Category: Tour de France

Inside John Degenkolb’s Tour de France redemption


John Degenkolb had been there before, at the pointy end of a race rolling over the pavé approaching Roubaix, but this time was different.

Stage 9 of the 2018 Tour de France paid homage to Paris-Roubaix, the “Queen of the Classics,” with a route that traversed many of the legendary cobbled stretches of the spring monument. With just under 20 kilometers to go in the stage this past July, Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) was hovering near the front of the pack when Quick-Step’s Yves Lampaert hit the gas. Degenkolb and BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet upped the tempo to match his pace.

“At the beginning, I was just following and thinking that we’d make a good pace, and let’s see where we end up,” Degenkolb says. “Then there was a 90-degree corner, and then I looked back and I didn’t see anyone. I only saw dust behind us.”

Degenkolb, winner of Paris-Roubaix itself in 2015, found himself in a familiar spot. He was off the front on the cobblestones with the same duo he escaped that spring en route to capping off the best classics campaign of his life.

Three seasons removed from that career year, however, so much had changed. In January of 2016, Degenkolb was seriously injured when a car hit him and several of his Giant-Alpecin teammates during a training session in Spain. He nearly lost a finger in the incident.

Instead of defending his titles at Paris-Roubaix and Milano-Sanremo that year, he missed the entire classics campaign. None of his results since then rate as highly as the two monuments he won during that spring to remember. His 2018 classics campaign was yet another disappointment.

John Degenkolb
Degenkolb scored his second and most prestigious monument of the 2015 season by winning in Roubaix. Photo: Kristof Ramon | BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

It wouldn’t have surprised anyone to see the John Degenkolb of 2015 battling with Van Avermaet and Lampaert for a cobbled stage win at the Tour de France, but could the Degenkolb of 2018 deliver?

He did, outsprinting the pair at the line and throwing up both hands in a cathartic celebration. The victory was Degenkolb’s first at the WorldTour level since 2015 and his first career win at the Tour de France. It shot him back into the spotlight, garnering media attention for weeks.

He says he still gets goosebumps looking back on photos from the day. Looking forward, he knows now that he still has what it takes to battle the best in the biggest races.

Here is the inside story of John Degenkolb’s Tour de France stage win.

Low points

To say that Degenkolb’s spring campaign this season did not go according to plan would be an understatement. Although he started the year with back-to-back wins at January’s Trofeo Mallorca series, Degenkolb fell ill in March. He pulled out of Paris-Nice and then missed Milano-Sanremo for the second time since his 2015 victory.

Degenkolb made it to the start line for the rest of his major spring targets but did not finish in the top 10 in any of the cobbled one-days. Robbed of an ideal build-up, he was playing catchup the whole time.

“It was the worst classics season I’ve ever had in my whole career,” Degenkolb says, speaking to VeloNews by phone during the off-season.

A crash at Paris-Roubaix added insult to injury. He says he was starting to feel competitive again by the cobbled finale, but instead of turning things around like he’d hoped, he was left nursing an injured knee that kept him off the bike for weeks.

“That was a pretty low point, not only of the season but also my whole career,” he says.

It’s one thing to shake off a short rough patch. Staying optimistic after this many seasons of setbacks was harder.

He headed into June uncertain of whether he would even make the start at the Tour de France. After riding the Hammer Series event in the Netherlands, he made his return to WorldTour racing at the Tour de Suisse hoping to work his way into shape, and quickly.

John Degenkolb
John Degenkolb’s run at Tour de Suisse wasn’t entirely smooth, but it gave him a bit of hope for the Tour. Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The first few stages of racing in the Alps were not encouraging.

“I wasn’t feeling well at all,” he says. “I was suffering really bad on the climbs even though the power meter didn’t show that we were going really hard. And that’s always really bad, you see you’re only doing 300, 350 watts and you’re suffering already.”

Something clicked, however, in stage 7 — although you wouldn’t have known it from his result. Nairo Quintana won that tough mountain finale at Arosa. Degenkolb finished 71st on the day, over 25 minutes down.

“I was able to really push it until the end, until the last climb. Before I wasn’t capable of doing that. That day really gave me a lot of confidence for the final preparation,” he says.

After the Tour de Suisse, Degenkolb headed to Austria for a four-day training block with teammate Michael Gogl. Focusing on strength and endurance, his form continued to improve. Then he headed home to Germany for the national championship road race. A runner-up ride there behind Bora-Hansgrohe’s Pascal Ackermann was further proof that he was healthy and fit. His Tour start was secured.

Months prior, the Tour’s cobbled ninth stage had been a target for Degenkolb and his Trek squad. By July, he was just happy to make the start.

The race to Roubaix

The first stretch of racing at the Tour offered ample opportunities for the fast finishers. Degenkolb landed in the top 10 five times in the first week. Then, in stage 8, he took third in a close sprint with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo). With the Roubaix stage looming, Degenkolb was looking stronger than he had in months.

Trek rolled out from Arras for the 156.5-kilometer stage to Roubaix with two leaders: Degenkolb and Jasper Stuyven, who has finished top-five at Paris-Roubaix in the last two years. The main objective was to stay safe into the finale, where both riders would hopefully be in the mix.

The day unfolded as one might have expected of a cobbled stage in a grand tour, with crashes aplenty ruining the hopes of one GC contender after another. TV cameras bounced back and forth as riders like Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) desperately chased after mishaps, while several classics specialists and a lucky few yellow jersey hopefuls hung on in the dwindling pack.

The early breakaway held out well into the stage as the familiar favorites of Paris-Roubaix mostly eyed each other into the last several sections. The peloton made the catch, however, with around 20 kilometers to go as the race approached the Camphin-en-Pévèle, the day’s penultimate sector of cobbles. Degenkolb and Trek had done their job so far: He was safe and upright in the lead group heading into the final push.

With 17 kilometers to go, on the bumpy terrain of the Camphin-en-Pévèle, Lampaert made his move. Live to the danger posed by the Belgian road champion, Degenkolb followed, as did Van Avermaet.

Degenkolb
The lead group of Lampert, Van Avermaet, and Degenkolb used their cobblestone expertise to escape the peloton on the last sector before the finish of the Tour’s cobblestone stage. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media | www.brakethroughmedia.com

The firepower in the move proved strong enough to force a split, which grew as the trio realized that there was a real chance of staying clear. Sagan tried to bridge, but couldn’t. Others, like Sep Vanmarkce (EF Education First-Drapac), were on team duty instead of fighting for the stage.

By the end of the final cobbled stretch, it was clear that the winner would come from the three-man group off the front. They took a full minute into the last few kilometers. As rough as his spring had been, Degenkolb had reason to believe that this might finally be his chance to turn things around.

“When I won Roubaix in ’15, it was the same group,” he says. “I beat them in the velodrome. So I was quite confident to beat them again because I felt very similar to how I felt in ’15.”

The Tour stage concluded not on the velodrome track but with a more traditional finishing straight. A sprint seemed likely nonetheless as none of the three made any decisive attempts to break clear.

Degenkolb found himself in the unenviable position of sitting at the front of the trio after unsuccessfully trying to get his companions to come around inside the last kilometer.

Forced to lead things out, he wound up to speed 250 meters from the line.

Van Avermaet was glued to his wheel, but he never came close to coming past. Degenkolb held out all the way to the finish to win his first Tour stage. He pointed to the sky as he crossed the finish in tribute to a family friend who had passed. It was a tribute he’d wanted to the make for months if only he could find the opportunity in a big race victory. Now, on the sport’s grandest stage, he had it.

The German was overcome with emotion at the finish.

“I was chasing this victory for so long. It’s really hard to describe,” he said, fighting back tears in a television interview.

Back in the spotlight

Degenkolb’s emotional Roubaix victory was enough to earn him plenty of media attention long after his tearful post-race interview.

“Especially in Germany, it means so much if you win a stage at the Tour. I think I got more attention winning a stage in the Tour than winning actual Paris-Roubaix in 2015,” he says.

It was nice to be getting positive coverage again. Crediting his family and the Trek squad for continuing to support him despite the tough stretches, Degenkolb says he was glad to have a chance to send his doubters a message this summer.

“They didn’t believe that I could do a good result,” he says. “It was nice to give them a lesson, that I’m still able to win bike races.”

Degenkolb proved that to himself as well this summer.

John Degenkolb
An emotional Degenkolb hugged teammate Jasper Stuyven at the finish in Roubaix. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The bona fide classics remain his top targets for 2019, and he knows he has work to do to get back to winning ways in the one-days. He came close to another stage win in the final day of the Tour, finishing second to Alexander Kristoff on the Champs-Elysees, and delivered a handful of other strong results in the remainder of his 2018 calendar, but he says that he’d hoped for more out of the second half of his season.

Nonetheless, a stage win in the sport’s biggest event was more than enough to send him into the offseason with a renewed feeling that he has what it takes to contend with the very best. Degenkolb is quick to acknowledge that a Tour stage on the Roubaix cobbles is not Paris-Roubaix — but it was a big win against big classics stars in cycling’s biggest event. That counts for something.

“It definitely refreshed all the confidence and the trust in myself to be up there to compete against all the really big guys, to be one of those who fight for the [Paris-Roubaix] cobblestone,” he says.

“I will be more motivated next year going to Sanremo and Roubaix again.”

Read the full article at Inside John Degenkolb’s Tour de France redemption on VeloNews.com.

Tour is stronger than ever despite rocky 2018 edition


Despite the challenges that the Tour de France faced in 2018, there are signs that the race is stronger than at any point in its history. The race’s media footprint still reaches across the globe. Its value has enabled parent company ASO to consolidate its power in cycling. And many of the sport’s biggest sponsors cue up for an opportunity to participate in the event. “Thirty years ago, the Tour was a very big French race in France,” said longtime journalist Francois Thomazeau, who’s covered nearly 30 Tours. “Since then, it has truly become a global event that draws in millions of people every day.”

The 2018 Tour de France may be remembered for the controversy which swirled around Team Sky, and for the smaller crowds and dip in TV ratings. But by nearly every metric — from those same TV ratings and crowds, to sponsor engagement and the quality of the field — the Tour still towers above every other cycling race on the calendar.

Jonathan Vaughters, who has long fought to change cycling’s business model, said that when he pitches potential sponsors, he promotes his team’s media metrics from the Tour de France.

“From a media impressions standpoint, the Tour dwarfs everything by a huge order of magnitude,” Vaughters said. “[Other races] are not even close. The Giro is only 10 to 20 percent bigger from a media impression standpoint than we get with Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné.”

That almost monopolistic stranglehold on the sport’s center of gravity has been an ongoing and sometimes bitter debate for generations.

Teams still grumble about the Tour’s dominion over the sport and unwillingness to share in the riches it generates from television revenue. Critics say as popular and profitable as the Tour is now, it could be even more so if ASO embraced a more integrated business arrangement with the larger cycling community.

Until Madame Marie-Odile, widow of ASO founder Émilien Amaury, decides to sell the privately held media company, that likely won’t change.

And ASO has adopted an aggressive strategy for expanding its reach, thanks to the Tour’s success. Over the past decade, ASO has purchased — and saved — such races as Paris-Nice, the Critérium du Dauphiné, and the Vuelta a España. ASO holds marketing agreements with the Santos Tour Down Under and the Amgen Tour of California. It also has expanded into profitable new markets with Britain’s Tour of Yorkshire and the Arctic Race of Norway.

This summer ASO also revived the Tour of Germany in an effort to tap into cycling’s biggest European market. The acquisitions are made possible by ASO’s revenues from the Tour de France.

Within the pro peloton, the Tour still reigns supreme. Success or failure at the race makes or breaks a rider’s season. It’s so important, in fact, that teams now regularly choose either a sprinter or a general classification rider, where in years past teams often brought both.

“The Tour is our big global event in cycling,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “The Tour has a different feel than other races. The Tour is the event that put cycling on the map. Of course, every team or organization wants to win the Tour.”

The allure of the Tour even helped BMC Racing survive. When longtime manager Jim Ochowicz, who previously ran 7-Eleven and Motorola, faced sponsorship woes at the end of the 2018 season, he leveraged his most powerful asset: A ticket to the Tour de France.

With his WorldTour license in hand — a guaranteed entry to the Tour — Ochowicz struck a deal with Polish shoemaker Dariusz Milek, who has bankrolled the CCC-branded team for nearly two decades. Despite racing the Giro d’Italia and other major races, Milek never got an invite to the Tour. Ochowicz’s WorldTour license and its invaluable access to the Tour sealed the agreement.

“Sponsors want to be in the Tour de France,” Ochowicz said. “They wanted to go with a WorldTour team. There are only 18 of them. [The license] helped close the deal.”

The inspired Tour founder Henri Desgrange might have been lucky that he thought of the grand tour formula first. Beyond chance, though, the Tour de France is still the race that fuels professional cycling and defines what stage racing is all about.

Read the full article at Tour is stronger than ever despite rocky 2018 edition on VeloNews.com.

Commentary: Vandenbroucke was cycling’s up-and-down man


Editors’ Note: Author Samuel Abt was a long-time sports journalist and columnist for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. He covered the Tour de France and other professional cycling events for more than 30 years. A resident of the Paris area, Abt retired several years ago.

A bewildering rumor made the rounds days before the presentation of the 2019 Tour de France: The race would schedule a stage to honor Frank Vandenbroucke, the golden wastrel of Belgian cycling.

That made little sense for several reasons. For one, the Tour organizers were already lavishing their attention on another Belgian rider, Eddy Merckx, who will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first Tour victory this year. For another, Vandenbroucke had been a classics specialist, not a star in the Tour, where he finished 50th in 1997 and did not finish in 2000. For a third, with his history of erratic behavior and doping suspicions, convictions, and confessions, Vandenbroucke made an unlikely Tour role model.

In the end. the rumor turned out to be just that, one more in a life full of rumors. Actual news about Vandenbroucke lately is limited to the fact that his daughter Cameron, 19, heretofore a runner, recently signed a contract with one of his many former teams, Lotto-Soudal.

Otherwise, Vandenbroucke’s name surfaced a few months ago when he became the subject of a new biography in his homeland nearly 10 years after his death. The Vandenbroucke family has called the book the first public biography of Frank. The book thrilled his mother.

“We wanted to show that his life couldn’t be summed up in scandals,” she said. “I want people to remember him as the swell person he was, not as a criminal.”

The book joins a handful of other accounts of the tumultuous life and long rap sheet of the rider once ranked third in the world. Among these works is an autobiography that he coyly titled: “I’m No God.”

Who said he was? For a while, nearly everybody in divided Belgium, French-speaking Wallonia in the south, Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, thought Vandenbroucke to be a cycling god. No matter where, including the somewhat neutral Brussels region, Vandenbroucke was known adoringly as VDB, the title of the new book.

Despite the Germanic sound of his name, Vandenbroucke was a pure Walloon, a native of Mouscron just across the border with France. He himself never seemed part of Belgium’s widespread linguistic chauvinism as exemplified by his uncle Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke, a serviceable rider in the 1980s and then the directeur sportif for the Lotto team from 1988 to 1999. Jean-Luc would guide his riders only in French while a deputy next to him in the team car instructed those speaking Flemish.

The uncle and VDB’s father, Jean-Jacques, long a mechanic with Jean-Luc’s teams, trained the young rider and signed him for Lotto in 1993 at the age of 19. By then he had won his country’s championship for new riders and then for juniors plus a bronze medal in the junior world championships.

VDB was a force from the start with Lotto, winning in 1994 a stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean and finishing on the podium in four lesser races. After he won the Cholet-Pays de Loire semi-classic in 1995 he decided that his career demanded more than Lotto, his uncle, and his father. “It was impossible to take orders from somebody in the family,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it.”

Going to court to void his contract, he signed with Mapei, the world’s top team. His ascent continued: victory in Paris-Brussels, the Tour of the Mediterranean, the Tour of Austria, the Grand Prix of Plouay, the Tour of Luxembourg, a clutch of podiums in other races and in 1998 victory in the weeklong Paris-Nice and Gent-Wevelgem.

He then left Mapei for Cofidis and in 1999 had his best season: victory in Het Volk and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, two stage victories and the points jersey in the Vuelta, second in the Tour of Flanders.

Ominously, despite his third-place world ranking, he became known to his Cofidis teammates and officials as “the headache.” Suspected but not convicted in a doping scandal in 1999, he was suspended by his team for several weeks.

The downward spiral continued as quickly as his ascent had. Every year he joined a new team — some big like Fassa Bortolo, Domo, Quick-Step and Lampre, others down the slope to Mr. Bookmaker, Unibet and, finally, both Mitsubishi and Cinelli-Down Under, known only to spelunkers. The problem was not simply lack of results, faulty conditioning, frequent injuries, or exorbitant salary demands. (“My financial requirements are not high,” he told the Gazet van Antwerpen.”It must have to do with my past.”)

Good guess, VDB. In 2002, a police raid on his home turned up EPO, clenbuterol, and morphine, some of which, he insisted, were for his dog. The Domo team dropped him and he was suspended for six months by the cycling federation in Flanders, but not the one in Wallonia. It was not true, but widely believed, that when the Tour of Wallonia passed through a village half-Flemish and half-Walloon, the pack rode on one side of the street — the Flemish side — and Vandenbroucke rode alone on the other side.

His pattern of self-destruction was formidable. During the 2000 Tour de France, while his team had dinner at its hotel, Vandenbroucke was seen at a chic restaurant with a gorgeous woman. She may or may not have been the wife with whom he had many highly publicized fights, including one in which he threatened them both with a shotgun. They divorced in 2007.

Amid his troubles and numerous comebacks under new colors, Vandenbroucke could be blithe, even charming. When I interviewed him at the Tour of Qatar in 2004, he talked mostly about a coming court hearing for doping and about the mysterious torching of his black Mercedes CL5SK (sales price about $150,000) as it was parked during the night behind his home.

“Who did it? Why? How?” he asked with a what-me-worry Alfred E. Neuman smile. “It was insured, no problem.”

The coming court hearing was no less troublesome. “Life is full of unhappiness,” he said.

Indeed his was. In 2006, he unsuccessfully attempted suicide. In 2008, the Belgian press identified him as a cocaine user. In 2009, he was dead. The end came in a resort hotel in Senegal, where VDB was vacationing while seeking a new team. A Senegalese woman who had spent the night with him was arrested and charged with stealing about $450 and two cellphones.

His death was ruled natural — a double pulmonary embolism as well as an existing heart problem — while the public prosecutor there said the body showed signs of drug and alcohol abuse.

“Sadly, this has only partly come as a surprise, for we knew he was not doing too well,” said Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke. “He was up and down, both in terms of his health and his morale.”

The up and down man: Rest in peace, Frank Vandenbroucke.

Read the full article at Commentary: Vandenbroucke was cycling’s up-and-down man on VeloNews.com.

Movistar to bring Landa, Quintana back to 2019 Tour


Movistar is bullish Mikel Landa will perform at maximum capacity in 2019 following a rough and tumble debut with the Spanish blues.

Landa expressed optimism he would be back at his best next season following a string of crashes that kept him from shining at his best during 2018.

“If this year didn’t work out, next year it will,” Landa said. “It was a complicated season, with the crash at the Tour, I was never at my best and after crashing at San Sebastián, it really cost me a lot to try to get back for the Vuelta and the worlds.”

The Basque star was hampered at the Tour following a heavy fall on the pavé. He crashed again just as he was hitting top form at Clásica de San Sebastián.

“It really wore me out and I needed to take a long break to recover physically and mentally,” he said. “I’ve learned you need to be patient in these complicated situations, and next year I hope to avoid troubles so I can do what I know I can.”

Landa joined Movistar this year with big expectations of top results on the bike and intrigue off the bike with teammate Nairo Quintana. The pair ended up riding professionally and even became friends. In races, both Landa and Quintana suffered. Quintana delivered a Tour stage win but could not follow the best in GC. Landa rode into the top 10 despite injuries to his back in a spill on the cobbles.

“Mikel was never himself during the Tour and when he finally started to feel better, the race was over,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzue. “Class doesn’t disappear in a day, and I’m sure Mikel will be better than ever when he’s healthy in 2019.”

Unzue said he will bring both Landa and Quintana back to the Tour, but said racing calendars are still not finalized.

“With both Mikel and Nairo we can aspire for the maximum. As we’ve seen, bad luck and crashes can dash even the best-laid plans,” he said. “Everyone knows Mikel is capable of doing special things. We expect to see that even more next season.”

Landa, who resisted offers from other teams and will fulfill the second year of his two-year deal with Movistar, said his priority will be the Tour.

“I want and have to go to the Tour,” he said. “We’ll see about the Giro or Vuelta.”

Read the full article at Movistar to bring Landa, Quintana back to 2019 Tour on VeloNews.com.

Roundtable: Tour route vs. Giro route


It’s the beginning of November, that time of the year when we cycling fans can let our imaginations run wild about what will happen in the next season of bike racing. Now that we have seen the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France routes and digested the 42 stages of racing on tap in 2019, we can start forming some opinions. How do these two grand tours compare? What sort of action do we expect from the GC hitters? Time for a roundtable!

Now that we know the 2019 Giro d’Italia and Tour de France routes, which one are you most excited to watch and why?

Fred Dreier, @freddreierMajor caveat: I’m always more excited for the Giro d’Italia due to the timing and dynamics of the race. That said, with regards to the actual route, the Tour’s route is more enticing as a fan. The Giro route is again a beast of parcours that saves the big wallop for the third week, with a final individual TT to hang over everyone’s head. With the Tour route, by contrast, the absence of a final, decisive time trial is a positive step in my opinion. I am also curious to see how the three shorter mountain stages (stages 14, 19, and 20) shake up the dynamics of the race. The summit finishes at the Tourmalet and Val Thorens, after so few kilometers of pedaling, should enable some of the punchier climbers to have more strength in their legs.

Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegs: On the whole, I like this year’s Tour better because it promises must-watch stages throughout all three weeks. The Giro has a sleepy start when it comes to the GC battle, and there are also some dreadfully boring flat stages on the menu (stages 10 and 11, most definitely. I think the Giro’s highest highs will be more exciting than the Tour — the final week, especially — but overall the Tour route has more to offer fans.

Dane Cash, @danecash: I like the Giro route better, let’s get that out of the way first. But I’ll still be more excited to watch cycling’s main event in July. That probably won’t change unless the Giro starts drawing all the sport’s top GC contenders on peak form every year — or unless the ASO decides to build a Tour route of 21 consisting solely of 230-kilometer flat stages.

Which rider does the Giro favor and why? What about the Tour?

Fred: The Giro favors your traditional well-rounded grand tour champion who can time trial and survive long, punishing climbing efforts. In my opinion, it is perfect for Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin. The Tour, by contrast, favors a rider with an extremely strong team for the TTT, and a rider with explosive climbing ability. I think Geraint Thomas is actually better suited for the Tour de France than for the Giro. If Mitchelton-Scott can recruit a few powerful time trialists, then Simon Yates is another rider for the Tour.

Spencer: By now you know I’m a big Nibali fan, so take this with a grain of salt, but this Giro is perfect for him. The time trials have enough climbing to keep a guy like Dumoulin honest. There are plenty of tricky stages where he could scoop up seconds (hello Il Lombardia-inspired stage 15), and plus his experience in grand tours will help him save matches for that crucial final week, like he did when he won in 2016. The Tour favors Chris Froome. Always has, always will. Well, until he gets old and retires.

Dane: There are three time trials on the menu, but the total TT distance is still pretty short compared to past Giri. It’s the kind of route that favors a do-it-all talent. Obviously, Chris Froome fits the bill but I’m not expecting him to go. Tom Dumoulin, Primoz Roglic, Geraint Thomas, and of course Vincenzo Nibali could thrive as well. As for the Tour, Sky will certainly be favored, but it does look like a good race for climbers like Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet, if they can just manage to not lose huge chunks of time in the TTT.

Describe your dream scenario for a GC race at either the Tour or Giro.

Fred: At the Giro, I’d love to see a knock-down, drag-out fight on the long climbs and time trials between Geraint Thomas and Tom Dumoulin. For the Tour, I want to see Chris Froome have to battle a cadre of explosive climbers, namely Simon Yates, Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet, and Miguel Ángel López.

Spencer: Team Sky wins the stage 2 TTT at the Tour and then Froome keeps yellow for the remaining 19 stages. Ha! Just kidding folks. I’d love to see Sky cut Egan Bernal loose to ride the Giro as a leader this year. He loses some ground on the time trials, but in the final week he has a knock-down, drag-out fight with Nibali and Adam Yates. Then, it all comes down to that stage 21 time trial, a bunch of climber/GC guys TTing their legs off for all the marbles.

Dane: Dream Tour de France: Froome and Thomas both shine in the early goings but then begin to square off against each other for maximum dramatic effect. That allows Nairo Quintana and Tom Dumoulin to surge into the conversation later in the race. The Condor and the Butterfly (I didn’t make up their nicknames!) duke it out with the Sky duo in the final mountain stages for the yellow jersey.

If Peter Sagan were to race both the Giro and the Tour, how many stages would he win between the two?

Fred: This number will be heavily influenced by whether or not Fernando Gaviria suffers from the UAE-Team Emirates first-year curse (lookin’ at you, Fabio Aru). If the Wolfpack-less Gaviria takes a step back, then I’d say Sagan could win a combined seven stages. But wait, why would Peter Sagan race the Giro and not bask in sunshine at the Amgen Tour of California?

Spencer: As usual, the Giro will have a sub-par field of sprinters and Sagan will scoop up five stages there, thanks in part to the lumpy, tricky stages in the first week. Then he’ll get two stages at the Tour, maybe three. So seven to eight total. Not bad!

Dane: I’ll say six total: three in the Giro and three in the Tour. The first week at the Giro is full of opportunities for the three-time world champ, but I do wonder if he’d stay in the race for the whole Giro. The Tour also has a number of early opportunities, right up until the first rest day.

Read the full article at Roundtable: Tour route vs. Giro route on VeloNews.com.

VN Show: Do we like the 2019 Tour route?

This video includes images and footage from EF Education First-Drapac/Twitter, YouTube/Tour de France, Getty Images/Velo Collection, YouTube/Team Sky, YouTube/NBC Sports.

The 2019 Tour de France route looks a little different than previous editions. For starters, it doesn’t include the western half of France (sorry Brittany!). It also includes tons of high-altitude mountain passes and precious few time trial kilometers.

We analyze the routes ups and downs and consider who might do well in the race for yellow next July. (Uh, yeah it’s probably going to be Chris Froome and Team Sky…)

All that and more on this episode of the VeloNews Show!

Read the full article at VN Show: Do we like the 2019 Tour route? on VeloNews.com.

Thomas says Sky management favored Froome in early TDF stages


In a wide-ranging interview with The Guardian Tuesday, Geraint Thomas provided some insight on the backroom dynamics at Team Sky during the 2018 Tour de France.

The Welshman admitted that at times he was frustrated to not have the full support and protection his team gave to defending champion Chris Froome. However, he said that any slights during the race never impacted his close friendship with Froome.

“The biggest thing with Froomey was that it was never awkward,” Thomas told The Guardian.

Heading into the 2018 Tour with Froome’s Salbutamol case still up in the air, Sky was expected to give Thomas full backing as GC leader. Then, mere days before the Grand Depart, Froome was cleared.

Thomas was slated to be the second leader behind leader Froome, but from the outset, Thomas was Sky’s top GC rider following a crash that cost Froome time in stage 1. Team management had to make some decisions about which rider would be backed as the outright leader, and that didn’t always sit well with Thomas.

Ahead of the stage 3 team time trial, Thomas was informed that the team would only wait for Froome in the event of a flat tire, although he was 51 seconds behind Thomas in the overall.

“[I] sat there and stewed,” Thomas told The Guardian. “That’s a bit s—t. F—king hell, guys, could you really not wait for me?

“I was frustrated because I thought I was also a protected rider. But it’s not a decision they took lightly. They would have thought about it and debated it.”

Thomas didn’t let frustration distract him from the race, though. He said he let it slide and carried on racing all the way to Paris, where he claimed his first yellow jersey. Froome ended up third to Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).

Thomas took yellow on the 11th stage to La Rosière and defended the lead throughout the rest of the race. Thomas told The Guardian that Froome did not abandon his ambitions to win the race during the later stages. Froome twice informed Thomas of his intentions to attack in the mountains.

“I guess that’s a good example of not racing against each other because he told me openly he was going to do it,” Thomas said. “If he’d been made to ride for me, people could now say: ‘Froomey could have attacked that day. Maybe he could have won.’ But it shows I was stronger. It worked out well in the end.”

Although Froome was unable to tie the record of five Tour de France GC wins in 2018, Thomas said his erstwhile leader was genuinely happy for him.

What does that mean for the 2019 Tour? Froome was unwilling to draw a line in the sand when queried after the Tour route was announced. In his interview with The Guardian, Thomas said, “I’d love to win it again.” However, the reigning Tour champion looks at the team dynamics realistically. He doesn’t expect Froome to sacrifice his chance at history, and given Froome’s loyalty at the 2018 Tour, it seems likely that Thomas will return the favor.

More details of the 2018 Tour are expected to be detailed in Thomas’s forthcoming book, “The Tour According to G,” out November 1.

Read the full article at Thomas says Sky management favored Froome in early TDF stages on VeloNews.com.

Podcast: Tour route analysis; should power meters be banned?

Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

Tour de France organizers boasted that the 2019 route was the “highest Tour ever” — does that mean it will be exciting for fans? We analyze the mountainous route and debate whether they should have included more time trial kilometers.

Also at the Tour presentation, race director Christian Prudhomme had some strong takes on power meters — he thinks they should be banned from racing! Is that right? Does he even understand how they work? We discuss. Read more in this excerpt from the new VeloPress book, “How the Race was Won.”

If you live in the Colorado Front Range (or close enough to drive) come out to VeloSwap on Saturday! Fred and Spencer will be there checking out all the cool vintage bike gear.

Read the full article at Podcast: Tour route analysis; should power meters be banned? on VeloNews.com.

Commentary: The Tour route is another effort to cage Team Sky


Editors’ Note: Author Samuel Abt was a long-time sports journalist and columnist for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. He covered the Tour de France and other professional cycling events for more than 30 years. A resident of the Paris area, Abt retired several years ago. 

The guy up on the stage is the impresario Carl Denham, just back from Skull Island. Behind him, as the photographers go wild with their flashbulbs, is a gorilla. In fact, he’s a giant gorilla. Luckily for everybody, he’s in shackles.

“Don’t be alarmed, ladies and gentlemen,” Denham says, “those chains are made of chrome steel. Stay in your seats. Nothing can break them.”

Oops.

This familiar scene from “King Kong” flashed through my mind earlier this week when Tour de France owner ASO revealed the route for the 2019 edition. Playing the role of Carl Denham was Christian Prudhomme, the Tour de France majordomo, as he showcased the route at a gala in Paris.

And that gorilla wasn’t King Kong, it was Team Sky.

You’ve no doubt seen the movie in one of its three major iterations, (the 1933 original with Fay Wray is by far the best), so you know what happens once Kong, unhinged by the hoopla, breaks loose and goes, um, ape. Will a similar fate befall the Tour de France and its attempts to shackle Team Sky?

In an unspoken way, that script dominated Prudhomme’s presentation. Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and now Geraint Thomas — as British riders for Sky — keep winning the race. The race’s popularity at home wanes. The organizers hope to tame the beast. What better way than with a course designed to produce, oh happy day, the first French winner since 1985.

The candidates are Julian Alaphilippe, Romain Bardet, and Thibaut Pinot and they exhibit the same strengths and weaknesses: strong climbers all, they often fizzle in time trials, although Pinot has made huge progress there.

Not by chance, there will be seven climbing stages in 2019, five of them with summit finishes. The sole individual time trial will cover a mere 27 kilometers. And Bardet gets a cherry atop his cupcake: The stage on Bastille Day, the French national holiday, finishes in his hometown of Brioude.

Far more rounded than the local heroes are the two Brits (les rosbifs, as they are known to the French) who lead Sky, Thomas and Froome, who finished first and third this year.

Thomas flew up the mountains and is the British time trial champion. Froome has won the Tour four times. Sort of Kong-like, no?

With its $35 million budget, Sky is also hatching the next generation of King Kongs. That rider starting to thump his chest is Egan Bernal, all of 22 in January and the winner at home in Colombia of the mountainous Oro y Paz and the national time trial championship.

Add in a stage victory and second overall at the Tour de Romandie and the overall victory and two stages at the Amgen Tour of California. Plus, he had a strong performance in the mountains of the Tour, where he finished 15th overall. Bernal signed a five-year contract with Sky this fall.

An even-younger prodigy with the team is Ivan Sosa, 21 at the end of October, another strong Colombian climber, who will join next year if his contract can be worked out. His potential is considered so vast that, in a rare bidding contest, Sky had to top Trek for his services.

In the here and now, if the new Tour route favors the French, so do the favorites’ ages. Thomas will be 33 next year and Froome 34, a worrisome factor if the race is fiercely hot or rainy. Alaphilippe will be 27, Bardet 28, and Pinot 29.

Alaphilippe might be favored among them after his performance this year: victory at the Flèche Wallonne and Clasica San Sebastian, overall titles at the Tour of Britain and Tour of Slovakia, two mountain stages at the Tour and the polka dot climber’s jersey.

Still, he finished a lackluster 33rd in the Tour and eighth in the world championship road race in which he was the big favorite. While he blamed leg cramps in the worlds, some wondered how well he handles the pressure of being “The Man.”

Bardet had a good season, too, with second in the worlds, third at the Critérium du Dauphiné behind Thomas’s victory, sixth overall at the Tour, second at Strade Bianche and third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Pinot did not race in the Tour because of illness but finished sixth overall at the Vuelta a España, where he took two stages, and won Milano-Turino and then the Il Lombardia. Earlier in the year, he finished first in the Tour of the Alps and had four podium finishes on stages at the Giro d’Italia.

Sky is not the trio’s only obstacle. Tom Dumoulin, 28, was second this year. He should be strong again in the climbs and time trial. Richie Porte, 34, may finally overcome his injury-illness-misguided team strategy hex. To cover all bases, throw in a Central European contender or two, the stray Italian or Spaniard or Australian or a hitherto unknown third Yates brother. It doesn’t look easy for the French.

This is not the first time the Tour organizers have stacked the deck for one of their own in a blatant attempt to cage a monster rider. Tour organizers did it two decades ago to support Richard Virenque, a climber who never made it into the final yellow jersey because of Bjarne Riis, Marco Pantani, and an earlier King Kong — well, maybe Godzilla — Miguel Indurain, who won the Tour five times.

Indurain finally succumbed to age and the smart tactics of his rivals. King Kong was done in by incessant attacks by airplanes and machine guns.

In any case, according to Carl Denham, “No, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

Who is beauty in this scenario? With the wispy mustache he sometimes sports, Alaphilippe doesn’t look fetching enough.

Read the full article at Commentary: The Tour route is another effort to cage Team Sky on VeloNews.com.

Women’s cycling needs its own Tour de France – not more vague promises

The route for next year’s Tour de France was revealed this week. Yet again women’s cycling was treated like a poor relation

By Suze Clemitson for 100 Tales 100 Tours of the Sport Network

Is it time that women’s cycling got the message? As Christian Prudhomme announced “the highest Tour in history”, there was scant coverage of La Course and no mention of a women’s Tour de France.

Gone is the mountain-top finish of last year’s race to Le Grand-Bornand or the quirky two-day pursuit format of the 2017 race. The race next year – a one-day, 120km event – will not show off women’s cycling in the spectacular theatre of the Champs-Élysées either, preferring a circuit race on the hilly route of the men’s time-trial course around Pau. Designed to test the legs of the puncheurs – those riders who can launch a stinging attack and punch time into the peloton over rolling terrain – the route will showcase a different type of rider on the stinging slopes of the Côte d’Esquillot, a potential springboard to overall race victory.

Related: La Course grips viewers but women’s Tour de France remains a way off

Related: The forgotten story of … Marianne Martin and the Tour de France Féminin

Related: Women could cycle the Tour de France route, so why give them La Course?

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