Advantage Jumbo-Visma: Early impressions of the Tour’s battle for yellow
Tuesday’s fourth stage of the 2020 Tour de France offered our first chance to see the yellow-jersey hopefuls do battle.
The 160.5-kilometer stage from Sisteron may have been relatively uneventful for most of the day, and we did not get a full-on war of attacks and counterattacks in the closing kilometers, but the final climb to Orcières-Merlette offered some insight into who is at the head of the class and who needs improvement early on in this Tour.
Here are five takeaways from stage 4 of the 2020 Tour de France.
Jumbo-Visma is indeed the team of the Tour.
We already saw this on the first few stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné but after injuries knocked Steven Kruijswijk off the Tour squad and raised at least a few question marks for Primoz Roglic, Jumbo-Visma’s strength seemed a bit less of a certainty coming into the Tour. Stage 4 was an emphatic statement that Jumbo-Visma are as strong as we thought they were.
The Dutch squad set a torrid tempo all the way up the final climb. The Ineos Grenadiers seemed to have the numbers to compete, right up until they suddenly didn’t. A big turn from noted mountain goat Wout van Aert – yes, Milan-San Remo winner Wout van Aert – followed by a huge push from Sepp Kuss left numerous riders shelled out the back, with Primoz Roglic in excellent position to respond to Guillaume Martin in the finale and ultimately surge past for the win. Apparently, Roglic is healthy enough to win Tour stages, and he even said after the stage that he is continuing to get better.
Moments later, Tom Dumoulin, who seems likely to stay strong or get even better into the final week, crossed the line on the same time, another sign that he is well and truly back after his 2019 season was derailed by injury. He did this despite telling Dutch media that he wasn’t pleased with his performance, in case you needed more evidence that he is at this Tour in pursuit of the outright win.
Stage 4 showed us that Jumbo-Visma’s support riders are extremely fit and that its two GC stars are here to compete. That may not have translated into big time gains on most of the peloton just yet, but the team’s strength is real.
The Ineos Grendadiers find themselves on the back foot after just one summit finish.
Ineos was another team that came into the Tour with question marks after Egan Bernal pulled out of the Dauphiné and the squad made the decision to bring in reigning Giro d’Italia champ Richard Carapaz and leave Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome out. Plus, Jumbo-Visma already looked stronger at the Dauphiné, and then key Ineos rider Pavel Sivakov crashed badly in the Tour’s opening stage.
Stage 4 was a chance to right the ship. Ineos did not.
Most notably, Carapaz is suddenly 28 seconds down in the general classification. Make no mistake, Carapaz was not supposed to be just another domestique at this Tour; he gave Ineos a second option for yellow. And yet, for whatever reason, he just didn’t have it on Tuesday. He lost touch from the lead group in the closing kilometers of a climb that, it must be said, wasn’t that hard compared to what’s to come. Good riders do have bad days, and maybe he will get back on track, but Carapaz’s stock has plummeted.
What’s more, after looking fine most of the way up the climb, Ineos’s support squad suddenly faded late in the race, leaving Egan Bernal all by himself. It did not make a big difference on stage 4, but it’s not a great sign, to say the least.
And speaking of Bernal, he just didn’t look like the supertalent we know he has the potential to be on Tuesday. He did not lose time on the day, but he did let Roglic’s wheel go completely when the Slovenian put in a big dig in the finale, leaving it up to Julian Alaphilippe to close the gap.
It’s hard to draw too many conclusions given the nature of the finish and the fact Bernal probably wasn’t that worried about actual time gaps appearing, but the fact is, Bernal had a chance to show strength on stage 4 and he simply did not.
French hopes run high.
Coming into this race, French hype was mostly directed at the chances of Thibaut Pinot. Then, Julian Alaphilippe looked great on stage 2, re-igniting the “how far can he go?” talk that dominated last year’s Tour. Both riders looked comfortable on stage 4, with Pinot’s performance suggesting that he is not too hampered by the back injury he spoke of ahead of the race, and Alaphilippe’s providing yet more proof that he’s a legitimate climber these days.
As if that wasn’t enough cause for excitement from French fans, how about Guillaume Martin? He delivered a truly impressive ride on Tuesday, putting in a big dig with a few hundred meters to go, jumping again after being reeled in, and still finishing third. He’s not a household name for many English-speaking fans but he had the consistency to finish 12th at last year’s Tour and the form to finish third at this year’s Dauphiné.
And it would be unfair to leave out Romain Bardet, who just managed to finish near the back of the lead group on the same time as Roglic. I don’t expect a podium push for Bardet, but at least he’s still in the mix for now.
How far can Pogacar go?
At the start of this wide open Tour de France, the list of the bookies’ top contenders featured several names with Grand Tour wins already on their career palmares – Bernal, Roglic, Dumoulin, and Carapaz – but also two clear outliers. The first, the aforementioned Thibaut Pinot, has a long history of looking brilliant only to tumble out of the GC or abandon the race altogether.
The other, however, barely has any history at all, so who really knows what we can expect? Tadej Pogacar has raced just one Grand Tour in his entire career, and he finished on the podium and took three stage wins along the way. He is already one of the best climbers in the world with a very good time trial to boot. He has already shown that he can compete over the course of three weeks without imploding. Now, he has finished second to Roglic on the first summit finish of his first Tour de France.
Pogacar should only get better on steeper climbs where he can really put his explosiveness on display. His team may not have been prominent today, but UAE does have quite a few strong climbers in its Tour roster. Other than the simple uncertainty that comes from his short resume, there really isn’t much reason to think Pogacar can’t stay in the mix, so at this point, he looks like a very solid podium contender at least. Can he challenge for yellow? Only time will tell.
Mitchelton might be here for stage wins—but that doesn’t mean that Adam Yates is going to lose time on purpose.
Heading into this Tour de France, Mitchelton-Scott made it very clear in its public statements that stage wins were the goal for Adam Yates, Esteban Chaves, and co. Simon Yates would be heading to the Giro d’Italia with the pink jersey in mind, but the yellow jersey apparently wasn’t a target.
Well, maybe that’s true, but it’s also become pretty clear that Adam Yates isn’t just going to lose time on purpose, and as of Tuesday he is just four seconds out of yellow. There is a very real chance that he could wear the maillot jaune for at least some portion of this race if Alaphilippe does, eventually, falter.
Mitchelton-Scott has little incentive to stray from its pre-Tour line, so don’t expect public pronouncements on the subject, but don’t be surprised if Yates continues to stay in the mix into the second week and possibly beyond. He’s a terrific climber and the explosiveness he uses to nab stage wins comes in just as handy going for bonus seconds. In a climber-friendly Tour, he can’t be counted out.