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David L. Stanley

2019 Tour de France, Week Two:
Thibaut Pinot, the Raging Frenchman Ascendant

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 


Julian Alaphilippe (DQS) is a marvel. Since 2017, on any terrain, he is the world’s finest one-day racer. He showed us hints of the glorious depths of his skills last year, with the overall polka dot jersey and two stage wins, yet few considered him a man in with more than a slight shout for the final podium in Paris. This year’s Tour, sans Dumoulin and Froome, I saw as too close to call. My pre-race podium was Bernal, Pinot, and Thomas, in any order you like.

Je suis désolé, Monsieur JuJu.

And don’t look back, JuJu, because Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FdJ) is the man you want to keep an eye on. Pinot is also a magnificent rider-his palmares on Wikipedia lists over 75 results of note. But he has, just once, stood on the podium of a grand tour. In eleven attempts, a 3rd place and the white jersey of Le Tour were his in 2014. Thibaut will not be satisfied to merely stand beside the winner in 2019. In Week II, after several days in the Pyrenees, Pinot is a man who is going to wear yellow or die tryin’.

Thibaut Pinot

Thibaut Pinot in white in 2014. Sirotti photo

Last week, I spoke of Le Tour des Nouvelle Visages; the Tour of New Faces. This week, the new faces stalled out, save Caleb Ewan’s (Lotto-Soudal) maiden Tour win in stage 11.

STAGE 8: 200 km Macon – St Etienne. 
A hilly, but not mountainous stage was the quintessential setting for the quintessential stage hunter, Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal). The Belgian, along with Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie) and Ben King (Dimension Data), attacked at Kilomètre Zéro. The bearded De Gendt, a superb climber, stayed away until the end despite the best efforts of Pinot and Alaphilippe, who closed it down to a six second margin at stage end. Five hours at race pace through some darned lumpy terrain; that’s a full day’s work. If they didn’t pop open a few bottles of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru in honor of de Gendt at dinner that night, I have to wonder just what is wrong over at Lotto-Soudal HQ.

Thomas de Gendt

Thomas de Gendt bags stage eight. Sirotti photo

STAGE 9: Saint Étienne - Brioude, 170.5 km. We enter the Pyrenees.
Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) to the rescue. With his sprint win over one-day specialist Tiesj Benoot (LS), Impey repaired some of the damage done with Adam Yates’ bad legs, and my vision of Le Nouvelle Visages. As a fine one-day racer, the 34 year old Impey is hardly a new face. Yet, aside from his two days in yellow in 2013 as the first South African to lead the Tour, he has never shown well in a Grand Tour. His efforts in classics? Outstanding. But on Stage 9, Impey got into a big group with 155 km of 170.5 to go. He stayed near the front, made every split, got across every gap, hoarded his energy, and cleanly took the sprint from another classics specialist, Lotto-Soudal’s Tiesj Benoot.

Daryl Impey

Daryl Impey wins stage nine.

STAGE 10: Stage 10, Saint Flour - Albi, 217.5 km. A day for the puncheurs, a day for the sprinters.
Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) showed he had serious skills as he navigated a day of deadly crosswinds, short and brutal climbs, on perhaps the most testing day to date in the Tour. Yet in the end, it still came down to sprint. Despite strong closing bursts by Elia Viviani (DQS) and Ewan, Van Aert showed his class with the victory.

  1. Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) 4hr 49min 39sec
  2. Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) s.t.
  3. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) s.t.

What about the crosswind carnage? 80th on the day, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was at 5:00. The other 90-some riders struggled in and finished 9:41 behind him.

Yet, after 1800 km of racing, the top four of the GC were our new usual suspects.

  1. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) 43h 27' 15''
  2. Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) 1' 12''
  3. Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) 1' 16''
  4. Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) 1' 27''

Julian Alaphilippe

After stage 10 Alaphilippe was still in yellow. Sirotti photo

STAGE 11 – Stage 11, Albi - Toulouse, 167 km. Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, keep that peloton rollin’.
Whew, finally a stage for a new Face. Today’s race into Toulouse gave us a couple of easy climbs, a big sprint, and a photo finish victory. The stuffed lion, his first in the Tour de France, was for Caleb Ewan. It should be a part of your thinking that eleven stages into the race, we’ve had eleven different winners. The GC remained unchanged.

  1. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) 3hr 51min 26sec
  2. Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) s.t.
  3. Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) s.t.

Caleb Ewan

Caleb Ewan takes a close one.

STAGE 12 - Toulouse - Bagnères de Bigorre, 209.5 km. We enter the mountains. A big kids’ stage.
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) entered the race with the goal of doing all he could to help his brother Adam win the Tour de France. As the winner of last year’s Vuelta, Simon would be a pretty fair sidekick. But Adam was not up to snuff, so Simon filtered into a 40-strong breakaway 45 km into the race along with eventual breakaway companions Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Gregor Muhlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe). The large group became smaller and smaller as the col de Peyresourde took its toll. As the riders crested the Category 1 La Hourquette d’Ancizan with 32 km to go, Yates and Muhlberger were soon joined by Bilbao. Yates, a world-class track rider as a younger rider, took advantage of the situation to swoop to victory.

  1. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) 4hr 57min 53sec
  2. Pello Bilbao (Astana) s.t.
  3. Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-hansgrohe) s.t.

Simon Yates

Simon Yates seems well-pleased with his day's work.

That’s 12 stages, 12 different victors, if you’re keeping track. Behind the leaders, the GC remained the same: JuJu, Thomas, Bernal, Kruijswijk.

STAGE 13 - Pau 27.2 km ITT. Contre le Montre. The race of truth. Contro il tempo.
Be honest; who saw this coming? Thomas de Gendt, a fine climber and breakaway specialist in the hot seat for most of the day? Julian Alaphilippe, with two ITT wins in his palmares: a Paris-Nice in 2017 and another earlier this season at Vuelta a San Juan, as the winner? Hardly the pedigree one would bet upon in the Tour’s first all-or-nothing test. Yet, there it is. A 14-second victory over Geraint Thomas (Ineos), a man noted as one of the finest TT riders of the last few years.
Here’s to Wout van Aert! A quick healthy recovery to a young man badly cut in a crash with just 2 km to go as he clipped an advert banner on a barricade.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe going faster than anyone else.

And Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida)? It seems that everyone around his team has a “Rohan Dennis went off on me” story. Rohan, of course, quit mid-stage 12 for no reason that has been shared. I am not a psychologist, and even if I were, I don’t know Rohan. However, I am a guy who has written a lot about men’s mental health and depression for magazines. I’ve talked with lots of experts and this sounds unhealthy to me. Here’s hoping Rohan gets the attention he needs and deserves to sort this out. The world TT champ would have pushed everyone down a step today.

The TT top three. (Say that five times quickly.)

  1. Julian Alaphilippe (DQS) 35:00
  2. Geraint Thomas (Ineos) 35:14
  3. Thomas de Gendt (LS) 35:36    

The GC after the TT. (Say that three times quickly.) Astonishingly, it remains unchanged. Is it true; does the Maillot Jaune give its wearer wings?

  1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick Step 53:01:09
  2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Ineos @1:26
  3. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma @2:12
  4. Enric Mas (Esp) Deceuninck-Quick-Step @2:44
  5. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Ineos @2:52

STAGE 14 – The Pyrenees. From Tarbes to the Tourmalet. 111 km of Hell. The first big kids’ stage.

Tourmalet

Some of stage 14's 111 kilometers of hell, the Tourmalet. Sirotti photo

Thibaut Pinot didn’t slam his fist on the table. He kicked in the damn door, swept all the bottles off the bar top, and stood there, glaring, as the bar went silent. While he might have gained only a handful of seconds from his breakaway rivals, 6 on Alaphilippe and Kruijswijk, 8 on an ever-improving Emanuel Buchmann (B-H) and young Egan Bernal, this win was not just about time.

Pinot did not ride a great TT. He lost 49 seconds to JuJu and that bumped him down to 7th on GC, 3:22 in arrears. By his own account, he rode the first Alpine stage on rage. It showed.

Thibaut Pinot

Pinot finishes alone. Sirotti photo

The further he rose on the Tourmalet, the more terrifying he became. If I used the Muhammad Ali analogy for JuJu in Week One, allow me to use a Mike Tyson analogy for Thibaut Pinot’s ride today. As Big Mike once said, “Everyone got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Today, Pinot punched the field on the point of the jaw.

The GC:

  1. J. Alaphilippe 56:11:29
  2. G. Thomas @2:02
  3. S. Kruijswijk @2:14
  4. E. Bernal @3:00
  5. E. Buchmann @3:12
  6. T. Pinot s.t.

STAGE 15 – Limoux - Foix Prat d'Albis, 185 km. The Pyrenees, ne sont pas faciles.
It was 1984. I was a new bike racer, just four years in, and newly addicted.

Seated in the dorms in Milwaukee as I raced my first Superweek, I watched a tiny TV set with a bunch of 20-something itinerant bike racers. I was gobsmacked as Robert Millar took the win in the 227 km stage from Pau to Guzet Neige. The day included the Portet d’Aspet, the Coure, LaTrape, and Guzet Neige. As I stared at the wiry, methodical Scotsman, I could not believe that anyone could ride the mountains with such determination. And I listened, as a CBS commentator, perhaps John Tesh, quoted a line from an earlier time. “The Truth is seen in the Pyrenees, where the summer mountains bear the snows of winter.”

Thus was stage 15. Freed from his twin’s service, Simon Yates worked his way into an early breakaway. Ultimately, he and Simon Geschke rode away from the group and found themselves 1:40 ahead of a group headed by Romain Bardet (Ag2R) with 10 km to go. Just 1.5 km later, Yates dropped his companion and rode a stunning last 8.5 km to a well-deserved 2nd Pyrenean victory in four days.
But the GC drama was behind. Again, Thibaut Pinot made certain to put himself into the groupe maillot jaune. With 7 km to go, Pinot launched himself, opening up 50 meters before the Alaphilippe group had time to react. It was a blistering attack, a do-or-die move that only those 100% certain of their fitness would dare.

Simon Yates

Simon Yates motoring away from the field. Sirotti photo

While Pinot wrestled his bike up the road towards Prat d’Albis, Geraint Thomas fought back and dropped Alaphilippe on the run-in to take back 22 seconds on the yellow jersey. Firing on all cylinders to the line, Pinot found himself 1:16 ahead of JuJu on the day and 1:50 behind the overall race leader in the GC.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe looking a bit worse for the wear after stage fifteen. But he is still in yellow. Sirotti photo

GC after STAGE 15. 2,504.3 km raced to date.

  1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick Step 61:00:22              
  2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Ineos 0:01:35 
  3. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma 0:01:47 
  4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 0:01:50 
  5. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Ineos 0:02:02 
  6. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-hansgrohe 0:02:14 
  7. Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team 0:04:54 
  8. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:05:00 

Ladies and gentlemen, kids of all ages, as we enter Week III of the 2019 Tour de France, we have bona fide French contenders for the overall victory in Paris. Not since Bernard Hinault in 1985, 34 very long years for the French, have the French had a French victor in their own race.

Bernard hinault

Bernard Hinault racing the Tour in 1985. It has been a long time for France.

JuJu, as the race leader, is firmly in charge. Yet his DQS squad was not put together to support a man in the high mountains. Alaphilippe’s best help may come from Enric Mas, who rode well in the Pyrenees. One man is not enough in the Alps.

Geraint Thomas has won before; he knows the value of patience, he has the Ineos machine, plus Egan Bernal’s climbing prowess on his side.

Steven Kruijswijk is the wildcard. The Dutchman has yet to put a foot wrong. He’s ridden quietly, made every key move, and has yet to put his nose into the wind on the climbs. Three weeks is a very long time; the last week is the equivalent of two normal weeks, so great the human cost. Steven’s willingness to lay low in Weeks I & II may be the very thing that puts him on the top step in Paris.

My pick at this stage for overall victory is Thibaut Pinot. He is riding a surge of emotion. His form as we enter Week III is on the ascendance. As a Sherlockian, each time I hear that his teammate, Swiss national champion Sébastien Reichenbach, is riding well, it makes me smile and think of Holmes and Moriarity wrestling at those eponymous Falls.

A closing thought. In 1985, when Bretagne’s favorite son Bernard Hinault (La Vie Claire) was the last Frenchman to win the Tour, Paul Sherwen (La Redoute-Cycles MBK) rode his final Tour de France. I miss Paul Sherwen.


David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

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