Étape of the Day – The 107th Tour de France

Featured image courtesy of gettyimages

21 stages complete, the final Étape of the Day for the three weeks as the 2020 Tour de France drew to a close in style. While sad as it is without crowds on the streets of Paris, it remained the Holy Grail for the sprinters, always a lottery to predict who will win on the Champs-Élysées but by now we definitely know who has won the yellow jersey.

It doesn’t get much better for Irish sport than today! Sam Bennett becomes the first Irishman to win the green jersey since Sean Kelly in 1989, the first Irishman to win on the Champs-Élysées and fifth to do it with green on his shoulders and the first Irishman to win multiple stages at the Tour in 40 years – not a bad Tour de France for Sam Bennett!

He has made history for his country; he should be incredibly proud with two stage wins to go with the maillot vert – a special moment in the history of this superb bike race that continues to create stories year after year without fail. Deceuninck-Quick Step gave him the perfect leadout to beat his fellow sprinters including the man who has dominated the green jersey since 2012 – Peter Sagan who finished third. Bennett’s passion to raise his bike aloft loud and proud, we salute him!

Getting over the mountains, taking the race to his rivals, emotions running high, two glorious stage victories and now the green jersey – Sam Bennett could easily do it all again next year. Peter Sagan has a new challenger to the green jersey for years to come now, Bora-Hansgrohe didn’t give Sam Bennett an opportunity at the Tour, Quick-Step did, he thoroughly deserves to be happy as a result.

Embed from Getty Images

It was close but not quite close enough for the world champion Mads Pedersen. The Worlds are fast approaching, the Dane has performed at this Tour despite no stage wins. Because of the pandemic scuppering up the season you have to feel a bit for Mads Pedersen, who unless he wins the road race next Sunday, won’t wear the rainbow jersey at the upcoming Spring (now Autumn) Classics.

Alexander Kristoff, Elia Viviani, Wout Van Aert, Caleb Ewan, Hugo Hofstetter, Bryan Coquard and Max Walscheid rounded out the top ten on the Champs-Élysées.

The night belongs to Slovenia as Tadej Pogačar is crowned winner of the 107th Tour. A huge talent who let’s not forget only turned professional last year! We’ve seen him excel at last year’s Vuelta by winning three stages and finishing third overall, but this is on another level! An outside bet that nobody had even considered.

With Egan Bernal and Primož Roglič arriving with strong teams in Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma, it just proves that the numbers of a team don’t always matter. Pogačar’s team was nowhere near the strength of Jumbo-Visma, a team that was without doubt the strongest but go home without the prize they’d hoped for.

The young man rode isolated but sensibly without losing his cool. On Stage 7 he lost over a minute to Roglič in crosswinds, responded in the Pyrénées to take time back, beating his compatriot on Stages 9 and 15 before the final time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles saw Pogačar in the form of his life! One of the most dramatic editions of the Tour, one we’ll remember for years to come. It is remarkable that he becomes the 12th rider to win yellow on his debut but most significant the youngest winner of Le Tour post-1945 – chapeau! For the next four editions of the race Tadej Pogačar will still find himself in the age range to compete for the white jersey – that’s the scale of this remarkable achievement.

Credit must go to Primož Roglič who’s been humble to his usurper, simply beaten by his younger Slovenian on the crucial stage to seal the general classification. Jumbo-Visma will go home shocked at how they did not win this year’s race but for Roglič himself let’s not forget the trajectory of his career. A ski jumper only eight years ago and in all the years previous he has become a fantastic Grand Tour contender with one under his belt already for goodness sake! Nobody can take away his Vuelta triumph last year, Primož Roglič may not say much off the bike, but on it he’s just a legend.

Legend status also belongs to Richie Porte. A Grand Tour podium for the first time in his career before he returns to Team Ineos in 2021, he didn’t win the Tour but remains one of the best climbers in the world.

Embed from Getty Images

At the end of three weeks this year’s Tour de France feels like a changing of the guard. For two years in a row youth has won the yellow jersey, new sprinters are winning the flat stages, the green jersey has changed shoulders and fresh talent is shining. The most combative rider was awarded to Marc Hirschi who thoroughly deserves the title after his breakthrough stage win into Sarran – Team Sunweb have had a brilliant Tour.

From Nice to Paris under the lingering threat of a pandemic – the Tour de France thankfully made it all the way round. Did it have an impact on Covid case increases in France? Too late now as the race has been and gone. Was it the right decision to hold the race? Again, too late as the race has been and gone. The organisers have done their best to keep riders and staff safe, some fans were irresponsible and for the good of the race reduced spectators at the side of the road would’ve been better.

Coronavirus has mixed up the season, a Tour de France in September that has been an unbelievable to watch. We sincerely hope that next year’s race won’t be held with a pandemic on – we hope and pray for this nightmare to be over. Tadej Pogačar is our champion in the most dramatic of circumstances – we’ll never live down what was the 107th race for the maillot jaune.

Vive le Tour!

Embed from Getty Images

Étape of the Day – Super Sam Bennett

Featured image courtesy of Yuzuru SUNADA

The Tour de France is back on the road. Week one was eventful, chaotic and some GC contenders riding conservatively – week two began with the flattest stage of the entire race. Stage 10 from the Île d’Oléron to the Île de Ré via coastal roads of the Charente-Maritime was always going to end in a sprint but for the GC it also turns into a stressful day. Let’s unpack the day on what was a fantastic day for Ireland!

After missing out on selection at last year’s Tour for Bora-Hansgrohe, it’s no surprise that the emotion emerged in Sam Bennett’s post-race interview – a sprinter who’s been denied his opportunity at the biggest race in the world but now finally has a Tour de France stage to his name.

A well-deserved victory for Bennett who joins an illustrious list of Irish stage winners, the Dan Martin’s, the Sean Kelly’s and the Stephen Roche’s – we now have another that we’ll talk about for years to come. Deceuninck Quick-Step made the day perfect with terrific work by Tim Declerq all day at the front, Kasper Asgreen with solid work and the leadout by Michael Mørkøv was superb.

Stage wins at the Giro, the Vuelta and now the Tour don’t come sweeter for a sprinter. The ability he has, Sam Bennett should realistically already have won stages at the Tour. Difficulty in resolving his contract at Bora-Hansgrohe, its been frustrating and has taken so much hard work to get to this point. Quick-Step have given him a chance and he’s taken it. Caleb Ewan beaten at the line will be disappointing for him but judging by his social media it’s always nice to see fellow sprinters praising each other, Ewan saying he’s pretty happy for Sam Bennett and we are too!

Embed from Getty Images

Elsewhere today’s stage was the best placing for Peter Sagan in third but he’s now out of the green jersey. We are witnessing something we’ve not been used to at the Tour in eight years – a competition for the maillot vert. Sagan does not seem himself. With three realistic stages left for the sprinters, if Sam Bennett storms to victory again at this Tour and scores more points at the intermediate sprints from now until Paris, then he’ll win the jersey. While the world of cycling absolutely loves Peter Sagan, surely it would be nice to see a change in green?

Great to see André Greipel finishing sixth but for Elia Viviani the wins just aren’t coming. The Italian finds himself in exactly the same position when riding for Team Sky – a team targeting the GC with Guillaume Martin and not much resource for his own goals in the sprints. No disrespect to Viviani as he’s a top sprinter but the man himself form wise is going backwards. Cofidis are a completely different team to Quick-Step but perhaps time will tell as to whether Elia Viviani can get better.

Major enquiries are going to have to be made at Team Sunweb. They once again had the perfect lead-out for Cees Bol but disintegrated again – the Dutchman finished eighth.  Jasper Stuyven and Luka Mezgec rounded off the top ten.

Embed from Getty Images

For the yellow jersey contenders, the GC doesn’t change but it was far from a quiet day. Flat days, road furniture, roundabouts and a stage that hugs the coast always cause nerves among the peloton. Guillaume Martin and Tadej Pogačar both hit the deck but nothing serious, Miguel Ángel López looked at one point cut off by the winds in the finale and even Primož Roglič’s team Jumbo-Visma took a wrong turn at a roundabout in the final kilometres. Ineos Grenadiers did their usual work at the front keeping Egan Bernal safe – job done for everyone and another day down.

Crashes were in abundance. Many speedy recoveries to Mitchelton-Scott’s Sam Bewley who suffered from a fractured wrist – a cruel way to end his Tour de France debut. Toms Skujiņš, Davide Formolo and Nico Roche all hit the deck with nasty ripped jersey’s and road rash – UAE’s Formolo the most prominent being a domestique to Tadej Pogačar.

The Tour is back on the road as week two rolls across the heart of France. Nothing pleases us more to see that after Covid tests on the rest day, no rider has tested positive. Some team staff have been sent home after testing positive and how sad that the race director Christian Prudhomme tests positive and has to leave the race! We wish him a speedy recovery but it’s a reminder that this race is still in the balance.

While the racing is still on, we keep going. Tomorrow is another flat stage although there is one category 4 climb! For the sake of our enjoyment – Vive le Tour!

Embed from Getty Images

Étape of the Day – Bravo Julian!

Featured image of gettyimages

If Stage 1 was an unexpected win for Alexander Kristoff, Stage 2 certainly wasn’t an unexpected triumph for a rider who lit up last year’s Tour. There was no hope in betting against Julian Alaphilippe to win today’s stage in a three-up sprint with the approaching peloton.

After lighting up the Tour last year it isn’t surprising that Julian Alaphilippe has done exactly the same again. He’s back in the yellow jersey and who knows for how long!

The day started with the fight for the green jersey as Matteo Trentin fought for points up against Peter Sagan. In the break, AG2R’s Benoit Cosnefroy and Cofidis rider Anthony Perez battled Frenchman on Frenchman for the polka-dot jersey. Cosnefroy himself put in so much effort to keep up with the pace on the Col de Turini so hats off to him – our new leader in the polka-dots!

Embed from Getty Images

The break was caught on the descent of the Turini and throughout the final 80 km we saw Jumbo-Visma control the race up until the final climb on the Col d’Èze.

The stage headlines though belong to Julian Alaphilippe, a rider who attacked on the final loop of the Nice circuit was joined by Adam Yates and Marc Hirschi before jumping them both.

Last year Alaphilippe lit up the race and who would bet on him doing the same again. A superb stage win another appearance in the yellow jersey, could the GC now be Alaphilippe’s target. If you were Jumbo-Visma or Ineos – here is a rider who could easily spring a surprise.

For Sunweb’s Marc Hirschi he’s another talent who should be proud for having a go but for Adam Yates, he’s in a similar situation to Alaphilippe himself. Both riders have declared pre-race that they’re not going for the GC but could they be bluffing? We’ll have to see how they both fare in the stages ahead.

All the contenders finished safely. Ineos pair Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz are in the top ten as is Tom Dumoulin. Both Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos will be relatively happy with the start to their Tour despite some bumps and bruises. Controlling the front of the peloton seems to be Jumbo-Visma’s new role, a role that we’ve been accustomed to by Ineos over the years. The battle between the two teams goes on.

Embed from Getty Images

Ride of the day though belongs to Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu. A key domestique to Thibaut Pinot we saw him suffering with a back problem as soon as the stage began. The young Frenchman finished the stage – chapeau sir!

Early days but the GC now has a structure. Julian Alaphilippe is in yellow and for Deceuninck-Quick Step another opportunity for Sam Bennett to sprint tomorrow.

Stage 2 was a classic, edge of your seat stage. It was classic Julian Alaphilippe, one of the best if not the best bike rider in world cycling right now.

He’s back in yellow. Could the 2019 Tour de France be repeating itself?

Embed from Getty Images