Rescheduled from July, due to concerns surrounding the global COVID – 19 pandemic, ‘the greatest race on Earth’ kicked off on 29th August.
Stage 1 saw the riders tackle 3 laps of a circuit around the Cote d’Azur city of Nice.
Although the race opener was somewhat overshadowed by a run of crashes in the bad weather, the 3 lap format made for an exciting viewer spectacle. As expected, the stage came to a climax with a bunch sprint on the Promenade des Anglais. It was Norwegian Alexander Kristoff of Team UAE Emirates, who timed his attack to perfection. He finished ahead of Mads Pedersen (Trek Segaredo) and Cees Bol (Sunweb). The 33-year-old rider said of his victory.
“I always dreamt about wearing the yellow jersey and now it’s a dream come true.”
Stage 2 saw the first real climbing of this year’s Tour de France. The route featured ascents of La Colmiane, Col de Turini, and Col d’ Eze. It was outside of Nice however, that Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe made his first attack. A decisive move on the ascent of the Col des Quatre Chemins, with just over 13km of the stage remaining. Former world under-23 champion Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton- Scott) followed. The three then descended smoothly down towards Nice, extending their lead over the peloton to 24 seconds in the process.
After an exciting game of cat & mouse, and at risk of being caught by the peloton, Alaphilippe launched his final attack, just 200m before the end of the stage. Although Hirschi responded quickly, he was unable to quite match the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider, who reclaimed the Maillot Jaune, that he held for so long on the 2019 tour.
Stage 3 was another one for the sprinters. 198 km in length, the route ran between Nice and Sisteron, on the banks of the River Durance. It was Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal, who had taken victory in Paris in 2019, on the much-revered Champs Elysees, who this time out sprinted Irish rider Sam Bennett. In doing so he claimmed his first victory on the 2020 tour. Despite the flat close to the stage, a strong headwind meant that the tactic that won the day was to hang back and attack late. Ewan made his surge in the final 100m of the stage. He found a gap between 7-time Green Jersey winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and the barriers, before passing Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), to claim the fourth TDF stage of his career.
It was Slovenian Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) who took the win on the fourth stage of the 2020 Tour de France, on a route contested between Sisteron and Orcières-Merlette. The stage contained several minor climbs, but it was the category one ascent to Orcières-Merlette that was highly anticipated, as the first summit finish of the tour. On this 7.1km long climb, with an average gradient of 6.7% Luis Ocana put eight minutes into Eddy Merckx back in 1971. However, there was to be no such drama here 50 years later. Roglic came in just 10 seconds ahead of the pack with countryman Tadej Pogacar coming in a close second. Alaphillippe finished in 5th, in a performance strong enough to retain his hold on the coveted Yellow Jersey.
The fifth stage was to see another battle for the sprinters. They raced, through a strong headwind, into Privas. Although a fairly uneventful stage, by the end of the day the rankings in both the Yellow and the Green Jersey races had been shaken up considerably. Sam Bennett took the win on the intermediate sprint in L’Epine, while Sagan finished in only fourth. This handed the Irish rider the virtual lead in the Green Jersey contest.
After riding at a steady 41.5 km/h for much of the stage; the final 20 km were to prove a fast and furious affair, heading into a fierce headwind. It was Wout Van Aert who held the best line. He sprinted to victory ahead of Cees Bol of Team Sunweb. Bennet had another strong day, finishing in third, in a performance that secured his position at the top of the Points leader board.
Bennet has now become the first Irish cyclist to lead a classification at Le Tour since Sean Kelly in 1989.
Alaphillippe finished in 16th position, well in the main pack, however an ‘unauthorised feeding’ in the final 20km (with around 17 km to go), cost the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider dearly. He incurred a 20 second time penalty (feeds close to the ends of stages are considered dangerous due to the increased speeds as races draw to a close). The penalty saw Alaphilippe drop to 16th in the General Classification. Adam Yates of team Mitchelton- Scott moved into the overall lead.
On Thursday (3rd September), the tough climb up the Col de la Lusette (almost 12 km in length, with an average gradient of 7.3%), followed by close to 15 kilometres of false flat up to the finish, was bound to create, as race director Christian Prudhomme described it, ‘quite some excitement.’
It was Alexey Lutsenko, of Astana Pro Team, who claimed the stage victory. He made his attack from the front of a strong breakaway group. Chasing behind in second place was Jesús Herrada (Cofidis). Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) managed to narrowly beat Neilson Powless of EF Pro Cycling, to claim third place, completing the podium for the day.
Julian Alaphilippe led at the front of the Yellow Jersey group, however there was no change in the overall standings. As of Friday 04/09 Adam Yates remains in the lead.Slovenian riders Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma (3 seconds) and Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates (7 seconds) are in 2nd and 3rd position.
ON Saturday 5th September the Peloton will reach the Pyrenees. Over the course of the weekend the riders will battle their way up 1 HC climb (Port de Bales), and 4 category 1 climbs (Col de Menté, Col de Peyresourde, Col de la Hourcère and Col de Marie Blanque). While the fight for Yellow is unlikely to be decided, some hearts may be broken in the mountains, over the course of the next few days. Following Monday’s rest, Tuesday and Wednesday are promising to be big stages for the sprinters. Tuesday’s stage is pancake flat, reaching a maximum of just 16 metres above sea level. In a first for the peloton, the route of Stage 10 connects 2 islands. However, on a course that is mainly set by the sea, strong Atlantic winds could really shake things up.
Bringing the second week to a close, Friday’s stage through the Massif Central will see the highest elevation gain of any stage on this year’s tour. Coming in at a dizzying 4,400 metres of climbing, the finish will also be a first for the tour, atop the Puy Mary. The riders will also face challenging climbs on the Col de Ceyssat and the Col de Neronne. This will really be a day when the best contenders will need to be on form!
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