The dust has settled.
As expected, there were crashes. There were mechanicals. There were tears on the road, and tears on the podium.
When contextualizing Stage 9 of the 2018 Tour de France, where to begin?
Let’s start with the big picture: Although there were significant changes to the general classification after the peloton’s adventure across the dry, slippery cobblestones of northern France, the impact was not as consequential as expected.
Yes, Richie Porte is out of the race — though his fall was well before the peloton reached the pavé, and cannot be attributed to the cobblestones.
Yes, Stage 7 and 8 winner Dylan Groenewegen crashed heavily, was visibly limping on an injured knee, and finished 16 minutes down.
Yes, Rigoberto Uran lost a minute and a half and may now be out of the running for the overall victory.
Yes, several GC contenders hit the deck. Along with Porte and Uran, Chris Froome, Mikel Landa, Vincenzo Nibali, Rafal Majka, and Jakob Fuglsang all touched down along the way from Arras Citadelle to Roubaix. Adding to BMC’s disappointment, Tejay van Garderen, who started the day sitting third overall, crashed and ended up losing almost six minutes.
Yes, Romain Bardet stopped five times for mechanical issues and probably aged 12 months over three hours of racing.
Yes, Tour debutant Egan Bernal crashed, and though he’s not seriously hurt, he finished 16 minutes down and likely won’t be wearing the white jersey in Paris.
But given the almost immeasurable chaos during the stage, the net result was that the complexion of the GC battle did not dramatically change. There were not five-minute time gaps among top favorites. The GC riders did not cross the line in groups of twos and threes. No GC leaders were carried off the cobblestones in an ambulance. All of these things were possible, and predicted, but did not materialize.
We’ll have to wait until Tuesday to find out exactly how the day’s crashes impacted the riders, but this is what we know: GC contenders Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Froome (Team Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), Fuglsang (Astana), and Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates) all finished together, 27 seconds behind stage winner John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo).
Landa (Movistar) and Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) finished together, seven seconds behind their GC rivals. Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) finished 1:28 behind the GC group.
A virtual general classification, with Thomas — who sits second overall, 43 seconds behind Greg Van Avermaet — shows the top 10 GC contenders within 1:20 as the race heads into the mountains, with Thomas 48 seconds ahead of the next-best GC rider, Alejandro Valverde, and 59 seconds ahead of teammate Chris Froome.
The GC race is still wide open.
The most significant impact to the GC battle took place 10km into the stage, well before the peloton had reached the first sector of pavé, when Australian Richie Porte went down in a pileup with Jens Keukeleire and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), as well as J.J. Rojas (Movistar), and was forced to abandon with a fractured right clavicle. For the second year in a row, Porte was leaving the Tour de France after a crash on the ninth stage.
“I was on the ground before I knew it and straight away felt pain in my right shoulder,” Porte said. “I want to say a big thank you to my teammates for their incredible work over the first nine days. We had a great first week and I’m so disappointed that I won’t be continuing to Paris.”
BMC’s calamitous day continued after Tejay van Garderen crashed around 50km to go and lost contact with the main group of GC contenders. Though he wasn’t seriously hurt, BMC Racing is no longer in the GC race at this Tour.
Landa was lucky to avoid serious injury after he crashed on a stretch of tarmac while taking a drink with 33km remaining. The Spaniard hit the deck hard but was quickly back on his bike, with several Movistar teammates rallying around him.
“My teammates were impressive after my accident, not only pushing there for me but also during the whole stage, taking care of us three. I can’t credit them enough for their incredible job,” Landa said. “Let’s hope it’s just scratches, so I can get back to 100% soon. I don’t really know if I’m at 100% right now. The right shoulder hurts a bit, but I think it should be nothing serious.”
Bardet did an impressive job of remaining composed after he was forced to stop five times for mechanical issues, which included three punctures. With the help of Ag2r teammates Oliver Naesen, Tony Gallopin, Dilvan Dillier, Pierre Latour, Mathias Frank, and Alexis Vuillermoz — who chased for much of the final 50km — Bardet managed to limit his losses, losing only 34 seconds.
It’s the same time loss as Landa, however there’s one critical difference — Bardet never hit the deck.
“I wanted really to race, but I had three punctures and we constantly had to chase from behind,” Bardet said. “Luckily we managed our efforts, we did not panic, I certainly have world-class teammates. I knew that the guys in front of us couldn’t be going faster. It’s a miracle that I’m still in the thick of the race. I did not puncture once during the reconnaissance. It’s no one’s fault, just bad luck. It’s a shame because I really was having a lot of fun. These are the types of stages that write the legend of our sport.”
Uran fell through a righthand corner coming out of sector five with 30km remaining. Last year’s second-place finisher took a wheel from injured teammate Lawson Craddock, and though = EF Education First-Drapac teammates Sep Vanmarcke, Taylor Phinney, Tom Scully and Pierre Rolland all helped the Colombian chase in the final 30 kilometers, he would not see the front of the race again.
Still, Uran sounded far but defeated given the circumstances.
“There were two crashes, but it was saved thanks to the team,” said Uran. “We had to change bikes because my bike broke, and after we had to chase. I have injuries all over, but we’re used to that. I’ll recover and we’ll keep working.”
“Starting Tuesday, the stages will change,” Uran added. “We’ve only had nine days of flat. We don’t know how strong our rivals are, and we don’t really know how strong we are because we haven’t climbed a single mountain.”
Team Sky’s GC situation
The dynamic within Team Sky may be the most interesting development of the first nine days of racing. Van Avermaet likely won’t be wearing the maillot jaune after Stage 10 and its five categorized climbs, finishing at Le Grand-Bornand. Instead, it’s expected that the yellow jersey will move onto Thomas’ shoulders.
And then what for Chris Froome? Does the defending champion attack the yellow jersey within his own team? How does Team Sky handle this internally?
A bit of context: When Alberto Contador attacked on Verbier at the 2009 Tour, he did so with purpose — not only did he win the stage and take the maillot jaune, but he also neutralized one of the threats to his overall victory, who happened to be riding on the same Astana squad. For all of his known character flaws, Lance Armstrong was not going to attack his own teammate wearing yellow; instead, Armstrong was forced to wait for a moment of weakness, which never materialized. Contador went on to win the Tour, with Armstrong third.
If Thomas takes yellow on Tuesday, it’s likely Froome will follow the same template, and wait for Thomas to falter before attacking. But will he? Froome told Cycling Weekly that he’s happy to race from a position of team strength.
“It’s a fantastic position for us to be in, having cards to play,” Froome said. “You have to look at other teams like Movistar with Quintana, Valverde and Landa. They have three cards to play.”
It’s hard to know how to rate Thomas as a legitimate GC contender. Winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné last month, he is a solid climber and is also very strong against the clock. Though he’s never finished in the top 10 of a Grand Tour, that’s a somewhat misleading statistic, as he’s primarily ridden in support of Froome or Bradley Wiggins since 2012. At the 2016 Tour, Thomas finished seventh in the Stage 13 time trial, 57 seconds behind Froome. Last year, he won the opening 14km time trial in Düsseldorf and held the maillot jaune for four days.
One knock on Thomas has been that he’s ended up on the ground a fair bit throughout his career, though as this Tour has shown, no rider is immune from crashing; Froome has already crashed twice in the first nine stages — he crashed over the top of teammate Gianni Moscon Sunday, but was quickly back on his bike and was paced back. Teammates Bernal and Michal Kwiatkowski also both crashed on the day.
“A lot can happen,” Thomas said in Roubaix. “It would be nice to go into yellow, it would be a bonus, but there are three big days now, we’ll try to go through that as best we can.”
Asked if he sees himself as a podium contender, or a top-five finisher, Thomas answered, “I haven’t really put a number on it, I just wanted to come here as best I can, to race as well as I can, and to not make any mistakes. I’ve managed to do that so far, but there’s still 11 days to go. A lot can happen.”
On Saturday, Team Sky director Servais Knaven told Cyclingnews that, without question, Team Sky has one leader, and one “backup leader.”
“Froomey has won six Grand Tours, so he is our leader, no doubt,” Knaven said. “And ‘G’ is riding really well, so he can have his opportunity as well to do a good GC. But Froomey is the one that is the leader. He is a little bit behind because of the [Stage 1] crash, but for sure nothing has changed since the start of the Tour. We’ll see, and if anything has to change, we can change things later.”
On that note, both Thomas and Knaven are correct — a lot can happen, and things will most definitely change later. How they’ll change, we’ll find out.
VIRTUAL GC AMONG GENERAL CLASSIFICATION CONTENDERS
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), 35:08:00
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), at 0:48
3. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), at 0:49
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), at 0:50
5. Chris Froome (Team Sky), at 0:59
6. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), at same time
7. Mikel Landa (Movistar), at same time
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), at 1:05
9. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), at 1:14
10. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), at 1:20
11. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), at 1:49
12. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), at 1:59
13. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), at 2:07
14. Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac), at 2:10
15. Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates), at 2:39
CyclingTips editor Neal Rogers is writing a daily column during the 2018 Tour de France, focused on analysis, commentary, and opinion.