FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is ready to return to the Vuelta a España, which starts August 25, for the first time since 2015.
Sagan has excluded the Spanish grand tour from his program in recent years. His typical worlds build-up included the Tour of Poland and the two Canadian WorldTour races.
“I still have some races left,” Sagan said Sunday. “I have Hamburg and the Vuelta, and we will see. I will try to fight for my best at the end of the season.”
Sagan will use the season’s final grand tour as a build-up to the world championships in Innsbruck, Austria, September 23-30. The course could be too difficult for Sagan to win a record fourth world title, but no one wants to count him out — including Sagan himself.
The 28-year-old Slovakian rider typically races a few one-day races and the BinckBank Tour, a stage race that began Monday and that used to be called the Eneco Tour.
Instead, Sagan’s post-Tour de France racing program includes the European Championships (230.4km) and the EuroEyes Cyclassics Hamburg (220km) on Sunday.
He pulled out of Sunday’s European Championships, however, after 150km in Glasgow, Scotland. It was his first race since the Tour, where he won his sixth green jersey. Sagan said he was still feeling pain from his crash in stage 17 of the Tour.
“Despite the fact I still had a lot of pain in my back and hip, I tried and gave my best,” Sagan said in an Instagram post. “But I wasn’t in good shape and, unfortunately, after 150km of racing, I felt it would be best if I stopped, as it was becoming hard.
“It was a good training for the coming weeks but I still need to fully recover from my hard crash at the Tour de France, for the final part of the season. I’d like to thank the Slovak Cycling Federation, its staff, and all my teammates for their work today.”
Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team would not confirm his participation in the Vuelta, but he has indicated in recent days that he’ll be in the field. Last week, he posted another Instagram photo with the caption, “Hola España!”
Sagan counts four stage wins from the Vuelta in 2011 and 2015. This year, the field will include GC stars Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
The Vuelta opens in Málaga with a time trial and offers several mixed-terrain and flat-finish stages that could suit Sagan. The numerous mountains could also help him prepare for a fourth straight world title. The worlds course in Innsbruck includes around 5,000 meters of climbing.
“Peter is the three-time world champion — he will be there out of respect of the world title and the world of cycling,” Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Patxi Vila said during the Tour. “Peter will show up in the best possible condition he can.”
From the sprint finishes to the early breakaways on mountain stages, chasing green jersey points, Peter Sagan animated the Tour de France. We wouldn’t expect anything less from the three-time world champion.
Behind the scenes, Sagan is just as entertaining. Photographer Brian Hodes went inside the Bora-Hansgrohe team bus at the Tour to capture the fun.
A battered and bruised Peter Sagan leaves the City of Light with a record-tying sixth green jersey.
Now the Bora-Hansgrohe superstar will set his sights on another cycling milestone: a fourth world title.
The Innsbruck world championship course certainly doesn’t bode well for Sagan to try to become the first rider to win four rainbow jerseys. Team officials confirmed the worlds remain the central late-season focus for Sagan despite an unfavorable course and a rough and tumble Tour.
“Peter is the three-time world champion — he will be there out of respect of the world title and the world of cycling,” Bora-Hansgrohe sport director told VeloNews. “Peter will show up in the best possible condition he can.”
On paper, the climb-heavy worlds course in Innsbruck seems to be the anti-Sagan worlds route. The course features more than 5,000 meters of climbing on ramps as steep as 28 percent.
Sagan’s three previous world championship titles came on circuit courses that presented some hilly terrain — at least in Richmond and Norway (Qatar was flat) — but nothing like what the peloton will face in September.
Some were wondering if Sagan’s surprising breakaway rides into the mountains of the Tour de France were in part related to Sagan’s goal of testing his body against higher-paced steeper terrain. Sagan rode into several breakaways bumping elbows with the pure climbers. He already had the green jersey all but wrapped up, so why was he out there?
Vila, who also coaches Sagan, said those Tour breakaways were not with one eye on Austria.
“No, no, Peter just tries his best every day,” Vila said. “When he is the mountain stages, he is just thinking about the best way to beat the time cut. When he wants to, he can climb a lot. He was just trying to find himself in the best possible position.”
That aggressive mountain racing, however, came back to bite Sagan when he crashed coming off the Col de Val Louron-Azet in stage 17. Sagan said he misjudged a corner and “flew into the forest and hit a big rock my ass.”
Sagan made it through the next day’s transition stage but suffered horribly to make the time cut in stage 19. Vila said there will be a before and after for Sagan after this Tour.
“That was his hardest day on the bike ever for Peter,” Vila said. “That day will change the Peter we’ve known. That was the first time he really had to push himself to the absolute limit to make time cut. He’s pushed himself before to the limit but that was for victories. When the Tour is finished he will change how he will think about the race.”
Sagan’s post-Tour racing schedule remains up in the air. He is penciled in to return to the Vuelta for the first time since 2015, but Vila said that Sagan’s race schedule is not confirmed.
“We need to see how Peter recovers from the crash and the Tour, and then we will see,” said Vila, adding that Sagan also might want to take a run at the WorldTour points title. That might see him return to the Canadian WorldTour races in September. “We really need to see how he recovers from the crash.”
What is confirmed is that Sagan will be heading to Austria in September.
“[A fourth title] would be really, really hard, just looking at the parcours,” Vila said. “That’s Peter — if he really wants something, then he will be there. Of the last worlds he’s raced, this is the hardest one.”
Fred Dreier contributed to this report from Paris.
LARUNS, France (VN) — Peter Sagan suffered like he has never suffered before.
When VeloNews asked the three-time world champion whether Friday’s stage 19 of the Tour de France made him hurt worse than he’d ever hurt before on a bicycle, Sagan paused, thought for several seconds, and then delivered an emphatic answer.
“Well, for that long of a time? Yes, yes,” Sagan said.
Sagan’s day of suffering stems from his scary crash on Wednesday’s stage 17 from Bagnères-de-Luchon to the Col du Portet. Sagan crashed hard on the descent of the Col de Val Louron-Azet, suffering cuts and road rash to his right side. Since then he has raced with thick white bandages on his right arms and legs to protect his various cuts and bruises.
The crash sapped Sagan of his usual strength on the climbs. He knew something was wrong just a few kilometers into Friday’s stage when the peloton rolled up a short, innocuous ascent. The pace was nearly too much for Sagan, who found himself drifting off of the back.
“I was surprised on the first climb, I thought, ‘F—king hell what am I going to do today,’” Sagan said. “It’s just a two-kilometer climb, easy and I was already almost dropped. Afterward, we managed it well with the gruppetto and my teammates and [Arnaud] Démare’s teammates from FDJ.”
Sagan was dropped for good on the lower banks of the day’s first climb, the Col d’Aspin. Sagan went off the back of the peloton on the climb and began to pour water on his head. His Bora-Hansgrohe teammates Daniel Oss and Michal Bodnar drifted back with him, hoping to pace him to the finish line.
TV cameras rolled as Sagan grimaced and gritted his teeth. For a few crucial moments, Sagan’s future in this Tour de France hung in the balance. Should he lose too much time on the climb, he might miss the day’s time cut. Should he drift too far back, he might abandon. Earlier in this Tour, five of Sagan’s primary sprinting rivals left the race because they were unable to make the race’s strict cutoff time.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s climber Lukas Postlberger was riding in the day’s early breakaway when he heard a voice on the radio telling him that Sagan had been dropped. The new order was to drop back and help shepherd Sagan to the finish.
When Postlberger saw Sagan, he was in good spirits, however, he was in pain. So the team made a plan: ride at Sagan’s tempo on the climbs and allow him to go ahead on the descents, where his world-class skills would give him an advantage.
“He’s going his top pace the whole day, as long as possible, so we did not want to over-pace him,” Postlberger said. “We were trying to set a pace for him but with all the injuries it’s pretty hard for him. He’s a fighter.”
For the next 80 kilometers, Postlberger and his teammates rode ahead of Sagan. They talked very little. “Faster, slower, water, that’s about it,” Postlberger said. “We were all on the limit. When you ride a stage with 5,000 meters of climbing the conversation is very small.”
Bora-Hansgrohe’s directors believed the cutoff time for the day would be approximately 40 minutes, which was a concern. By the base of the Col du Tourmalet, the squad had already lost 30 minutes. Sagan and his teammates upped the pace as they rode through the valley to the final trio of monster climbs, the Col des Bordères, Col du Soulor, and Col d’Aubisque.
After reaching the summit of the Col des Bordères, the radio crackled again. The time limit had been extended to 46 minutes.
“It was a shock when we heard the time cut was 40 minutes, and it was like eh, we’re not going to make it,” Postlberger said. “At the top, we had loads of time.”
If making it to Paris meant suffering, Sagan said he was up to the challenge.
“Mentally, I’m good, I think because it wasn’t an excuse for me to throw it away,” Sagan said. “In my head, I knew had to finish the race. It didn’t matter whether I was in the limit or not, I have to finish. Physically, it was really hard.”
“It’s impossible to describe,” he added. “It was very painful, but in the end, I’m happy to make it and to continue in the race tomorrow.”
LOURDES, France (VN) — Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Emirates) says Peter Sagan is the real winner of the Tour de France green points jersey.
Kristoff is stating the obvious. The Bora-Hansgrohe superstar started Friday’s final mountain stage with an insurmountable lead over Kristoff, 467 points to 196 points.
The problem is that Sagan struggled early in Friday’s final mountain stage. And Kristoff is next in line to inherit the green jersey if the three-time reigning world champion cannot make it to Paris.
“Peter has already won it if he just manages to finish,” Kristoff told VeloNews at the start Friday. “It would be cool to win the green jersey, but it wouldn’t be like I won it because Peter is so far ahead.”
Sagan’s near-perfect Tour with three wins nearly ended Wednesday when he crashed heavily on a descent on stage 17. Sagan suffered heavy blows to his arms, legs, back, and buttocks, but he safely negotiated Thursday’s transition stage. Sagan even sprinted to eighth on the stage to add a few more points to his running total.
On Friday, Sagan struggled to keep pace in the first of four climbs across the Pyrénées. Though it looked like he should be able to finish with the gruppetto, there was a danger he could be time cut or even abandon.
“After a crash, the hardest time is always 48 hours later,” Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Patxi Vila told French TV. “Peter is having the hardest day of his cycling life ever so far. He wants to make it across to the gruppetto, but it all depends on the reaction of his body.”
Many of Sagan’s green jersey rivals have already abandoned the Tour, including Quick-Step Floors’s Fernando Gaviria, who won two stages in the first part of the race to challenge Sagan early.
If Sagan is suddenly out of the race, Kristoff would take over the green jersey.
“Suddenly I could be in green if he crashes really bad, but lucky for him he could ride,” Kristoff said Friday morning. “He looked quite OK [Thursday], maybe not at the top level, but he is still at such a high level, I think he will manage to get through.”
On Friday’s start in Lourdes, Kristoff was not thinking about the green jersey but instead trying to win his first Tour stage since 2014 when he won two stages. Since then, he’s been second or third eight times without winning a stage.
The Norwegian sprinter is hoping to end that streak Sunday on the Champs-Élysées.
“I have my final chance in Paris,” Kristoff said. “I hope to have some good legs on Sunday.”
Kristoff’s chances for victory are greatly enhanced following the early exits of nearly all the top sprinters in this year’s Tour. Only a hobbled Sagan and Arnaud Démare (FDJ) remain among the peloton’s pure speedsters.
Other riders in the race will also be holding out for Sunday’s finale, including John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), who could all win in Paris.
“I was very close the other day when Sagan beat me on the line,” Kristoff said. “It’s been like this the past couple of years. I have had many seconds and thirds, and I only won in 2014 two times. It is a long time since I have in the Tour, so I am used to not winning in the Tour.
“I know I am not the fastest rider in the world anymore,” Kristoff continued. “I know if I am lucky I can win. If the race is a little harder or challenging and it comes down to a smaller group, I am good. It’s like this when you are getting older when you are a sprinter and younger guys coming in with faster legs. It’s harder to compete against them.”
And what happens if both Sagan and Kristoff are suddenly out of the Tour? Démare, who won Thursday’s stage, is third with 183 points and could win the green jersey.
Winning more stages, however, may be out of the question.
“I think I can finish with four stages to go,” Sagan said. “I take it day by day.”
Patxi Vila, Sagan’s coach and Bora-Hansgrohe’s director, said the injury will likely keep Sagan from contesting for the win on Thursday’s stage from Trie-sur-Baise to Pau. On paper, the 171km stage is custom-fit for Sagan, who already owns three sprint victories at this Tour de France. The route includes a few punchy hills, with a predominantly flat finish in Pau.
“We’re not looking for a performance today,” Vila said. “We want him back on track. Today is our call to see how it feels.”
Should Sagan be absent from the sprint, it would leave just one remaining stage—Sunday’s finale in Paris — for him to contest. Sagan has never won the Tour’s final stage on the Champs-Élysées.
Sagan crashed hard on Wednesday’s stage 17 from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Col du Portet, sliding out on the descent of the Col de Val Louron-Azet, approximately 38km from the finish line. The Slovakian, who currently leads the race’s points competition, rode the final 15km climb to the Col du Portet summit in bloody tatters; he sported deep cuts and scrapes to his right arm and leg, and his jersey and bike shorts were reduced to ribbons.
After he crossed the line atop the Col du Portet Sagan spent nearly an hour in the medical truck.
“I crashed in a turn. In the corner I made a mistake,” Sagan told reporters after stepping out of the medical truck. “It looked like a fast corner, but after I just went a little more right. I was braking but it wasn’t enough. After I flew through the forest and I hit a big rock with my ass.”
According to the team, X-rays confirmed that Sagan had not broken any bones. Instead, he suffered bruising, cuts, and road rash.
Patxi Vila, Sagan’s coach, said Sagan was fighting through pain and soreness prior to the start on Thursday morning. Vila said Sagan’s mood is still high, despite the discomfort.
“It’s sore bones and soreness and stuff — it’s not ideal,” Vila said. “Peter is good at pretty much everything, and he’s really good at handling this type of situation. The mood is good.”
Sagan arrived at the start for Thursday’s stage 18 in Trie-sur-Baise with multiple white bandages fixed to his left shin, thigh, and forearm. TV cameras mobbed Sagan has he rode to the sign in; in the chaos of the scrum one media member bumped into Sagan’s wounds. The three-time world champion groaned as he backed away from the jostling group.
“I have some scratches from yesterday,” he told reporters. “I am sore. I hit my ass muscle. It is not a pleasure but I have to keep going.”
Vila said the team’s primary goal is to now shepherd Sagan to Paris, where his record-tying sixth points title awaits him. Sagan currently holds an insurmountable lead in the green points jersey competition with 452 total points. Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) is second, with 170 points.
COL DE PORTET, France (VN) — Three-time world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) avoided serious injury Wednesday in a high-speed crash in the Pyrénées and vowed to continue in the Tour de France.
Sagan crashed alone descending the Col de Val Louron-Azet in Wednesday’s stage 17. There was no video of the crash, but Sagan said he misjudged a corner and crashed into some trees. He crossed the line 134th, safely within the time with his green points jersey and shorts torn and bloodied.
“I made a mistake. I crashed on a corner,” Sagan said. “I was braking but it was not enough. I flew into the forest and I hit a big rock with my ass.”
Tour doctors examined Sagan at the finish-line medical unit. The initial diagnosis revealed no broken bones. The Tour’s points jersey leader is expected to start Thursday’s stage 18.
“For sure I’m injured but it could be worse. I think I have some scratches and I hit my muscle and my ass,” Sagan said. “I hope it’s going to be better in one or two days.”
Sagan is just days away from winning a sixth green points jersey in Paris. The Slovenian has been on a tear throughout this Tour. He has won three stages and has an insurmountable advantage in the points competition. All he has to do is make it to Paris.
With another sprint opportunity in the cards Thursday, Sagan vows to start the stage.
“I hope it’s going to be better in one or two days,” Sagan said. “It would be very easy to go home just two or three days before Paris. We will see. Now I’m up for the race, we’ll see tomorrow morning.”
On the twisting, narrow road off the top of the barren Col de Val Louron-Azet, world champion Peter Sagan crashed, requiring attention from Tour de France medical staff, according to TV broadcasters.
The Slovak is one of the last men you’d expect to plummet off the side of a technical road on stage 17. Bora-Hansgrohe’s superstar is known as one the peloton’s best bike-handlers, a fearless descender.
Coming into Wednesday’s stage, he had an unassailable in the points classification.
All he had to do to win the green jersey was finish in Paris on Sunday. That record-tying sixth Tour de France points classification title was in jeopardy.
After picking himself up off the side of the road in the Pyrenees and regaining his composure, he carried on.
A photo posted on Twitter by a roadside fan showed Sagan with torn jersey and shorts on his right side. The world champion was seen riding along with a couple of other riders.
At the base of the finish climb up Col du Portet, he was four minutes behind the GC group.
He made it to the finish at 2,215 meters above sea level 26:30 behind the day’s winner, Nairo Quintana (Movistar). His Bora-Hansgrohe team tweeted that he was inside of the time cut but that he will require medical examinations.
VALENCE, France (VN) — Peter Sagan looked to be outgunned in the finale of Friday’s 13th stage of the Tour de France, a flat and fast 169.5km journey from Le Bourg-d’Oisans to Valence. French sprinter Arnaud Démare had two of his Groupama-FDJ teammates on the front; John Degenkolb had Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo); even Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) had a teammate to pull him to the line.
Sagan, as he so often does, outmaneuvered his rivals in the frantic kick to the line. A well-timed surge netted Sagan his third stage win of this Tour de France, ahead of Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) and Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ). The ease by which Sagan overcame the odds begged the question: does Sagan even need teammates to propel him to victory?
The answer, of course, is yes. It’s just that Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe teammates do not function like a traditional sprinting unit, due to the strength and smarts of their captain.
“It’s not a team like a traditional [Mario] Cipollini-style lead-out team,” said Patxi Vila, Sagan’s coach and Bora-Hansgrohe’s sports director. “He needs guys to get him onto the right wheel, to simply get him into the right position for the last k. Then it’s up to him.”
Borah-Hansgrohe entered the 2018 Tour de France with two goals: Sagan would target stage wins and Rafal Majka the general classification. The team brought powerful all-rounders Pawel Polijanski, Lukas Postelberger, and Gregor Mulberger to chase down breakaways on flat and rolling terrain. For the sprints, the team also brought three designated teammates to assist Sagan: Marcus Burghardt, Maciej Bodnar, and Daniel Oss.
The three riders are akin to NFL linemen of the pro peloton. Bodnar is one of the best time trial riders in the WorldTour, and Burghardt and Oss are two of the best riders on the heavy cobblestones of Belgium and Northern France. Bora-Hansgrohe’s strategy for Sagan begins at 10km to the finish, when Burghardt and Bodnar surge ahead of the Slovakian sprinter to bring him near the front of the peloton, without him riding in the wind.
Somewhere between 5km and 3km to go, Oss then takes charge. The powerful Italian puts in a fast, sprinting effort to help Sagan maintain his positioning into the final kilometer.
Oss, 31, said the effort required to propel Sagan to the front of the group feels like a sprint. And navigating the chaotic dynamics of those critical kilometers requires instinct and determination.
“Peter always said we are like artists because we have to ride on instinct,” Oss said. “The important thing is I keep him near the front and out of those critical points like a crash—I look for holes to take him through. It is [an effort] that is close to the sprinter maximum. You have to be strong enough to cover him from the wind.”
Thus far Bora-Hansgrohe’s sprint strategy has delivered: Sagan already owns three stage wins and is the favorite to win the stage 21 sprint on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Vila said that spirits on the Bora-Hansgrohe team bus are exceptionally high at this year’s Tour. In part, Vila said, it’s because Sagan’s teammates are also his friends.
“Peter is very comfortable here on the team and that makes training and racing easier,” Vila said. “Everyone is behind Peter.”
That’s not to say Bora’s job is easy. Postlberger, 26, said the lead out man duties are more difficult than one might expect. Sagan’s famed bike-handling skills give him a major advantage in the course’s twists and turns. That’s why Sagan often embarks on the final hectic push to the line by himself. The team must simply get him into a fighting position.
“Peter likes to set himself because he wants to choose his way to the finish,” Postlberger said. “Peter has a different style of riding. He accelerates out of the corners different.”
After his victory in Valence, Sagan gave credit to his team. Yes, he was somewhat isolated in the final push to the line. But the team rode the front for much of the day, helped chase down the day’s breakaway, and made sure he stayed out of trouble in the final few kilometers.
“I found myself in the last kilometer pretty far back—maybe 20th or 25th place,” Sagan said. “I just started to sprint to the front and I took Kristoff’s wheel for maybe the last 500 meters.”
The dynamic continued during stage 12, a 175km stage to l’Alpe d’Huez. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) was the first sprinter to abandon, and then Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Bellisol) called it quits. Also abandoning was Rick Zabel (Katusha), who was time cut on stage 11, but allowed to continue because he suffered a mechanical.
“I cannot remember ever seeing something like this.”
In total 12 riders left the race during the two stages.
“I cannot remember ever seeing something like this,” said Dimension Data manager Rolf Aldag, who raced the Tour 10 times during his 16-year pro career. “There were always sprinters in difficulty but in two days we have seen a challenge.”
Now, just three sprinters with bunch-kick Tour victories are left to contest the remaining flat stages: Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ). And second-tier fast men like Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), may seize an opportunity to win.
VeloNews spoke with riders and team sources to better understand why so many sprinters left the race, why some sprinters survived, and whether the Tour de France organizers need to adjust the rules.
Reasons for the exodus
This Tour’s three-day run through the Alps was unquestionably punishing, yet previous races have included similarly hard routes. So why did so many sprinters fail?
Riders and directors pointed to various reasons. The shrinking of teams from nine to eight riders has forced some teams to choose riders for the GC instead of the sprint, which has decreased the size of the grupetto that forms on sprint stages. Modern training methods and specialization have perhaps widened the gap between sprinters and climbers.
“There is a feeling that the pace is very fast this year,” said Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). “It was clear from the first mountain day that the real sprinters were going to have to fight to get in the [cutoff] time.
All sources that VeloNews spoke with pointed at stage 11 as the primary culprit for the exodus. Just 108km long (67 miles), the stage included three successive and sizable climbs, with almost no flat road. It was yet another experimental route organized by ASO to inject excitement into the Tour. And it was sandwiched between two other punishing stages in the mountains.
“It was ridiculously hard,” said Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida). I’ve never done a stage like that in my life.”
The short, punishing route meant that the sprinter grupetto had to ride a stiff tempo just to avoid the time cut. For every stage, the Tour sets the time cut as a percentage of the winning time. Which percentage organizers choose is based on a convoluted system that factors in the overall difficulty and average speed of the winner. Sprinters often rely on flat roads to narrow the gap to the front group on climbing days. Without much flat, sprinters had to push themselves on the climbs harder than they may have done on a longer stage.
“It was ridiculously hard. I’ve never done a stage like that in my life.”
The effort to simply survive was huge, and it had consequences for Thursday’s stage to l’Alpe d’Huez.
“If a sprinter had to go full-gas yesterday, then there was nothing left today,” Aldag said after Thursday’s stage. “There was no way to recover property overnight and get ready for a big stage like today.”
The pace did not slow down on stage 11 to l’Alpe d’Huez, as an early breakaway attacked on the Col de la Madeleine, forcing Team Sky rode a hard tempo to keep the move in check. The aggression shed the sprinters within the opening kilometers of the stage. That tempo only increased throughout the day, as Sky’s domestiques poured on the pace.
The grupetto fell further and further behind. Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Groenewegen were first to be dropped, and eventually gave up after determining they could not make the time cut. Gaviria and Greipel were next.
John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) said Sky’s intense pacing at this year’s Tour added to the challenge.
“The problem is Sky is so strong. They go their own pace and still they are with a full team at the front, so the distance to [sprinters] only grows,” Degenkolb said. “That pace is too high for me and a lot of guys to stay close.”
Thor Hushovd, twice a winner of the Tour’s points classification, believes another factor may have contributed to the loss: June races. In recent years the peloton’s fastest sprinters have chosen to race the Amgen Tour of California and Tour of Slovenia, rather than tackle traditional warm-up races Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse. By choosing this option, the sprinters miss out on long, punishing stages in the Alps.
Sagan and Démare both raced the Tour de Suisse.
“A lot of these guys didn’t do a stage race with bigger hills in it, and they are perhaps missing those efforts,” Hushovd said. “I always needed to do the Dauphiné to get used to the hills. That was an important part of the preparation for me.”
How some survived
Teams saw the potential for time cuts during stages 11 and 12 and prepared specific strategies to help their sprinters survive the Alps. Degenkolb focused on a pacing strategy to help him survive the Col de la Madeleine without falling too far back. Directors had teammate Michael Gogl stay behind with Degenkolb to pace him up the Col de la Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez. Degenkolb finished 32 minutes in arrears.
“It was important for me not to over-pace myself on the first climb,” Degenkolb said. “I knew that 1km into the first mountain I would never see the bunch again, so I had to simply let it go and then ride at a pace I was comfortable with to the finish.”
Other teams employed a completely different strategy. Bora-Hansgrohe predicted the time cut would be approximately 38 minutes for the stage. Directors had Peter Sagan ride near his limit to the top of the Col de la Madeleine in order to stay as close as possible to the front group. Sagan then chased on the descent before settling into a comfortable rhythm. He rode to the finish alongside his teammate, Daniel Oss.
“Peter’s finish line was the top of the Madeleine,” said Sagan’s coach Patxi Vila. “So then you have 38 minutes to lose over two climbs. Downhill you go the same speed as the front group. So that is 19 minutes to lose on each [climb]. That’s 1.5 minutes per each kilometer, and he can do that.”
The day after the abandons, calls to permanently widen the time cut echoed through the peloton.
“I think the time cut was too narrow,” said Brian Holm, director at Quick-Step. “When you see somebody like Greipel lose it — and he is quite good in the mountains — it leads you to believe it is too narrow.”
Aldag said the Tour should adjust the cut for shorter stages that feature mountains.
“When the length of racing is only three and a half hours in the mountains then there is simply no time to make it up,” Aldag said. “You only have up, down, up, down, there’s no flat to take it back.”
Indeed Tour officials did extend the cutoff time during Thursday’s stage to Alpe d’Huez, however, the decision was made midway through the stage, after Gaviria, Greipel, and Groenewegen all quit. That decision was puzzling to riders in the peloton, even those who survived the day.
“You only have up, down, up, down, there’s no flat to take it back.”
“You saw many sprinters abandon yesterday because we had a tight time cut. We started the day and we thought we had 30 minutes and we thought it would be hard,” Kristoff said. “They moved the cut during the stage which was a bit strange. We were fighting for half an hour and suddenly we have 40-minute time cut. It’s strange when they change the rules during a race.”
Whether or not Tour organizers extend the cut remains to be seen. What is known is that the Tour’s sprinters will face a similar dynamic in the Pyrenees, where climbs, a short 65km stage, and intense racing are all on tap.