The 2020 Tour de France has been pretty remarkable so far, mostly because it is still underway. Despite everything, even the race director himself testing positive for Covid-19, the carnival continues. Whilst the mega fast racing, punchy route and resulting crashes have been can't-look-away entertaining, the show rolls on.
But what has really gone down in week one of the Tour de France? Who's looking good, who's had a shocker, and what do you need to look out for in week two. If you're new to cycling and Tour de France watching, or haven't been paying attention so far, then the following insight should help. By 'insight' I of course mean my hastily cobbled together thoughts after devouring every available second of racing, highlight and podcast over the week. Someone has to do it.
Has it been a good first week?
It's no small thing that the biggest success story of the first week is that Le Tour is actually still going. After testing some 700 riders, staff and other 'bubble residents' on the first rest day (Monday), only four staffers from different teams returned positive tests. As mentioned, chief hand-shaker Christian Prudhomme has gone into isolation, but Le Tour rolls on. Interestingly, French Prime Minister Jean Castex spent a whole stage in the director's car, but thankfully tested negative. That really might have been rideaux for the race.
After a manic and crash filled start to the race, most riders will be thankful that they made it to the rest day. For so many it's already over, even if they're still in the race. It wasn't just the French that shed a tear for Thibaut Pinot in the mid week, after another silly crash put paid to his (and France's) hopes of winning. Again.
For the most important contingent (that's us fans, by the way), it's been one of the most exciting first weeks in memory. Whilst it's never nice to see a load of riders crash, it does really shake things up right away. With some major teams losing very important riders early on, and some big favourites losing bucket loads of time, we've been treated to some fairly mad racing.
This route was always going to be spicy, with a load of climbing in the first week and the first summit finish almost impertinently early on stage four. Thankfully this means we have been spared the usual tedious first week of long, dull stages, with an uninteresting team (BMC anyone?) taking the yellow jersey in the team time trial, resulting in a non contender (Greg van Avermaet anyone?) wearing it for seven boring stages. The 2020 Tour de France has been the most 2020 thing about 2020 so far, and it has been great.
So what has happened?
- The women's race, La Course, was way more exciting than the men's race on the opening day. Imagine if Lizzy, Vossy and AVV could carry on that battle for a bit longer. You know, like three weeks?
- We learned that a good rain storm in an area like Nice, after a couple of months of drought, makes for very slippery roads. Most of the peloton also learnt this, the hard way.
- Not just reserved for your local Cat 3/4 race, it's nice to see that even the best in the world, when confined to Zwift and starved of actual racing for months, will also ride straight into one another when let back on actual roads. Remember turning, and you know, breaking, guys. Guys?
- Julian Alaphilippe proved (again) he's the most exciting/enigmatic male rider in the world by dancing away from almost everyone to take the Yellow Jersey on stage two. He then reaffirmed his rebel, 'I don't play by your rules' outlook a few days later by taking a water bottle inside the last 20km of the stage, which isn't allowed. He was penalised 20 seconds and lost the jersey. Was it on purpose? Or just really dumb? We'll never know!
- Adam Yates, somewhat reluctantly became the 9th Brit in history to wear Yellow. It may not have been the way he wanted to take the jersey (he's 'only here for stage wins', remember) but he defended it admirably for a few days whilst the bigger boys picked on him. No shame at all for the 'lesser' Yates brother, but relinquish Yellow he did. Back to the stage wins, yeah Adam?
- Marc Hirschi (who?) announced himself as a young talent to watch, with a couple of great stages. The whole world was rooting for him to win after a solo 90km break on stage 9.
- Caleb Ewan proved that being three feet off the ground is handy whilst sprinting on a push bike, as he slid under his rivals to cross the line first with apparent ease on stage three.
- Primož Roglič proved that he's still going to win Le Tour by powering away from everyone on the first summit finish on stage four. At the same time confirming that Jumbo Visma are by far the strongest team in the race.
- Teammate Wout Van Aert showed that he's the best male bike racer in the world, blowing by the best sprinters in the race just one day after blowing the best climbers off his wheel. He has two stage wins already, plus the hearts of the cycling world in his back pocket.
- Thibaut Pinot is the unluckiest bike rider in the world.
- Sam Bennett became the first Irish rider to wear the green jersey since Sean Kelly, some 30 years ago. He's been successfully deploying the Peter Sagan method. I.e. not actually winning stages, but being really consistent and picking off points everywhere.
- However this made Peter angry, deploying his whole team to drive a hideous pace from the gun the very next day to get his jersey back, punishing 'plucky Irishman' Bennett for such hubris.
- Despite this show of strength, 2020 might be the year we see the Sagan Show start to diminish, as his form seems way off previous years. I mean, he's still in the green jersey at the first rest day, obviously, but he looks a shadow of his former self.
- Nairo Quintana looks like he's having the most fun, and it's reflecting in his riding. A rejuvenated Nairoman is a delight to see, and he's even calling for a Colombian alliance to try and defeat Jumbo. We're all crossing everything in the hope that this happens. A lovely side story is the blossoming bromance between Nairo and Yorkshireman Conor Swift. It's everything we need this year.
- As much as I love a savage mountain stage, the wind is making a strong case for most exciting factor at Le Tour. Maybe because it enlivens an otherwise boring day, but a good crosswind really does cause havoc. Pogacar may not have dropped such an explosive attack on stage 8 had he not lost over a minute in the wind the day before. Pray for more wind.
- It's been pretty rapid for a first week. Despite their protestations to the contrary, teams have been racing each other to the first rest day in case of cancellation. The number of climbing records that have tumbled this week is testament to this. Adam Yates, with classic Lancashire enthusiasm, called the first week 'quite fast'.
Who's looking good then?
Despite all the crashes, the high pace and the fact that we've lost a few big names already, we've still got a nice and tight top ten, which is great for the fans. Riders that should be pleased with their first week are:
Roglič, Ewan, Yates, Bennett, Nairo, Landa, Bernal, Martin, Bardet. Oh, and the guy in the Polka Dot jersey (anyone know who that is?)
Riders who have had a stand out week include Van Aert, Tadej Pojacar and Marc Hirschi.
Van Aert is currently destroying the accepted idea that there is a 'type' of cyclist, but for me it is Pogacar who has had the best first week. He looks razor sharp, and the only person who can properly challenge Roglič uphill. Shame he's only got about three teammates left, but if he can light things up all by himself that will be even more impressive.
Who's already out of the picture?
The biggest loss is of course 'darling of France' Thibaut Pinot, but are we actually surprised? The goat father (I just made that up) always encounters 'something' that derails his huge potential. It makes you wonder if there is more to it - crippling self doubt, the weighty expectation of a cycling mad nation? Let's hope he wins some stages to salvage something.
Pavel Sivakov, who also crashed hard on day one, is a big loss for Ineos in the early stages. He looked strong going into the race and would've been a key leftenant for Bernal. Hopefully he recovers to have some impact later in the race.
Swashbuckler-in-chief Julian Alaphilippe has also abandoned his tilt at the overall, and despite leading the race early on, can hardly call this week a success. Everyone's favourite rider will most likely do what he does best for the rest of the race. That's climb with gay abandon, descend without a thought for personal safety and generally thrill the watching masses. And by god do we love him for it!
Week two - what should I look out for?
As I'm late in writing this (quelle surprise), we've already witnessed a fairly boring sprint stage post rest day. I loved seeing Sam Bennett taking his first stage win though, for that emotional interview and the absolutely neutral and in no way biased commentary of Sean Kelly. I guess they are from the same town, so seeing King Kelly getting all misty eyed and fatherly is wonderful.
After another run of the mill sprint stage (to be won by either Ewan or WVA), we enter the Massif Central and the climbers and breakaway specialists will come to the fore. On the menu we've got a couple of very hard stages, loads of categorised climbs, and then one of the most beautiful Hors Categorie (unclassified) climbs you'll ever see. It's going to be fun to watch. Absolutely brutal to ride!
Look out for the pure climbers who don't have a GC contender to protect anymore to be flying up the road on these stages. The Yellow Jersey favourites will be happy to let them go as they are too far down on time to be a threat. We're in for a few 'race within a race' scenarios, as the breakaway contest the stage win, and the GC favourites take lumps out of each other a little while later.
I'm looking at Thibaut Pinot's now rudderless mountain domestiques to be getting in the mix, as well as the usual bunch of 'you better get in the breakaway or you're fired' hopefuls. Wunderkind Hirschi also has to win a stage, if there is any justice left in this world.
Which Stages do I HAVE to watch?
If you're due a sick day, then stage thirteen on Friday is the one. If you can't bunk off, then book a meeting room for the afternoon and get the ITV app on your phone! 192km with seven categorised climbs, the last of which being a cheeky 5km/8% summit finish. It should provide some excellent racing and hopefully smash holes in the GC standings.
Then on Sunday, stage fifteen delivers a cracker of a stage. Two category one climbs in quick succession, followed by the HC summit finish of Le Grand Colombier. It's going to be a great chance for leaders to cement their dominance going into the final rest day. Expect a decent breakaway to go, which will then be reeled in on the final climb as the crème de la crème play their hands. Who will win I can't say, but it going to be fun to find out!
If you want to watch Sunday's mega stage with good people, then head along to one of our club houses (The Dynamo in Putney, or Cadence in Crystal Palace) to hook up with our members and watch the race. We'll be riding before the stage too, so come and join a group ride before watching the stage.
I really hope you enjoy week two of the Tour de France. I'll do another round up on the next rest day. If you've got any comments then pop them below or get in touch via social media (@dirtywknd). We love to hear your thoughts.
Vive Le Tour!
Image credits: Getty Images // A.S.O./Pauline Ballet