Stage thirteen, long and hot, was your classic transitional stage.
Get the riders across country from the Alps to the Pyrenees, take in a few chateaus for the tourist board – maybe the occasional lavender field – and deliver a flat-ish finish to placate the sprinters after the torment of the mountains.
Problem was, there was barely a sprinter to be found. The aforementioned mountains, through time cuts and straightforward abandonments, had seen to the that.
No Cavendish, Greipel, Kittel, Gaviria or Groenewegen.
Disappointing for us, the viewers, but opportunity knocked for Kristoff, Demare, and Degenkolb. Oh, and a certain Peter Sagan, who has been known to be spritely on occasion.
But as it unfolded, I found myself thinking of Cavendish. The second most winning-est cyclist in Tour de France history (30 stages, and counting) had found himself, for a week and a bit, well off the pace.
We waited for him to come good, to no avail.
His post-stage interviews revealed weakness and doubt. The usual bullishness was absent. It was most un Cav-like; though to remain bullish after sprinting to twentieth position would’ve been delusional in the extreme.
And yet, as the lead-out trains gathered and the sprinters skipped from wheel to wheel on today’s run-in to Valence, I pictured Cav at home. Watching on, a selection of mini-Cav offspring clambering about him, and convinced that had he been there he’d have won.Embed from Getty Images
Spotting error and weakness in his rivals.
Making mental notes on road furniture and wind direction.
Scoffing at the way Demare’s lead-out burnt too early, Kristoff mis-timed his lunge for the line, and Sagan edged them out for the win.
And despite the evidence before my eyes – his below-par 2018 form, his after hours solo finish in the Alps, and the doused fires of a doting father – I, too, can’t completely convince myself he wouldn’t have won today.
Vive le Cav!
For the most part I find sprint stages consummately boring. The riders pedal along for hours on end while the commentators try to fill the hours with talk. The highlight for me in Stage 13 was the discussion about the failure of the specialty sprinter this year. The Giro and Vuelta have already chased them away with early difficult mountain stages and it seems like Le Tour could be headed that way too. Sagan has changed the game for sprinters. I agree with the commentators that I’d rather watch all around great athletes ride in varied terrain and be an overall asset to their team then to have the beefy, specialized dude who can crank out 1000 watts for 200 yards be drug along for 100 miles than dash across the finish. There is always one dominant sprinter. For a while it was Cav. Then Greipel. Then Kittle. Now Graviria. If all things are equal at the end of a sprint stage, and they are all there, Graviria is probably going to win. I whole heartedly agree with Jens Voigt. Train harder. Learn to get over a mountain or go home. Arnaud Demare redefined himself. Sure . . he may not be able to beat the other Sprinters anymore but guess what? He’s still in the Tour and will probably be in Paris.