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Inside the Tour de France: Counting the cost on the rest day

Laura Meseguer
10 Jul 2017

Eurosport's Laura Meseguer tells us about a downbeat peloton after disqualifications, dangerous descents and one dominant team

As we come to the end of the first rest day of the 2017 Tour de France, the race has been saturated with so much drama and controversy that it’s hard to believe only nine days of racing have taken place.

The Tour has lost the World Champion to disqualification, the most successful Tour sprinter to injury and the main contender to Chris Froome for the yellow jersey to one of the most horrific crashes in memory, all in only a matter of days.

The attitude from the riders is always ‘C’est le Tour’, and the show must go on.

Perhaps those of us in the race have a different vision of events to those at home, but for many here the controversy, the crashes and the abandons have eclipsed everything else this year – sadly even the competition itself.

Dangerous descents

One scene from yesterday’s incident-filled Stage 9 remains with me. It was Txente García Acosta, Movistar Team’s directeur sportif, translating the Tour de France doctor’s words to Spanish rider Jesús Herrada: ‘You can´t continue in the race, Jesús’.

The Spanish champion had just dislocated his knee after crashing behind Astana rider Alexey Lutsenko, and he was on the verge of tears, pleading to jump back on his bike. Regardless of the doctor’s words, he finished Sunday’s stage regardless.

Earlier that morning we had been talking about how he thought the queen stage of this Tour de France would go, having climbed and descended the fearsome Mont du Chat during the Critérium du Dauphiné in June.

‘What I know is that I’m going to take special caution on the descents today,’ Herrada had said. His caution was well placed, it turned out, but the road still too dangerous.

In truth, the stage didn’t leave a good taste in the mouth. It was an elimination race, with numerous crashes and abandons taking down the significant names of Robert Gesink, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte, among others. The images of the Australian rider’s crash had us all fearing the worst. At the finish line concern and silence was the prevailing mood despite the excitement of the stage finale. Sport directors and soigneurs asked us if we had any news about Porte and the only update we had was that he had been conscious all the time.

A month before, Porte finished the sixth stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné leading the race on this very climb. On that day, the Mont du Chat was just as hard and dangerous as it was today, but the tension of a the Tour de France can take a tough scenario and elevate it to a whole new level.

In total, 12 riders are now out of the race after the ninth stage – five due to a crash and seven for finishing outside the time limit.

It remains to be seen what will happen with Rafal Majka, who after a crash was another addition to the ever-growing collage of bloody and wounded cyclists jumping back on their bikes without a thought of giving up.

Out of competition

In total 17 riders have abandoned the Tour de France in the first nine stages, among them Alejandro Valverde, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan. The case of the Slovakian world champion has raised controversy and debate from media and from fans, who remain very divided on the issue.

The truth is that the first thing he did when he got off the bike after the end of Stage 4 was personally apologise to Mark Cavendish and the whole Dimension Data team, without anyone yet knowing what had just happened.

The videos from the crash don’t definitively clarify any doubts, but the good behaviour and the way both riders dealt with the issue in a professional but human way was at odds with the behaviour of the Tour officials.

That afternoon, at 6.30pm, the race published the green jersey classification, showing Peter Sagan relegated to 23rd position, penalised by 80 points.

Twenty minutes later they disqualified Sagan officially, effectively contradicting the first apparently unofficial conclusion, which was not made by the commissaires.

The general opinion at the Tour de France is that the commissaires were excessive in their punishment. Some voices agree with what Mario Cipollini pointed out to the Italian radio:

‘Sagan is paying for being the greatest star at the race, and being bigger than the Tour de France itself.’ 

The Sky’s the limit

Typically for the Tour, we haven’t yet seen many strong attacks from the favourites and Sky are leading the race easily. With Porte now gone, it seems only Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet have the power and appetite to depose Froome from the yellow jersey.

Neither Movistar and Alberto Contador attempted excuses at the finish line in Chambery – ‘no legs’, they said. The ‘experiment’ of the Giro-Tour double doesn’t seem to be working for Nairo Quintana, with the Colombian seemingly set to fail on both fronts.

The Movistar team still believes that he will improve his shape in the coming days and that we still have his favoured terrain ahead. They hope he has a chance of bridging the 2 minute and 13 second deficit to Froome.

The five minutes of distance to Contador in the general classification, however, realistically should be enough for him to reconsider his race and maybe even begin to aim for individual stage victories rather than an overall finish in Paris.

Sunday’s stage was probably the worst day for the Spaniard at the Tour ever. It’s hard to watch Contador’s decline at this year’s race.

It’s been 10 years since his first Tour victory and despite the fact he still has the talent and is the best strategist of the peloton, it’s surely time for him to reconsider his goals in the race.

It seems that only misfortune will now mean that Chris Froome will not arrive in Paris wearing yellow. Let’s hope that those riders with nothing to lose and everything to gain can put pressure on Team Sky. Who doesn’t remember the emotions of stage 15 of last year’s Vuelta a España, when Quintana and Contador combined forces to reshuffle the GC altogether?

Today, the first rest day at the Tour, has allowed the riders to heal their wounds with the hope of a better day tomorrow on their bikes. ‘C’est Le Tour’, for better or for worse.

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