It may or may not come as a shock to you that there were absolutely no positive coronavirus tests at the second Tour de France rest day (yesterday, Monday 14th September). Some would take the super cynical 'it's not like professional cycling hasn't covered up test results before' approach, but you get the feeling that this is a different scenario, with a need to be completely open in the glare of a global pandemic.
The fact that 785 tests all came back negative is, quite frankly, astounding, but the good news is that it means Le Tour rolls onto Paris. With a couple of very exciting battles shaping up - the Slovenians vs each other, everyone else fighting for third - and a Green Jersey race that is actually a thing this year, we've got a hell of a week three lined up.
Before that however, let's take a look at the best bits of week two in our Tour de France review. If you want to catch up on what happened in week one, then click here.
Was it a good week?
Based on the fact that all test results came back negative, it's been a spectacularly successful week for the organisation itself. However, continuing the theme from the first week, there have been a lot of crashes again in week two, and subsequently some big names withdrawing from the race. French darling Romain Bardet being the biggest name to drop out on stage eleven. The way he left though was a real wake up for the cycling world (professional and otherwise), as he rode the remaining 90km of the stage post crash with concussion and later diagnosed bleeding on the brain.
It was scary to watch, and a reminder of the fragility of these tiny men, and the risks they endure for our entertainment. It also highlighted the risks we amateurs undertake on a daily basis too, and a strong reminder of the need to take care whilst riding.
Whilst it has been a solid week, it is fair to say that this hasn't been the most exciting week of Tour de France racing, but there has been enough to keep us watching. From the green jersey battle (never thought I'd be writing that) to a bit of shoving in the sprints, climaxing with a big GC day on the Grand Colombier. Let's delve a little deeper...
So what went down?
- Sam Bennett finally won his first stage, as well as fan's hearts with a tearful post ride interview. Showing a bit of emotion doesn't make you a 'cry baby' Sam, it's 2020 mate!
- The Green Jersey (sprint classification) battle was the most exciting of the week, which has not been the case for a long time (thanks Peter). However Bennett and his Deceuninck train have taken the fight to Sagan, and it's been great to see. See below for more in depth Green Jersey chat.
- Stage eleven saw the annual sprint scandal take place, as Sagan showed just how up for this fight he is by shoving golden boy Wout Van Aert in the sprint. He must know that no one puts Wout in a corner.
- Mark Hirschi proved himself to be the breakout star of this Tour, by taking his maiden win after another heroic breakaway. Watching this guy ride, especially downhill, is very exciting.
- Speaking of excitement, his Sunweb team have also come to the fore as by far and away the most fun team in the race. They are the youngest team on average, they've attacked hard and deployed some perfect tactics. With two brilliant stage wins already, I'd bet big on them lighting up week three and taking some more.
- For so long the most boring team in the race, the new approach is down to a very young, very exciting British Directeur Sportif. Matt Winston, from Lancashire, came through the British Cycling set up and was himself a good rider. He's proving to be a much better DS already though, with more to come from this team.
- It was still a very close race going into stage thirteen, with just 1:42 separating the top ten. This is the smallest time gap at that point in the race since 1947.
- However, stage fourteen's Grand Colombier ascent saw a major shake up, as the Pog & Rog Show decimated their rivals. The two Slovenians now have a pretty strong hold on first and second, Roglič's gap just 40 seconds over Pogacar. Which order will they finish in come Paris though?
- Nairo Quintana broke the hearts of an entire nation, and your humble author, as he also faded into the background on the Grand Colombier. I thought this was the year for a resurgent Nairoman, but alas I was wrong. It's when we hope that it really hurts.
- The fight for third place is the new Green Jersey battle however, as just 45 seconds separate third place Uran and seventh place Landa. It's going to heat up in week three as these guys all start tearing lumps out of each other to take the final podium spot.
- Will we finally see the much anticipated, but as yet unrealised 'Colombian Alliance' come to fruition. With a very real chance of a Colombian finishing third, and a few big names now out of the running, could national pride come into play? Boy do I hope so!
Who did well this week?
Many riders have continued good or great form from week one - Bennett, Ewan, Van Aert, Roglič - without doing anything spectacular (yet). Yes, Van Aert's mega turn on stage fifteen was mighty impressive, but this guy has done so much now we're running out of superlatives. I'm no longer surprised by anything he does.
The really stand out riders of the week were Pogacar, Hirschi and, somewhat surprisingly, Aussie veteran Richie Porte. Pogacar has now replaced Roglič as many people's favourite to win the overall, and with some super strong mountain performances, it's easy to see why. Whether he can overcome the Jumbo Visma machine and ice-cool Roglič is going to a delight to watch.
I don't need to say much more about Marc Hirschi, but I fully expect him to win another stage from a daring breakaway (set up perfectly by his awesome team). He was electric in week two, so keep an eye on him for more of the same.
The somewhat under the radar success story of week two has been Richie Porte. A rider who has run Pinot close for the 'unluckiest rider award' in the past, Porte looked like a rider reborn on the tough slopes of the Grand Colombier. Having seemingly thrown off the shackles of expectation, he's now on course for that all important third spot on the podium. One of the nicest guys in the peloton by all accounts, you feel like everyone is rooting for him.
Who did not do so well?
The story of the week really was Egan Bernal's capitulation on the Grand Colombier. The defending champion and Team Ineos leader never looked comfortable, despite his obvious talent. Commentators continued to stick to the line that he was biding his time until the high mountains, however he was absolutely torn apart on the slopes of the Grand Colombier on Sunday. Bernal lost what felt like days to his rivals, and his Tour challenge is now well and truly over.
Peter Sagan hasn't had a great week either, despite being in second place in the points race. The seven time Green Jersey winner is proving that he's not afraid to win dirty, as he gets his mates to gang up on poor defenceless Sam Bennett. We're so used to seeing Sagan saunter around on his back wheel, winning at will, so it's actually quite refreshing to see him getting down and dirty.
However, he's not in the Green Jersey currently, and he's chasing it harder than a teenage boy at the school disco, which is new for him. Sadly, all this points to the waning star that is Peter Sagan. He shone brighter than most, but this is a reminder that everybody passes their peak at some point. Sorry Peter.
Why is the sprint race so exciting this year?
As above, we're seeing the long time shoo-in for the Green Jersey struggling to get into it, let alone win it outright. This means we are getting to see Sagan dig deep into his great big bag of tactics to try and overhaul his deficit. It's easy to forget just how experienced Sagan is, and he's throwing everything he can at it this year, which is wonderful for the fans.
Like a lighter, faster boxer dancing around his bigger, slower but more powerful opponent, Sagan and the Bora team have been applying the pressure to 'Big Sam' at every opportunity. Sam is just hanging in there, managing to make the time cuts, surviving day by day. It's brutal but fascinating to watch. Also, thanks to this battle, we're seeing more footage of the back of the race (the famous Grupetto), which is unusual and welcome.
Another factor to this battle is the fact that Sam Bennett used to ride for Bora (Sagan's current team). Bennett knew he'd never get a chance to race for the Green Jersey if he was on the same team as Sagan, so he manoeuvred out of his contract, which by all accounts was not an amicable divorce. So there are politics at play also. Who doesn't love a bit of drama!
Sam has clearly worked very hard to get this opportunity, and Sagan is not giving up without an almighty fight. This one is going all the way to the final sprint on the final stage in Paris. What could be more exciting than that?
Week three - what do I look out for?
Week three is basically all mountains, finishing with a tough uphill time trial at La Planches des Belles Filles. We're going to see multiple battles every day (the breakaway and then the GC rivals) as the road goes up even further. Three lumpy stages, before one final flat(ter) stage leading to the TT, it's only going to get tougher for the already knackered riders.
Most of the remaining stages between now and Saturday will involve large breakaways, as teams without a stage win duke it out for something to take home. The racing should be really aggressive up front, which is great news, but movements in the GC battle are what you really need to look out for.
The top two spots look like they'll be decided by Roglič and Pogacar, unless one of them cracks. So the fight for third becomes the main focus of week three. There is very little to separate Uran, Lopez, Yates, Porte and Landa, with anyone of them being able to take third. Loads of factors can come into play, including luck (good and bad), so this one is on a knife edge. A fascinating battle, and one that also benefits the Slovenian duo up front, as they all focus on each other instead of them.
And then we come to the all important individual time trial on Saturday 20th September. The penultimate stage of the race, it is the last chance for anyone to move up on GC and cause any upsets. With so much on the line, and just seconds separating a bunch of riders, it's going to be gripping viewing. Les Planches des Belles Filles is also a steep and brutal climb, so even more fun for us safely watching at home.
Thanks to the aforementioned Green Jersey excitement, the traditional champagne swilling, back slapping parade into Paris actually matters this year, as the Sagan vs Bennett bout will be decided on the fabled cobbles of the Champs-Élysées. You really couldn't write it!
Which stages do I HAVE to watch?
All of them. Seriously, don't miss any of it! It's going to be kicking off somewhere in the race all week, so there's loads to get your teeth into. However if I had to pick some, then Wednesday's Madeline - Col de la Loze double header will be great. it's a bigger summit finish than the Grand Colombier, and we all know what happened there. Expect more massive attacks from the GC guys.
The following day, Thursday 17th, sees the peloton take on much of the 2018 and 2019 L'Etape du Tour routes in the Aravais mountains, including Cormet de Roseland (delightful) and the Plateau de Glières (hideous). If you rode either of these Events, then you can relive the memories this week. More likely to be a big breakaway day with multiple hills and a descent finish. Enter, J. Alaphilippe.
The most important and exciting stage of the week, however, is the time trial. A TT is normally a boring stage that only other time trialists actually enjoy, but there is so much riding on this stage that it will be thrilling. The big hill they have to beast themselves up for our viewing pleasure also helps. Could we see the entire podium decided in one 36km ride?
Who's going to win then?
Now we're at the pointy end, accurate predictions 'can' become possible. I think the general shape of the General Classification has formed, and the only question about the top spot is if Pogacar can somehow overtake his countryman and claim a very famous win. The battle for third is way more interesting and could easily go to one of five riders.
For me however, the Jumbo machine is just too strong, and I can't see Roglic slipping up. I do think Pogacar is going to make things very exciting, chipping away at the lead with some stinging attacks. But I can't see the Killer Wasps losing control. Rounding out the podium, I will go with the popular choice plump for Richie Porte. This is all heart and not much head though, as there is so little to split the contenders with. I'd love to see Richie podium though, after some bad luck in the past.
London Group Rides
If you want to watch the action with other cycling fans then come and join one of our group rides, which finish up with TdF watching at one of our clubhouses. On Saturday, we're doing our own uphill time trial at Surrey's famous Staples Lane. Come and join the fun - Details Here.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on week two and the final week. What did we miss? And who do you think will win the 2020 Tour de France? Let us know in the comments or on social media (@dirtywknd)
Vive Le Tour!
Picture credit: Getty Images / Sprint Cycling Magazine