Tour de France 2018: From Richie Porte's premature end to Chris Froome's comeback and other talking points
At the end of a hard week of racing, the Tour is evenly poised with no single rider having a distinct advantage, and all but one of the top contenders still in the race.
Nine stages, more than 1,500 km, several crashes, nine withdrawals and the carnage of the cobblestones. That in brief sums up the first week of the Tour de France 2018. In the absence of any mountain stage in the first week, the plains and cobbles provided sufficient action and twists in the tale. At the end of a hard week of racing, the Tour is evenly poised with no single rider having a distinct advantage, and all but one of the top contenders still in the race.
Here is our review of the nine intense days gone by.
Let’s start with the sole GC (General Category) contender to have had a premature end to his Tour. Yet again it was Richie Porte who crashed out, agonisingly again on stage 9 as last year. The only silver lining was that his injury this year seems far less than the horror of 2017. But that will be of little consolation to the Tasmanian who has had to withdraw due to pneumonia in 2014, had mechanical trouble in 2016, apart from the crashes in the recent two editions. Despite all his intense preparation for this year’s race, it seems like lady luck does not favour Porte. This is what his good lady had to say after his crash on Sunday.
I hate cycling!
— Gemma Nicole Porte (@gemmanicoleb) July 15, 2018
While Porte has fared the worst, none of the other top riders had a smooth sailing either. All of them faced mechanical troubles or crashes at various stages. Frenchman Romain Bardet has been on the receiving end of ill-timed misfortune on multiple occasions. He has been plagued with mechanical troubles right from the start of the race. In stage 9 alone he had four punctures that forced him and his team to spend considerable energy to catch up with the peloton to minimise Bardet’s losses.
Porte’s Team BMC might have had the yellow jersey with them for seven of the nine stages, but that won’t mean much, as in addition to their leading man being knocked out, the second best rider of the team, Tejay Van Garderen, lost more than five minutes on stage 9, all but ruling him out of a top-ten place, let alone the podium. The only plus side of their situation is that it gives them the liberty to attack with abandon on the mountains. Teejay can aim to win a stage and cause some chaos among the top men.
Elsewhere Skyweb’s Tom Dumoulin was sitting pretty till he also had a mechanical within 5 km of the finish on stage 6. In his frantic attempt to catch up with the leading bunch, the Dutchman drafted behind his team car for a shade too long for the authorities’ comfort. As a result, he was penalised 20 seconds in addition to the time lost on the road. To further complicate matters, his teammate and last year’s green jersey winner Michael Matthews was forced to withdraw on stage 5 due to illness.
Defending champion Christopher Froome crashed right on the first day, losing close to a minute. While this does not rule him out of contention, especially as all his rivals are more or less in the same boat, the important thing to note was how Team Sky professionally responded to the first day’s setback. Since then, they have not set a foot wrong, clawing a second or two back whenever the opportunity rose. Even when Froome crashed for the second time on stage 9, they calmly rode him back to the bunch.
The other top riders — Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa, Rigoberto Uran and Dan Martin — all have lost big chunks of time, but are still within striking distance of the marked man Froome.
Beyond the fight for GC honours, the green jersey has mostly been with Peter Sagan, though he has not won as many stages as he would have liked. The flat stages have been claimed by three sprinters who are all within striking distance of each other. In 2017, we saw how fast and late in the race this battle can change. The good thing is that Sagan is being challenged by new riders, one of them a Tour debutant. This means stiffer competition for the Slovak, who has to deal with fresher legs and a hungrier opposition.
Meanwhile, the illustrious Mark Cavendish is having a disappointing Tour so far, as he has not been in a position to challenge for any stage victory this year. He lies a distant 31st in the green jersey standings, but more crucially, his aim to match Eddy Merckx’s 34 stage wins seems unachievable this year (he presently sits with 30 stage wins to his name).
The polka dot jersey classification has barely kicked off as there were no mountain stages in the first week. For the record, Tom Skujins of Trek-Segafredo is the present wearer of the jersey with the 6 points he garnered from the few hills that the Tour has climbed over till now. This battle is set to kick off with the first mountain stage on Tuesday and we are sure to see the jersey change shoulders multiple times.
Looking ahead, next week’s highlights include three mountain stages with Thursday’s stage 12 being the main one to watch out for, especially since all top contenders are within one minute of each other. There is also an interesting situation in Team Sky, where Geraint Thomas (presently second in the overall standings), sits one minute ahead of his team captain Froome. Geraint has been riding independently at the head of the field all week, seemingly not waiting for Froome. Sky have had similar situations with Wiggins-Froome and Froome-Landa in the past, but have dealt with the competing ambitions of the riders on both occasions.
Though Geraint has always been a loyal member of the team, if Froome further slips up, or has an off day, I wonder if Thomas will drop down to pace him, or race further ahead to stake his claim as the undisputed leader of Team Sky this year. This battle during the war will be very interesting, and I am sure some ground rules would have been laid down by the team management on the rest day.
For the neutral fan there is lots in store in the coming week, especially as this time around, the race is wide open, unlike the previous years where Froome had been leading with a comfortable buffer by this stage of the race. While the focus has been on the established names, there are many less celebrated riders, who are in the top 20 and have a point to prove. These men can create sufficient panic on any given day, sending all calculations out of the window.
One only needs to look back to 2008 when the Peloton underestimated Carlos Sastre as an unlikely challenger for the yellow jersey. Therefore, no one chased the Spaniard when he attacked on the slopes of L’Alpe d’Huez on stage 17, only to realise to their horror as he won the stage minutes ahead of the rest, a lead which he carried all the way till the top podium at Paris.
The same mountain appears this year on stage 12, and who knows what surprise it has in store for us this time around.
So keep your wits about and keep watching le Tour de France, where action is just a climb away.