On paper, Stage 10 of the Tour de France looked like a simple transition day. It was the halfway point of the race, and as the peloton edged ever closer to the Pyrenees, surely the stage would end in a sprint finish and the overall contenders would go into the first rest day ready to tackle the mountainous phase ahead.
But the roads of southwest France delivered a different kind of transition instead, as strong winds played on the riders’ nerves and split the peloton into bunches, blowing up the overall classification.
The wind had played a role all day. Every team was alive to the possibility that an inopportune gust could cause gaps in the peloton – and that once you lose the tail end of the peloton, you lose the aerodynamic benefits of traveling in a bunch, and may never see said bunch again. So every team wanted to control the race, to do their turn at the front, to keep the pace high – so high, in fact, that the day’s breakaway was never allowed more than three minutes of an advantage.
With around 50 kilometers to go, the Ineos team of race favorites Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal applied a bit of extra pressure at the front, to see if they could force some gaps behind. Team EF-Education First did the same about 10 kilometers later.
And suddenly it happened. Not only did a gap appear, but the group behind contained some of the race’s biggest names. Thibaut Pinot, Jakob Fuglsang, and Richie Porte all found themselves adrift of the peloton. (Strangely, so too did Rigoberto Uran, the leader of the EF team that had helped to create the gap.)
The race was thrown into panic, and the group of about 25 riders fought hard, pulled along by a strong turn from Fuglsang’s teammate Alexey Lutsenko. At one point they had whittled their deficit down from 30 seconds to a mere 10. The peloton was back in view.
But those efforts also whittled them down. As teammates began to disappear, the chasing group was running out of gas. Meanwhile, the much larger group up the road, which included Ineos’s Thomas and Bernal, along with Adam Yates, Nairo Quintana, and race leader Julian Alaphilippe, pushed even harder, to take advantage of the situation. And suddenly the gap between the two groups grew back to 30 seconds, 45, a minute. With eight kilometers to go, Pinot, who had started the day in third place overall (after his electrifying time grab on Stage 8), was already projected to be dropping out of the top five.
Meanwhile, the stage win was still up for grabs, and the leading group still contained many of the race’s best sprinters. Team Sunweb led the charge in the final kilometer, delivering a perfect leadout up the center of the road for their sprinter, Michael Matthews, but they were outflanked on the right by a charging Matteo Trentin and then, on the left, by Wout Van Aert, who lit out with 250 meters to go and managed to hold off a surging Elia Viviani by a matter of inches at the line.
But Team Jumbo-Visma’s fourth win at this year’s Tour was overshadowed by the chaos in the general classification. The Thibaut Pinot group would cross the line a full one minute and 40 seconds back. (Lesser favorites like Guillaume Martin and George Bennett lost even more time – Bennett finishing almost 10 minutes behind!)
Pinot now drops to 11th place overall, Uran to 13th, Fuglsang to 16th, and Porte to a distant 20th.
Speaking to reporters after the race, Luke Rowe, an Ineos teammate of Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, was all smiles.
“At the start we said, ‘At some point this race is going to split. … We can win or lose the Tour today; it could go either way,’” he recalled.
Of course, Ineos hasn’t achieved the former quite yet – with all of the race’s mountains left to climb – but Rowe sounded cautiously optimistic. “We stuck 1:40 into some good GC riders. And to try, in the mountains, to get 1:40 back on [Thomas and Bernal], who are looking good, is going to be a tall order.”
|1||Wout Van Aert||04:49:39|
|10||Greg Van Avermaet||+00:00:00|
|3||Egan Arley Bernal Gomez||+00:01:16|
|8||Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas||+00:02:04|