The Tour de France is in full swing, as I’m sure you’re well aware. Nice is done and the intrepid competitors have now made their way along the bottom of the country, toward Laruns and the Pyrénées. It was full throttle in the final mountain stage, with everyone pushing their absolute hardest to be in as good a position as possible before the first (much-needed) rest day of the tour. Marc Hirschi won some hearts and made good progress, riding for team SunWeb. He hit out early and fared well in his down-hill sprints, looking to be in a good position to take the yellow jersey at the end of the stage. It was not to be, however, as, with Adam Yates having held a lead, and the iconic “Maillot Jaune,” for the past four stages, he has now been overtaken in the 6th September mountain stage by Primoz Roglic, a Slovenian, riding for Dutch team Jumbo/Visma. Roglic chased Yates hard, climbing with an average speed of 20.6 kmph on the way up and descended swiftly also, averaging 59.9 kmph on the way down. His top speed was 86 kmph. Times worthy of the yellow jersey indeed. Yates et al will be hard pressed to keep pace with him.
The course so far has seen the very best that France has to offer, in terms of beauty and diversity of landscape. Beginning in Nice, on the French Riviera, a flat stage on the first day to ease into the competition. On the second day, a ride up the Alpes and back again. The beauty of the south in a nutshell – sea, sun and slopes. Day three took us away from Nice, inland, to Sisteron. A beautiful commune on the banks of the river Durance. It is often called “the gateway to Provence”, as it sits in the narrow gap between two mountain ranges. Stages three to seven alternated between flat and hilly terrain, with stage four travelling from Sisteron to Orciéres-Merlette. Stage five took the race from Gap to Privas, and it was here that Adam Yates found himself the holder of the maillot jaune, under dubious and inconvenient circumstances: Julian Alaphilippe, of team Deceuninck-Quick Step, took a 20-second penalty for, of all things, a water bottle! Feeds by team staffers inside 20km of the finish line for the stage is against the rules, and Alaphilippe had a swig with 17 to go. Yates, of team Mitchelton-Scott, would now have to defend an arduous mountain stage.
Stage six, however, proved an easy defence for the Brit as, despite a late dash from Alaphilippe, he was not able to put enough pressure on Yates to retake his lead. Stage seven was more cagey for the frontmost British rider, as team Jumbo-Visma were able to push a large pack into the front group. Although he was able to defend his jersey, he was the only member of his team to make that front group, suggesting an isolated run at the coming Pyreneean stages over the weekend. Yates fought hard over stage 8 to retain the jersey, keeping three seconds, in the general classification, between himself and contender Primoz Roglic, despite getting dropped twice in the final climb. A hard effort, rewarded with the retained lead. Tragedy for the Brit, however, at stage 9. On the slopes of the Col de Marie Blanque, Roglič, UAE’s Tadej Pogačar, Bahrain-McLaren’s Mikel Landa, and INEOS Grenadiers’s Egan Bernal all put kilometres between themselves and the until-then yellow vest holder, knocking him well down the ranks (a bottle of Veloflow would have sorted him – rookie error). It was here that Team Sunweb’s Marc Hirschi made a valiant effort at holding off that front group, before being caught near the end and finishing the stage 3rd overall. An exciting first third of one of the all-time classics of cycling. With two weeks and many more mountains still to come, there’s a lot left to look forward to.