Le TOUR’20: Ed’s Final Rant!

Le TOUR’20: Ed’s Final Rant!

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Le Tour Finalé – It’s a Wrap: The last few days of the Tour have been some of the most exciting stages of any grand Tour in recent memory. Ed Hood has been stuck to his wide-screen TV to give us his thoughts on the climax to the 2020 French Grand Tour.

pogacar arc
One to remember

You can see ‘Ed Rest Day Rant 1’ HERE and ‘Rest Day Rant 2’ HERE.

Stage 16:
I had to feel sorry for Egan Bernal as he sat and gave his rest day interview for the INEOS Grenadier website – with a Pinarello parked against one of the company’s off-road creations in the near background. What a difference a year makes. His English is better, but the smiles are wistful and resigned, not the joyful ones of 2019.

I’m not sure about his appearance ‘down among the dead men’ with the sprinters in the gruppetto today on Stage 16; a total collapse, mentally and physically or making sure he’s well out of the picture on GC for Wednesday’s Stage 17 with that monstrous 2302 metre conclusion on the HC Col de la Loze? We’ll know, late afternoon tomorrow – winning the ‘Queen Stage’ isn’t winning overall but it’s much better than anonymity. The Col de la Loze is a real video nasty, 21.5K @ average 7.8% with the last four kilometres varying between 18% and 24% sections. Very few will be relishing that finish.

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Egan Bernal not looking his best

Whilst I keep repeating the Dario Cioni mantra that; ‘a Grand Tour is won in the final week,’ it’s also hard not to think about what PEZ soothsayer and pundit Viktor says; ‘the big tours are too long, cut a week out of them, they’d be more competitive with more guys able to actually race for two weeks – and they’d be more exciting.’

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Kämna going solo again

By the time the race gets to where it is now, the die is cast and the top 10 has a shape to it. Do you risk the podium by battling fruitlessly against the might of Jumbo and the talent of Pogacar? Do you risk losing a top 10 finish to move from ninth to seventh? Unlikely. But what of the, ‘New Wave’ crashing up the beach again; Van Aert, Pogacar, Hirschi, Martinez, Peters, Andersen – and now Kämna. Once he had shed Carapaz he wasn’t coming back – he wasn’t European u23 Time Trial Champion because he’s afraid of the solo effort. He was second in the u23 Worlds Road race to current King of the Mountains incumbent, Benoît Cosnefroy and since then his progress has been steady rather than spectacular – but he announced his stepping on to the ‘Blue Train’ with a stage win in the Dauphine this year and then confirmed at Villard-de-Lans. Welcome aboard, sir.

 

Stage 17:
I’m not really a fan of Grand Tour organisers searching for ever more crazy hills to finish stages atop, but I must say that the Col de Loze finale provided compelling viewing with no quarter asked or given racing, and the podium reshuffled into what could well be it’s final shape.

 

Lopez lived up to his ‘Superman’ tag and Roglic showed how much that jersey means to him, whilst it’s so easy to forget that Pogacar is only 21 years-of–age. The winners then: Lopez and Roglic. And the losers: Uran, Quintana and Rolland. The future is: Mas, Kuss and Pogacar. Mentioned in despatches: Carapaz, Valverde and Porte – the Tassie riding well with no weight of expectation upon him.

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Roglič snatching a few seconds from Pogačar

The clearly deluded: Landa; my amigo Colin Fraser told me as they started the climb that the Basque wasn’t going to do it, he could see it in his eyes. I got it wrong on Bernal, his excursion in the gruppetto yesterday was no ploy to get let off the leash today but rather a complete collapse. But he’s young and the INEOS sports psychologists may well be at work on him already. And let’s spare a thought for the lower reaches of the classement; Brian Coquard was last classified finisher @ 35:45 but team mate Jens Debusschere missed the 37:35 cut, he goes home – and with Paris almost in sight. . .

 

Stage 18:
La Roche-sur-Foron may have been the first town in Europe to have electric street lighting but it’s not those Elysian Fields, where according to legend; ‘admission was reserved for mortals related to the gods and other heroes.’

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The ‘money shot’ in more ways than one

But the well illuminated town in Haute Savoie is as good as it’s going to get for INEOS this year with a one-two for the men in what has to be one of the worst jerseys in the peloton. And whilst a maillot jaune on the Champs Elysees must be worth the 2.7 million Euros which Egan Bernal is paid, according to l’Equipe – is a stage win worth 4.6 million, with Kwiatkowski on 2.5 million and Carapaz on 2.1 million, however well-lit the streets are?

Is Sir James Ratcliffe happy with his investment?

It would be hard to knock Carapaz though, after a low key start to the race he’s spent three of the race’s toughest days ‘up the road’ and Kwiatkowski is the consummate pro who puts a lot back into the sport with his support of youngster back in Poland. Albeit Patrick Lefevere says that the Pole could have won every Monument there is if he’d stuck with the Belgian team – but 2.5 mil is 2.5 mil. . .

Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos-Grenadier) Marc Hirschi (Sunweb)
Worth every penny?

Let’s not forget though that Carapaz as a Giro winner and Kwiatkowski as a Monument and Worlds winner are MEANT to win big races, especially when they get paid that kind of dough. Yes, it’s small beer compared to the pay days for soccer, golf and tennis – whilst US sports like footballs, basketball and baseball pay scarcely believable money – their salaries are still around 50 (fifty) times what many of riders in the peloton get paid.

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Roglič and the gravel dust

Well, that’s one argument under way – let’s start the next one – gravel. The sport is called bicycle ROAD RACING and whilst if you ride Paris-Roubaix, Tro Bro Leon or the Strade Bianche you know exactly what you’re signing up for. Is including off road sections just for the spectacle legitimate?

Richie Porte less than happy with the gravel

PEZ soothsayer and pundit, Viktor maintains that races should only take place on the public highway – exceptions above, noted – and not dirt tracks or access roads to remote radar masts. He has a point. Mas moves up and begins to look like he may just be the next Spanish hope after all but Martin slips and Father Time IS on Rigo’s shirt tails. And what’s happened to Quintana? Even cynical old me thought it was a case of ‘when’ he wins the Tour, not ‘if’ – it’s a funny old game. . .

 

Stage 19:
Wham! and ‘Young Guns (Go For It !)’ is the anthem of this Tour, ‘for sure’ as we say in ‘Eurospeak.’ As I said t’other day, the ‘young ones’ are making their presence felt; Van Aert, Pogacar, Hirschi, Martinez, Peters, Andersen, Kâmna – and the lean Dane has gone and done it again, timing his move out of a quality group to perfection.

The perfect move from Andersen

As I said after he won his first stage, he’s quality; with a world TTT title, Paris-Tours, stages in Paris-Nice and Suisse plus a string of top individual time trial results to his name.

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Stage win No. 2 for the Great Dane

His win makes him the fourth rider to ‘double up,’ along with Ewan, Pogacar and Van Aert, all 26 years-old except the precocious Slovenian who’s only 21 years-old. And whilst I’m a firm believer in not, ‘counting chickens’ Sam Bennett took a huge – and possibly decisive – step towards standing on the final podium wearing the colour of the country of his birth on Sunday afternoon.

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Sagan, not the man he was

Sagan? He just doesn’t seem to sparkle like he used to but it’s easy to forget that it’s a decade since he burst on to the scene with stage wins in Paris-Nice, Romandie and California. Since then, three world titles, three Gent-Wevelgems, two GP Quebecs, Flanders, Roubaix, 12 Tour stages, seven green jerseys, 17 stages each in California and Suisse, seven in Tirreno – but even the very best have to fade at some stage.

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Has the sparkle gone?

Tomorrow’s mountain TT? Pogačar may beat Roglič but not by a margin significant enough to steal the overall; however it is possible that time trial specialist Porte may find the 1:39 he needs he need over Lopez to reach the final podium? Pogacar and Roglic are the favourites but aforementioned Porte won’t be far away – and it’s possible that WVA might just make it three stage wins?

 

Stage 20:
I’m sorry. But I’ve lived through Festina, Puerto, Lance and all the rest. Martin and I sat like stunned ducks in a late night kerbside café in Lourdes with Rasmussen’s dismissal from the race whilst ‘en jaune’ whirling round in our heads. So when I see something that’s perhaps ‘too good to be true,’ once the sense of awe and of witnessing something historic has faded I can’t help but think; “what did I just watch?”

Did I really see that?

Was it really stunning or was it a sham? UAE was born of Lampre and there are some gentlemen from that team who, ‘have a past.’ Ironically, they’re lovely guys but they cut their teeth in a different era when ‘kitting up’ was just part of the game, like checking tyre pressures or mixing the sports drinks for the bottles.

Those guys credo was summed up in the lyrics of the Tom Lehrer song about nuclear proliferation;
‘Who’s next?’
‘So Israel’s getting tense.
Wants one in self-defence.
“The Lord’s our shepherd,” says the psalm,
But just in case, we better get a bomb.’

They just KNEW that those other teams MUST be up to something. However, I’ve sniffed around and the word is that Pogačar’s ride was indeed the real deal and he is one of those, ‘once in a generation’ riders. Now that we’ve cleared that up. . .

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Roglič: Not a pretty sight

Roglic looked ‘blocked’ to me, it seemed nerves had got to him whilst Pogacar went out in full, ‘death or glory’ mode. He could have blown and dropped off the podium but it was, ‘all or nothing’ – and he came away with it ALL.

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A phenomenon

The stage, white, yellow and polka dots. As I alluded to in yesterday’s prognostications, Porte did indeed find those missing seconds to mount the podium, aided in no small measure by a dismal performance by Lopez who conceded 6:17 to Pogacar over the 36.2 kilometres and dropped from third to sixth.

The 2020 Top-Ten

Landa moved up to fourth – his second such finish in the Tour – and Mas up to fifth both thanks to Lopez’s poor ride but I have both riders in my, ‘just difficult to drop’ file. But Mas is only 25 years-old and has lead Movistar to the team title, which is important to them but very few others – and that’s despite Jumbo having two in the top 10, Dumoulin’s strong time test moved him up to seventh on GC. Rigo finishes eighth and with Martinez’s stage win it makes it a good Tour for Mr. Vaughters’ boys. Adam Yates didn’t ride the best chrono of his life, slipping to ninth on GC but his four days in yellow mean it’s been a very good Tour for the Aussie squad. Damiano Caruso completes the top 10 despite all the fruitless endeavours he invested in Landa’s podium bid. Best Frenchman was Guillaume Martin in 11th spot, one up from 12th last year – if he keeps up that rate of progress he’ll be on the podium by the end of the decade. . .

 

Stage 21:
As the PEZ Meister puts it; ‘What can you say about a criterium? A bunch of guys show up, they ride round in circles for an hour, one wins then they all go home.’ But when it’s tacked on the end of the world’s biggest bike race in one of the world’s most beautiful cities in the world, the fastest guys in the world are all there and desperate to win it and it’s known as the, ‘Sprinters’ World Championship’ then that puts a slightly different complexion on the event.

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The best lead-out train: Deceuninck – Quick-Step

‘If behind every great man there’s a great woman,’ then, ‘behind every great sprinter there’s a great lead-out squad,’ and Sam has the best. When we saw Danish Champion, Kasper Asgreen take it up out of the tunnel we thought; ‘maybe it’s a tad early?’ But then we remembered that this is the Dude who held off a feral peloton in the closing kilometres, solo to win Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne back in the spring. Then it was down to the lead-out Maestro, Michael Mørkøv to take Sam on to the Champs before ‘yer Maan’ – as the say on the Emerald Isle – did his thing. The last stage of the Tour with the green jersey on your back, it doesn’t get much better.

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It doesn’t get much better – An irishman in green wins in Paris

Well, maybe snatching yellow in the final time trial and polka dot to add to white trumps it. . . But that’s not for the sprinters. It was at the wrong time of year, the ‘nae sayers’ were worried it would never get to Paris and there were a couple of ‘paint dryer’ stages, but overall a great race with Saturday’s time trial one of THE great Tour stages of all time.

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All the jerseys – two riders

A triumph for youth in Pogacar; and let’s not forget all those ‘young un’ stage wins: Van Aert, Pogacar, Hirschi, Martinez, Peters, Andersen, Kämna. And a triumph for persistence in Porte and Bennett. A terrific Tour for UAE Team Emirates, Deceuninck – Quick-Step, Sunweb, Trek-Segafredo and Lotto Soudal.

 

A good Tour for AG2R and EF with stage wins and Rigo’s top 10 finish – and for Mitchelton-Scott with Yates’ time in yellow. But bitter-sweet for Jumbo, for obvious reasons, despite three stage wins and a podium; Astana with Lopez’s magnificent stage win but then letting the podium slip; INEOS-Grenadiers with a great stage win but the collapse of Bernal – and BORA with Kämna’s stage win but Sagan’s déclassé costing him dearly.

 

Movistar may have won the team but were otherwise invisible, as Sean Kelly quipped when former Portuguese Time Trial Champion Nelson Oliveira took to the start ramp in the time trial – ‘is he in this race?’; Bahrain were fourth with Landa but as I said, file that man under, ‘just difficult to drop;’ if Martin had cracked the top 10 then Cofidis might have been able to say it was a decent Tour – and how Elia Viviani must miss those Deceuninck boys.

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We didn’t see much of Elia Viviani

‘Disaster’ is the only word for Groupama-FDJ’s Tour with Pinot’s collapse; similarly, for Arkea-Samsic with so much more expected of Quintana – but nice to see young Brit Connor Swift ‘honouring the race;’ CCC likewise very poor, with GVA and Trentin just not themselves. Little was expected from B&B Hotels, Israel Start-Up Nation, Team Total Direct Energie or NTT – and so it proved.

 

But massive respect to every man who finished this ultimate test in bicycle stage racing – especially lanterne rouge ‘Big Rodge’ Kluge of Lotto Soudal and Germany @ 6:07:02. Chapeau Monsieur!

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First man off in the TT and last on GC – Roger Kluge

 

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