The Massif Central, the middle mountains, have had a massive effect on the Tour de France GC standings.
The three stages that ran a diagonal line right to left, angling North to South, have severely dented the podium chances of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) and pretty much killed the hopes of Mr. Hard Luck, Richie Porte (Trek Segafredo).
That destruction came at the hands and legs of Team Ineos with Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal and Deceuninck Quickstep and yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe. To use a popular cycling cliche, they put the sword to Pinot and their other rivals. In interviews, Thomas could hardly contain his happiness.
The Massif Central, if memory serves, was the creative addition of Tour boss Christian Prudhomme. He wanted to escape the stale formula of the Alps and Pyrenees and try to shake things up.
Well, shake he did. These three unpredictable stages have been some of the most exciting in recent Tour memory. It’s full gas racing and no matter what the course profile said, there are surprising opportunities for chaos and mayhem. Bravo Christian.
There’s some comedic irony in Pinot losing 1:40 due to a poor choice at a roundabout. All that sacrifice and training and hard work tossed away on a wrong turn.
When Ineos and Deceuninck ramped up the speed in the cross winds, Pinot’s team wasn’t in a dangerous position. Yet they lost something like forty places when they chose the long way round.
Until that moment, Pinot and his AG2R team had ridden a perfect race and he was the best placed GC rider behind Thomas and Bernal. Now, he has much work to do and coming from behind to beat Team Sky — now Ineos — has yet to prove a winning strategy in six Tours, all won by Sky, with three different riders.
So what’s left after the mid mountains have left so many GC contenders behind the eight ball and the clock? Steven Kruijswijk Jumbo-Visma) is the best placed in 4th at 1:27. He has a fairly strong team that isn’t content to sit back and follow wheels. Still, he’s never won a grand tour — almost taking the Giro d’Italia before crashing out in the final week. Do we believe he is capable to knocking out both Thomas and Bernal. Me thinks not.
Emanuel Buchmann (Bora Hansgrophe) and Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quickstep) both benefitted hugely from being in the right place — the front — when the crosswinds tore the peloton apart. Congrats guys. That was smart, opportunistic riding. Something tells us that Ineos isn’t too worried about these guys.
The two strongest riders with powerful teams that are still in the mix for a podium or yellow are Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott ) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). These are the men who can possibly put a scare into Ineos. Yates has recovered from an underwhelming team time trial and sits 1:47 off the pace. One thing we know about both Yates brothers is that they are not afraid to attack. They will go down swinging and we can only hope they can crack open this Tour.
Unlike Thibaut Pinot until his cataclysmic roundabout, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has been sharp and up front from day one. It’s almost shocking but so far, cross fingers and crosswinds, it’s starting to feel like the Return of Nairo.
Yes, the Sueno Amarillo, lives. Usually by this time Quintana has crashed, been caught out tactically, dumped gobs of time in a time trial or been so hammered by wind and bad weather that the little guy is already weary before the Hors Categorie fireworks start. Factor in the fact that after an unfortunate crash the other day, teammate Mikel Landa is way behind. As in, from here on out, Quintana is the undisputed king of Movistar. Maybe this Tour will be different. If he has his old legs, look out.
Who doesn’t like Dan Martin (UAE Emirates)? The affable and quotable Irishman is always a fan favorite. We’d love to see him on the podium but at 2:09 back we just aren’t feeling it. Martin is a grinder, which doesn’t give him the explosive power to make up that kind of deficit to Ineos. It always feels like top five is the highest he can go, a tribute to his ability to slowly over three weeks win a war of attrition.
Back to Pinot. We agree with team manager Marc Madiot that the podium is certainly still in reach. His form is exceptional, his attacks with Alaphilippe were impressive, his team time trial surprisingly positive, his response to the pressure of being a hometown favorite impressive. He is still in this race but unless he pulls out something truly spectacular, another third place seems the best outcome possible.
It’s been a massive three days in the Massif Central. Thanks Monsieur Prudhomme.