italian icons of Pantani, Cippolini, Coppi, Bartali, Campagnolo and Battaglin give such richness to the history of the sport. The legacies of these riders have not only brewed the sport’s most passionate cycling culture but also made Italy the true home for road cycling. 

The story of Italian cycling over the last 8 months has been woven with the exact same level of tragedy, solidarity and pride that it always has been. However, the rival has not been a pink jersey rival, instead, it has proved to be a global pandemic. 

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The Giro d’Italia was originally scheduled to take place in May, starting off in Hungary

The pandemic may still be rumbling under the surface but August marks the return of UCI World Tour racing after a 100-day hiatus from our television screens following the unprecedented sequence of events triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak. Maybe in its very own redemption story, it was the race that first announced its postponement, Strade Bianche, that dropped the curtain on this once in a lifetime season of cycling that will see the peloton ride a compressed calendar like never before.

As they were the eye of the storm as COVID-19 swept through Europe, Italy will now see itself as the centre of attention for cycling as it plays host to its two monuments, Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia, in quick succession ahead of the Tour de France’s start later this month. Italy looks set to take on its role as host once again, as well as claiming some positive news headlines following the sombre repercussions of the COVID crisis.

As the final preparations take place within the RCS race organisation, it feels like a fitting time, therefore, to discuss what these races mean for Italy in their post-COVID state and the significance of these monuments for the nation that had been hit so cruelly by this virus.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

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Riders will now take precautionary measures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

We all know about how Italy has been affected by the current global health crisis. As the first European nation to enter a state of emergency, Italy often acted as the precursor of what was to come for the world. Serving as a cautionary tale almost for many other nations, Italy became the focus of global attention during its outbreak in late February and March. 

Just as the professional peloton was preparing to make their splash into Italy, the whole calendar was thrown on its head during the period of the season that would have seen Italy as the focal point of our sport. Images of a packed Piazza Del Campo and Via Roma were sorely replaced with scenes of empty Tuscan streets or with crippled hospital wards in Lombardy. 

In the face of adversity, unity and solidarity always triumph. Italy proved that. Videos emerged of balcony singing and remarkable rooftop tennis during the unprecedented period of lockdown in Italy. Through the most dramatic times, a new national identity has been solidified in the country and these monument races present themselves as the first opportunity to display this to the world. Now that the nation returns to the acclaimed ‘new normal’, the likes of Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia can bring back some normality into the new post-COVID era which Italy craves so very much.

The New Calendar

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The crowds may have been few and far between at Strade Bianche, but it marked the welcomed return of the UCI WorldTour

The UCI have undoubtedly struggled to formulate a new calendar that would maximise all the race that they can. Italy usually plays as the amphitheatre for the sport during the spring as the classics of Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo alongside Tirreno-Adriatico act as the show openers for the jewel in the crown of Italian racing, the Giro d’Italia. The COVID-19 outbreak has scarred this period of the season, forcing the UCI to shuffle the calendar to place them into a feasible period. 

To the upset of many Italians and fans of the Giro, the Italian races have been shelved into a more compromising place in the revised calendar. 

Tirreno-Adriatico has been pigeonholed into a week that coincides with the Tour de France whilst the Giro d’Italia clashes with the cobbled classics and the beginning of La Vuelta. It is fair to see why the Italians feel hard done by looking at the new calendar. With Il Lombardia and Milan-San Remo as the sole focuses, if you exclude some smaller stage races, of our sport once again.

Also, as the global health situation still remains somewhat on a knife-edge, some riders may be wary as to whether they should race in Italy before heading to France for the Tour. Many riders may be observing the new measures to self-isolate before racing in another country. As travel restrictions fluctuate between nations, the likelihood of France tightening measures is rather high. For riders choosing between the Tour de France and Il Lombardia, it will come as a no brainer for them. Especially as riders pack their bags for the Critérium du Dauphiné and the European Championships (now scheduled to be held in Brittany), the small gap between travelling to these two nations is not long enough to perform the minimum length of self-isolation in some territories.

With redemption in the air, it feels apt to evaluate the home chances for the upcoming Italian monuments.


Vincenzo Nibali

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Lo Squalo’ is undeniably the greatest Italian rider of the current peloton, boasting a palmeres including four Grand Tour victories and three monuments wins already. If there is anyone with pedigree it is this man, after having taken home the trophy from both of these races. Thus, adding him onto this list is nothing short of inevitable.

Now with a new squad, Nibali faces a lot in order to reclaim the titles of La Classicisima and Il Lombardia. A whole host of new team-mates will join the Sicilian on the startline, as the COVID-19 break has taken him away from racing alongside, and importantly, familiarising himself with, his new outfit at Trek-Segafredo.

Nibali will no doubt be feeling the pressure of his nation. After his previous emphatic victories in the Italian monuments, the expectation for a solo move on the downhill will be looming on his back. Nevertheless, once the shark smells blood, the outcome is going to be a formality.

Davide Formolo

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The understated Venetian is most certainly a favourite for the Italian monuments. Branded with the Italian Tricolore, Formolo will be looking to add more monument podium finishes to his silver medal from last year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Whether it be driving rain or temperatures in the late thirties, Formolo is a threat across the board, especially following his phenomenal ride at Strade Bianche.  

On his Giro d’Italia debut in 2015, a 22-year-old Formolo made his mark following an impressive solo ride into La Spezia, a victory that would etch his name into the minds of fans, journalists and directeurs sportifs alike. Still to this day, he adds similar wins on undulating courses to his name, however, his name continues to remain underemphasised.  

History may be in his favour. Formolo will surely be looking to repeat the feat of the aforementioned ‘Shark of Messina’ by taking a victory in Il Lombardia in the national champions’ jersey and his chances are high, especially as his team are guaranteed to send a stacked entourage for Formolo at these two races.

Elia Viviani

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The reigning champion of Europe will be going into Milan-San Remo as the obvious favourite for a home victory if it comes down to a bunch sprint as it has on so many occasions. After having a string of Grand Tour stage victories in the ‘re-invigorated second chapter’ of his career has seen him become one of the most lucrative riders in the world.

Now sporting the colours of Cofidis, Viviani has not looked as sprightly as he did 12 months ago when many touted him as the best sprinter in the peloton. He hasn’t taken a World Tour sprint win since Cyclassics Hamburg last year when he was still riding for his old Deceuninck squad. Now piloted by the likes of Laporte and Consonni, Viviani faces a whole new set-up going into his first classic with Cofidis. 

We know that the man in the European stripes does have the kick to still win on a profile such as Milan-San Remo. If taken right to the final straight, it would be naive not to hench your bets on Viviani. If Elia Viviani were to claim the title on Sunday, he would become the first Italian since Filippo Pozzato in 2006 to take the win from a bunch gallop.

Sonny Colbrelli

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Colbrelli has been one of the most consistent sprinters in the late 2010s, scoring top 10s across the UCI calendar. Although he has rarely finished as the victor, Colbrelli holds an enormous amount of pressure as one of Italy’s tougher sprinters coming into the proclaimed ‘sprinters’ classic’. 

The man from the shores of Lago Garda looks to be gaining momentum ahead of Milan-San Remo. He left the Route d’Occitanie with a solid stage win, on a gnarly profile nonetheless, and a certain level of confidence after beating the likes of Elia Viviani to the line. Following the departure of Nibali last winter, Colbrelli now has full control of the team for the race instead of holding back for the likes of Nibali. Bahrain-McLaren does not have the most dedicated sprint train in the pack but with the likes of Mohoric and Haller starting alongside him, his chances should not be played down.

Strade Bianche 2020 Preview

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Outbreaks of coronavirus cases on Italian soil back in March saw Strade Bianche cancelled, the first race to suffer the cut. Nothing delights cycling fans more than to see World Tour cycling back as the 14th edition of Strade Bianche gets underway. The white dirt roads, the short sharp ascents, finale into Siena’s Piazza del Campo – this is what we’ve missed! 

Having to adapt to new protocols will be evident with face masks, social distancing and sanitising materials – something we’re all getting used to. New safety measures have been successful for football, for cycling open roads mean that fans can’t be prevented from standing on the side of the road.

UCI President David Lappertient has praised the return of World Tour racing but with growing numbers of Covid-19 cases in Belgium, France and Spain – he has warned that race cancellations are still a possibility.

We all hope that everything runs smoothly. The sport is thankfully still alive and we’re now looking forward to what should be an entertaining day’s racing.

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179 days after postponement we now have a race on our hands. Dirt roads throwing up dust, riders in unknown form – all the ingredients for an exciting days’ racing.

Set among the Tuscan hills, this year’s race is of course different because of rescheduling – August instead of March, conditions won’t be the same. 184 km in total for the men with 11 gravel sectors, the Lucignano d’Asso at 11.9 km the longest section. The final sector at 12 km to go at Le Tolfe could see the opportunity for attacks before the final 16% climb entering Siena’s city walls and then a fast run to the finish.

Two years ago we had pouring rain and last year we had springlike conditions. We could see temperatures reach 34 degrees in Tuscany hence hot conditions, potential for gravel sections to be looser and dusty conditions will be inevitable, likely to cause havoc.



Who will win the 19th edition is the million dollar question! Because of a lengthy break we haven’t the foggiest on who will shine bright and take the victory but we do know some names to keep an eye on. 

Strong climbers and classics specialists are in abundance as are former cyclocross riders. Last year saw Julian Alaphilippe take the win, Jakob Fuglsang finish second and Wout Van Aert claim third place – all three starting their careers in cyclocross.

After a stunning comeback to win Amstel Gold last year, it’s no surprise that another current cyclocross sensation starts as favourite. Mathieu van der Poel has never ridden Strade Bianche so surely he cannot finish at least on the podium! We said the same about Wout Van Aert’s debut in 2018 and look where he finished.

Riding for Alpecin-Felix, the Dutchman is a hot property in world cycling and with no place at this year’s Tour de France his focus will be all on the one-day classics. It’s his debut, he has the talent and putting your cyclocross skills to good use on dirt roads will go a long way. Winning overall with favourite tagged on your back would be a huge achievement if the Dutchman pulled it off.

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Last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe starts as do four other former winners in Tiesj Benoot (2018), Zdeněk Štybar (2015), Philippe Gilbert (2011) and two-times champion Michal Kwiatkowski (2014 and 2017).

Deceuninck Quick-Step always make a big impression for the classics with Alaphilippe ready to kick off his revamped season ahead of the Tour de France, Štybar has the ability to win the race again and in Luxembourg road champion Bob Jungels and last year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen runner-up Kasper Asgreen, Quick-Step have options on the table.

After winning Milan Sanremo, La Fleche Wallonne back-to-back and surprising all of us at the Tour, Julian Alaphilippe has a big year ahead. Yes he’s confirmed that he won’t be targeting Tour de France GC but could that just be a way of shifting attention away from him? Who knows but there’s no doubt that the Frenchman has bags of talent and could easily win numerous classics from now until October.

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Belgian riders are in abundance with Wout Van Aert looking to go one better than 2018 and last year. The Jumbo-Visma man has finished on the podium twice and alongside rival Mathieu van der Poel, this could be a new emerging duel for years to come. 

Greg Van Avermaet has yet to score a classics win in Europe for CCC Pro Team, Dylan Teuns can climb all terrain as we saw atop La Planche des Belles Filles last year plus AG2R La Mondiale’s Oliver Naesen finished second at Milan Sanremo, so never discount the Belgians cooking up a storm on the road.

British squad Team Ineos arrive with two-times winner Michal Kwiatkowski, three-times road world champion Peter Sagan starts and although Astana arrive with last year’s runner-up Jakob Fuglsang, you might be tempted into thinking that current Kazakhstan national champion Alexey Lutsenko might try something. He finished seventh last year and as we saw at the UAE Tour back in February, Lutsenko can seriously climb!

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For the women, many of the teams have been in action already with three recent one-day races in the Basque Country.

This will be the first World Tour race in five months after Liane Lippert won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race to secure the Women’s World Tour purple jersey. The points series restarts tomorrow so thankfully Lippert will get to wear the jersey on the road arriving with a Sunweb team featuring Coryn Rivera, Leah Kirchmann, Franziska Koch, Juliette Labous and Floortje Mackaij. Sunweb controlled much of the bunch last year and they could do the same.

136km along the white gravel roads, the women’s route is exactly the same as last year.



Mitchelton-Scott arrive with the strongest team on paper with last year’s winner and current world champion Annemiek van Vleuten starting alongside Jessica Allen, Lucy Kennedy, Moniek Tenniglo, Georgia Williams and Amanda Spratt.

Van Vleuten might feel pressure as the favourite but she heads into Strade Bianche in good shape after winning all three recent one-day races in the Basque Country plus she’s also won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad pre-lockdown. 

Britain’s Lizzie Deignan looks set to start in Trek-Segafredo colours alongside Italian Elisa Longo Borghini, who has finished twice in third and took the win in 2017. Boels Dolmans line up with former winner Anna van der Breggen and we’ll never forget her sensational win back in 2018, so can she do it again?

One huge favourite is Canyon SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma. The Polish rider has finished on the podium for the last four editions, so could she take one big leap and take the overall this year?

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Whoever wins this weekend, it’ll be great to see the Women’s World Tour back in action plus the men gearing themselves up for what will be a non-stop bonanza of cycling. Hold onto your hats, make your predictions and get set for a terrific weekend as cycling returns!

Strade Bianche Donne starts at 10.55 and the race is expected to finish around 15.00. For the men, the race starts at 12.45 and the race is expected to finish around 17.00 – all UK times.

A rescheduled season

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When coronavirus halted the season it wasn’t the end of the world. The season looked in doubt, our annual fill of cycling disappearing for the foreseeable future just awful. Since Paris-Nice was cut short back in March, the pandemic continues its invisible grip on the globe, innocent people are still dying. Here at The Chain Gang our thoughts are with anyone who has lost a loved one during what is a very painful and stressful time.

Covid-19 is changing our lives, our daily routines and has affected sport in all its forms. Stadiums without football fans is a sad thing to see but for cycling fans we’ve gone without for a long time. The prospect of not seeing the five Monuments, the three Grand Tours and the World Championships was bleak on top of a pressing issue as to whether cycling could socially distance. Caution, new protocols and a desire to save the season was the UCI’s plan and now we’re delighted to see the sport back but not as we know it!

Going without our yearly dose of Paris Roubaix cobbles, women’s cycling, the Tour de France and rainbow jerseys would’ve been a disaster but we’re all very thankful that won’t be the case. A 71-day schedule filled with the three Grand Tours, women’s racing, the Classics and the World Championships assures the future of the teams, the races they rely upon plus the fans appetite. Of course we’d never thought we’d see the Tour de France take place in September nor the Tour of Flanders in October but that’s the new normal, a new story that’s sure to be fast and furious. 

The Vuelta a Burgos has got the revised World Tour calendar underway for every rider to get back into the rhythm of racing. 14 World Tour teams are involved plus Bora-Hansgrohe continued their pre-lockdown form with Austrian Felix Großschartner taking their win tally to 11. Face masks were in abundance, the crowd trying its best to socially distance and with Strade Bianche coming up, it’s fantastic to see the colour and splendour of cycling once more!

So what more have we got to look forward to from now until November?

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The Tour de France will always be the central occasion for cycling as it’s global appeal brings in potential new fans. Held in September, this year’s race is possibly the hardest yet with only one 36km time trial and four summit finishes via all five mountain ranges. Disappointing as it is to see the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse not taking place, teams will still have good preparation with August hosting Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo (with a changed route) and Il Lombardia – three successive weekends of exciting racing on top of the Dauphiné and the Tour of Poland!

While the Tour is the prominent race let’s not forget the other two Grand Tours. The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España have perhaps lost their status as huge annual races but despite the two clashing with Paris Roubaix and the Ardennes Classics, that shouldn’t take away the anticipation from cycling fans. Get ready for ‘Super Sunday’ on October 25th with a summit finish up the Col du Tourmalet at the Vuelta, the men’s and first-ever women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix and then the finale of the Giro – what a day in prospect!

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Rescheduled racing doesn’t mean a rescheduling of individual ambition with lots of questions still to be answered! How will Julian Alaphilippe fare after his heroic efforts in yellow last year? Will Chris Froome win a fifth Tour de France or will Team INEOS prioritise Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas to win their second titles?

New rivals for the yellow jersey are in abudance. Team Jumbo-Visma will have Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič and last year’s third-placed rider Steven Kruijswijk all set to try and dismantle INEOS’s dominance. Also never discount a revitalised Nairo Quintana at Arkea Samsic, Emanuel Buchmann looked good last year, Adam Yates will want to do better plus the French hope who’ll want to make amends after his injury on Stage 19 is Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot. 

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Key names are still up for the Giro. Two-times winner Vincenzo Nibali has already picked out his rivals to win pink and that includes one of the hottest properties in cycling right now.

Twenty years of age, a big career ahead of him, Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel is already being touted as a Grand Tour winner before even securing a Monument. Youth is the future but surely he can’t win a Grand Tour on his debut? It’s only his second season at World Tour level, he has the form after winning the Clásica de San Sebastián last year, he’s the European Time Trial champion and in 2020 he’s already secured overalls at the Vuelta a San Juan and Volta a Algarve. If Evenepoel became the first Belgian Grand Tour winner since Johan De Muynck’s 1978 Giro triumph – I think cycling would be blown away!

Last year’s Giro winner Richard Carapaz made history for his country and he’ll want to repeat the feat. Astana’s Jakub Fuglsang and Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates will also be threats and although he won’t win pink overall, three-times world champion Peter Sagan remains committed to skip the Classics and make his Giro d’Italia debut.

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The Classics are all mixed up to provide entertainment, preparation and intense racing. Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo and Il Lombardia make up August before La Fleche Wallonne on September 30th followed by an October based predominantly in Belgium for the Ardennes and cobbled classics. Races such as E3 Harelbeke and Dwars Door Vlaanderen are unfortunately cancelled but big names will still be up for the challenge.

Alpecin Felix’s Mathieu van der Poel has been left disappointed at not being allowed to ride the Tour so all his aspirations will come at the one-day events. Strade Bianche will his first assessment and who knows what this amazing rider can do after that incredible Amstel Gold victory last season. A Dutch wonderkid, van der Poel could add a lot to what he achieved in 2019 but he’ll have competition. World champion Mads Pedersen for Trek-Segafredo will want to make his rainbow stripes shine and let’s not forget the Belgians too with this year’s Het Nieuwsblad winner Jasper Stuyven, Greg Van Avermaet has his own goals plus Lotto Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert could make personal history in winning all five Monuments if he’s successful at Milan Sanremo.

All squeezed together, the classics look set to be exciting!

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If everything all goes to plan and protocals are adhered too, this new rescheduled season will be enthralling, dramatic and hopefully we’ll see some potential upsets to the usual yearly script. The World Championships in Switzerland are due to be held in their normal September slot but of course as the UCI has stated, if cases of the pandemic start to rise and with talk of a ‘second wave’ in Europe maybe on its way – decisions might see no racing whatsoever.

Caution is the most important word right now but joy is the overall feeling as cycling is back! Teams, riders and the media will all need to be careful. The sport is back with a new schedule which we hope will never have to happen again.

For the love of cycling, we hope everyone enjoys the next 71 days of action!


Zwift FOMO: How To Train During Lockdown Without Zwift

As we strike off another day of pandemic induced lockdown, it is becoming more and more familiar to see the latest stars and ‘cycling normies’ alike logging on to the lockdown e-racing phenomenon Zwift. I know that the quote-on-quote real-life cycling video game has been rising in prevalence over the years, but it seems to me that Zwift is reaching mass audiences for the first time, not just the most fresh-faced or tech-savvy. 

It is an inevitability that the cycling community has finally reached a point where Zwift FOMO is becoming a real condition. It may appear to be the optimum way to train and socialise during this time but let’s face it – we as cycling fans are all attracted to the latest shiny thing. Zwift firmly occupies this role at the moment. Nevertheless, is Zwift really the thing of our time and what can you do to conquer lockdown free from Zwift jealousy because believe me, I am coping without.

Who wanted a virtual Tour de France in the first place?

As a cynical and fundamentally tight walleted cyclist, I am, of course, going to throw caution to the wind when it comes to any flashy new trend. Zwift fits the bill on that account. With the moderate price tag of $13 per month, it may be hard to falter, however, no-one tells you about the hidden costs of getting into e-racing. In order to hit the virtual streets of Yorkshire, you’ll be in need of a power meter and a smart trainer. For those of us who bought a trainer during the dark times before e-racing, this upgrade would firmly set us back a fair amount. So for those of us on a budget, all you’ll be needing to tackle a session on the turbo trainer is a laptop connected to the internet. I must advise that you prop up a fan or at least have a towel at the ready because you’ll be dripping after only a few ‘virtual kilometres’ on the cheap man’s Zwift. 

Just throw on an old stage

My guide to cheap training sessions lies in one thing only: classic stages. Nothing is more motivational than seeing the best in the world wheel away on your screen. You may be used to watching the Giro on your sofa with a Mediterranean snack in-hand, but these are unprecedented times. So, please, swap the antipasti for a ride.

In the age of the internet and dodgy stream archives, any stage from the last 8 years is easily accessible online. I recommend watching a full race over your sessions, tracking the trials and tribulations of the real-life affray. Instead of obtaining new Zwift medals and prizes, flatter yourself by imagining that you’ve finished a Grand Tour by following along with a vintage edition of La Vuelta (I personally opted for the 2015 edition).

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Befriend the commentators to help make training sessions feel like a café fondo

You may think that watching a stage for 1 or 2 hours is dull. You may be correct in that assumption to some extent, however, this is the very part of the stage where we get to hear the commentators chat about life, the race and a whole festivity of topics. If you’re in for a long session on the trainer, I suggest finding a stage featuring Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby who will grace you with the most outlandish stories spanning from his tenure at a Breton biscuit factory to his Michelin Star boar stew in France. In a time where lots of us are having to turn to the same old faces in our real lives, it feels refreshing to acquaint yourself with one of the sport’s commentators. By the end of lockdown, you will have probably formed an inseparable relationship to your favourite member of the Eurosport team and inevitably create a ‘stan account’ on Twitter. 

The power invested in you

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Take the opportunity to transport yourself back to a time when Thomas Voeckler was still racing

By this, I mean that you are in control of everything. There are thousands of vintage rides on TizCycling (my personal plug for old stages) to choose from. Most importantly, you can tailor your workout without needing to follow the set sessions or the social pressure forced upon you by Zwift’s Silicon Valley style approach. 

Additionally, you have the controls to the video. You have the power to sculpt the length and depth of the workout – heck, you can even fast forward and cut a part of your session out. Remind yourself that sometimes the most flexible things are the most simple.

Rather embarrassingly, there is no need to hold back comfort breaks with the old school Europort – trainer combo! You can simply hop off the trainer and waddle to the toilet without the fear of losing your progress on an effort or prescribed training session. Neither are you left red-faced over stopping on the side of the road during a group ride or race. Embrace nature’s call and take it easy!

Words of wisdom

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Be prepared to sprint along with Gaviria in the final kilometres of a vintage Giro finish

If you opt to sweep up the natural breeze outside, you may have to face the dilemma of porting headphones or playing Sean Kelly’s dulcet tones through a speaker. I opt for the latter – the stickiness of sweaty headphones is a no-go for me. If you choose to use a speaker, be prepared for your neighbours to be less than forgiving over Rob Hatch’s impassioned delivery of Fernando Gaviria’s sprint victory. However, bask in the glory of knowing that your neighbours may be wondering whether you yourself are competing in an online race. I’m sure the approach in which you take will be dependent on how socially anxious you are.

As you power along with the 2017 Quickstep leadout train, you’ll probably start to feel the sweat drip down. Underwhelmingly, this is the same when on Zwift, just so you don’t feel left out. Bring out a fan or open windows and doors to keep ventilation flowing. Stock up on bidons and remember that you have the liberty of going to fill them up during your cost effective session.

Humans are social beings

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Pumping out the watts in the living room is not exactly an ideal situation

Due to the current public health crisis, the cycling groups and local chain gangs have had to take a break. Despite my malaise towards Zwift, it does allow its users to take on virtual rides with friends. However, for those of us too cheap for the platform, we can always do some improvising. Video calling services such as Zoom and Skype offer perfectly apt platforms to gather all your cycling buddies together for more than just a virtual ride. All in all, you can’t take a café stop or embrace the local scenery on your computer-generated roll through ‘Wattopia’. It is just as effective to hold a Zoom meeting whilst putting out the watts on your bargain bucket trainer. What’s more, you don’t have to feel the pressure of ripping your calves to stay up with the semi-pro of your posse, it’s perfectly acceptable to spin at your own pace when you’re not on Zwift. You are in the comfort of your own home after all. 

The beauty of a video game is that it is fictional. Try not to get too flattered by the boosts you’ll receive every now and then during an e-race, they aren’t real. I’m not the only one failing to get on board though, the pros are finding it a real drag. They may be receiving big bucks to ride around the ‘Alpe de Zwift’, but behind the scenes, some have been lamenting their experience with the platform. Now that a Virtual Tour de France is on the cards, the trend looks to be far from the grave.

All in all, these are unprecedented times and Zwift may well be the way in which the lycra clad clan of cyclists are coping. Nevertheless, try not to get too flattered by the boosts you’ll receive every now and then during an e-race, they aren’t real. Instead, save the pennies and enjoy the nostalgia of the previous day’s excitement. Even if we can’t stand on the side of the road and cheer our heroes up a climb, transport yourself into that pre-Covid world where we can get lost in the delirium of professional cycling. Escapism doesn’t have to come in the form of a digital cycling igloo, fight back the pressure from magazines and your co-équipiers and reconnect with cycling in its purest form.

Regardless, despite my efforts to lament Zwift’s existence, now that a Virtual Tour de France is on the cards, the trend looks to be far from the grave.

French Revolution: 5 Iconic Tour de France Bastille Day Moments

July is not only the month to celebrate the yellow-coloured festivities of the Tour as France, the race’s home nation also marks their National Holiday, Bastille Day during the month of July. Naturally, the day offers itself up as a landmark day in the race’s calendar for the French. Over the years the French have pushed themselves to honour their nation on the yellow clad roads of France, resulting in 32 stage wins (as of the time of writing). 

In this piece, we will look back at some of the most iconic and memorable exploits from riders who call France home on this extraordinary day.

Tony Gallopin & The Yellow Jersey (2014)

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Coming into the coveted Fête Nationale stage, an unexpected turn of events on the previous day in the Vosges Mountains brought Tony Gallopin into the yellow jersey on the eve of Bastille Day. Almost dazed in shock, Gallopin, a self-declared puncheur, came into the day hoping to show off the yellow jersey on full show and try to hold it even for just one more day.

After battling through the stage valiantly, it seemed to be a bridge too far for Gallopin who was dropped on the foot of the final climb of the day, La Planche des Belles Filles. 

This day may not have been the one that French fans had hoped for, it was most certainly a thriller for the audience watching on their television at home on the other hand. A flurry of long-distance attacks from heavy hitters like Kwiatkowski and Rodríguez set the scene for what was Nibali’s crowning moment as he claimed the yellow jersey from the grimacing Frenchman Gallopin who sat almost 5 minutes down the road. 

This day will go down as the day the 2014 edition was sealed, nonetheless, cementing Gallopin’s place in the Tour de France psyche for years to come. 

Alaphilippe & Pinot: The French Revival (2019) 

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With July 14th sitting at the end of the first week of racing, the scene was set for a crescendo on the roads leading to Saint Étienne. 

Julian Alaphilippe had not put a foot wrong on his way to stage 9 as he sat impatiently in the runners-up position in the general classification. The prospect of reclaiming the jersey was all but too tempting for Juju who ran away from the bunch alongside French hope Thibaut Pinot on the hilly run into the line.

For the French, this was the moment they had waited for. The young pretender in Thibaut Pinot had finally come of age whilst Alaphilippe showed the French that there was still panache left in the legs of someone from their land. As anticipation built around the duo, they provided a new-found passion in the nation for the nationalist staple that the Tour is. 

On Bastille Day a tidal wave of national pride in their hopefuls woke the nation up from their Tour de France siesta, ushering in what would soon become France’s most successful race in years.

Laurent Jalabert Plays His Joker In Mende (1995)

Julian Alaphilippe’s predecessor, Laurent Jalabert, lit the 1995 race up on a rolling stage in the depths of France. As a natural on the steep gradients and classic-style climbs, Jalabert rolled the dice and went for a long-range move, placing pressure on his GC competitors behind. Although Jalabert had never contended for the yellow jersey before, he declared his intent on this day by extinguishing Miguel Indurain and his Banesto team. 

On the Côte de la Croix Neuve, the final challenge on the way to Mende, Jalabert dropped all of his courageous breakaway group to ride solo into the final straight. Commentators and the French press were left overwhelmed by the green jersey wearer’s exploits on this stage, leading them onto believe that he could challenge for a podium position alongside his inevitable maillot vert victory.

Bernard Thévenet Ends The Merckx Era (1975)

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By the time the 1975 Tour de France came around, the era of Eddy Merckx was still in full swing. However, after years of utter dominance, the French press and cycling community had fallen out of love with The Cannibal who was assumed to be on course to win his 6th Tour de France victory in 1975. As the race developed Merckx shook off every challenger to his maillot jaune, of which he held for the second week of the race. One challenger did respond to his early trace moves however, Peugeot’s French challenger Bernard Thévenet.

The day before 14 juillet saw Thévenet take a momentous win at the summit of Pra-Loup on the eve of Bastille Day, claiming the maillot jaune in the process. Whilst the sport prepared itself for the Frenchman to waver on the 16th stage, Thévenet took the opportunity to make Bastille Day the day where he would place the final nail in the coffin of the Merckx dynasty by placing a devastating attack on the day’s Alpine passes. 

As he rode away to a 2-minute lead, the race leader made no effort to leave anything to chance as he delivered a ride that guaranteed his place on the top spot of the podium in Paris. The Tour would soon come to realise that this would be the last time Merckx would seriously contend the hallowed leaders’ jersey, making this a monumental ‘changing of the guard’ in terms of cycling eras. 

Warren Barguil Wins In Polka-Dots (2017)

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The Bastille Day stage of the 2017 edition was one that would act as an experiment for the Tour. A noticeably short stage through the Pyrenees acted as a full-on day-long yellow jersey battle that saw its bearer, Fabio Aru, fight for his race leadership role.

Contador and Landa tried a couple of fliers, but a reduced group at the end would be left to battle it out for the win in Foix. After hunting mountain points all day, it was down to Warren Barguil to bear the expectations of a nation.

In the end, Barguil delivered a flawless sprint to take the stage win sporting the polka-dot jersey, an iconic image of the 2017 race. The victory on Bastille Day was the perfect remedy and vindication following a near miss on a previous stage that saw him wrongly declared as the victor.   

Froome, Israel and ‘Sportswashing’: The Controversial Side To Chris Froome’s Move To Israel Start-Up Nation

It’s hard not to be set back by the news that 4-time Tour de France victor Chris Froome is upping sticks to the revitalised, and newly promoted UCI World Tour team, Israel Start-Up Nation after a career mostly spent in the Ineos, formerly Team Sky, manufacturing line. 

It emerged that Froome himself had changed his Twitter header image at a similar time to that of the initial rumours surrounding his future at the Israeli team. The Twitter account La Flamme Rouge broke the news, exposing the new and old header pictures which reveal to cover up any affiliation to controversial iconography, notably the Palestinian flag. This may sound trivial and surface level, but in my opinion, this subtle move is starting to uncover the darker side to Israel Start-Up Nation and other ‘national teams’ like it.

La Flamme Rouge posted this picture following the confirmation of Froome’s signing

Israel Start-Up Nation is not the only team to bear the name of a sovereign state in the UCI World Tour, far from it. Since 2017 we have seen the emergence of 3 new ‘satellite teams’ from nations in the Middle East.

The question of ‘sportswashing’ is always thrown about when simultaneously discussing politics and sport, especially when it covers geo-political issues and economics. This can be seen in football especially where the names of national state-owned airlines and oil refiners are plastered over the jerseys of the world’s best players. Gazprom, in particular, has been very cunning in their sponsorship endeavours, using them as a ploy to sway the support of sports fans, a large subsection of society, in an almost Orwellian manner. As a key ally of the Russian state, the issue of ‘sportwashing’ therefore arises as sport, politics and influence become entangled.

Cycling is no different. We have seen efforts from countries that operate mercantilist state-driven economies who see cycling as a way to bolster a newfound national image on the world stage, but particularly in Europe, cycling’s main market. In an attempt to cultivate a new audience, we now know Bahrain more for Vincenzo Nibali rather than their poor human rights record. We know that Israel-Start Up Nation sits firmly in this category. By keeping up appearances through sporting sponsorships, the image of the image is carved by the squad rather than the nation itself and its own political agenda which is placed in the subconscious of the audience. This is a dangerous line that is being crossed by all of these satellite teams.

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Pro-Palestinian protests became common on the roadside after the Giro’s visit to Israel in 2018

In terms of Israel, this issue is only amplified by the complexity and ideological divide caused by their own internal geo-political debates. I am, of course, referring to the question of Palestine. The squad have evolved alongside a developing global political, and humanitarian, debate centred around Israel and its actions towards Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza Strip). 

To any other team funded by private enterprises such as Sunweb or Jumbo-Visma, the riders would be free to express their opinion on such a matter or any other major humanitarian crisis (in Israel’s case: airstrikes, forced displacement and political persecution). Froome’s entry into the team, alongside the ‘clean-up’ of his Twitter page, therefore, shows us that there is more to the team than just sport. 

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Chris Froome alongside Sylvan Adams, Canadian-Israeli billionaire and owner of Israel Start-Up Nation

Although the team does not directly post anything condemning the ‘two-state solution’, the team’s financier and owner, Sylvan Adams, has a clear cut standpoint. 

In an interview with Cycling Weekly, Adams describes Israel as a ‘peaceful nation’, also stating that ‘there’s no slaughter of anybody’ in Israel. This is a naive perspective as statistics show a concerning number of deaths on both sides of the large fences separating Palestine from Israel. This is a disturbing comment from the owner of this team. By not acknowledging death at all, or the clear military force being used to control the conflict, cycling fans are left to believe that this geo-political issue is not an issue, contradicting all that is reported by media outlets across the world.

The paradigm of a two-state solution or Israeli occupation will no doubt rumble on for years to come, but it’s hard to deny that the focus on the debate has changed a lot within Europe, a region that has been allied to Israel since its creation. With widespread pressure being placed on the European Union to recognise Palestine, there is a need for the state of Israel to reinforce and de-toxify its image in Europe where many are starting to see Israel as a hegemonic regime. 

Alongside Adams’ new endeavours into F1 and the Williams team, it is becoming evident that Europe is becoming a battleground for Israel on a diplomatic front, just as it is for UAE who need to upkeep relations to keep its oil industry afloat. 

The sport we all watch with such apolitical fondness is becoming a vicious political tool to ascend a new sub-section of people, the cycling fans.

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Froome set off from Jerusalem when he claimed he 2018 Giro d’Italia title

So, this is where Froome comes into this. This seemingly coincidental Twitter header change is far more than a ‘change of social media scenery’. This is the beginning of his role as a pawn to the Israeli state in order to promote a certain political agenda to strengthen international relations within Europe. Although I doubt we will ever hear Froome discuss Nettanyahou’s administration in a pre-race interview, his affiliation to the squad will surely influence millions of cycling fans into believing that Israel is the ‘peaceful nation’ that Adams wants to convey.

Chris Froome is the UK’s headline act when it comes to cycling, possessing a large sphere of influence within the cycling industry in the UK. I’m sure that Froome is a hugely lucrative figure for any marketing team as he has the thriving British market, one that sees cycling as a more affluent sport and pastime, under his thumb. Therefore, this decision to move to this new satellite team and by removing any imagery linking him to an alternative view looks like what political theorists describe as inducement and coercion. These values do not sit well within the world of cycling.

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Israel Start-Up Nation will compete at cycling’s most competitive races following their promotion to the UCIWorld Tour

Yes, I am aware that this is essentially marketing for a country. If Israel were a private enterprise this would not be an issue. However, Israel is not a private enterprise. Nevertheless, companies who have poor humanitarian records or contentious ethical backgrounds or even a prevailing ideology would be met with discontent in the sport. States should be held to the same accountability. 

In an apolitical arena such as professional sport, especially cycling, it should be worrying that the sport is evolving into a more political forum where states are competing for political and economic kudos instead of race wins and sporting excellence free from these implications. Let’s hope for the sport’s sake that this move is the last we see from the politicisation of our sport, otherwise, we could see the roads of France turn into something much darker when July 2021 comes around.