Well, I just finished watching the replay of Wednesday’s stage and I’m at a loss for words. After watching a slow-moving train of cyclists meander over hill and dale to Poitiers, I was ready for a hotly contested sprint finish.
Bora-Hansgrohe, the team of Peter Sagan, sent Lukas Pöstlberger off the front of the peloton with about 5 kms to go. He was quickly joined by Deceuninck riders Kaspr Asgreen and Bob Jungels, part of the lead-out for current green jersey wearer, Sam Bennett. What was the point?
Even the commentators wondered about the riders’ strategy: far too early to launch their fast guys to the finish, was the goal to grab a stage victory? If not, and the peloton caught up to them, they’d be of no use to their teammates in the final sprint.
Turns out, this was a rather cunning tactic by the Bora squad. Pöstlberger served as the “rabbit” for the chasing greyhounds, forcing Deceuninck to send two guys to try and contain him. But Bora never intended for Pöstlberger to contest the stage win: his job was to neutralize two of Sam Bennett’s fastest lead-out men, leaving him with less firepower to launch him at the end.
The tactic did, however, set up Peter Sagan perfectly. He took an inside line to the finish, navigating the narrow lane between the barricade and Jumbo-Visma’s Wout Van Aert. Things got a little bumpy, as is the norm on a high-speed dash at the end of a long day: Sagan tried to carve out a little more space for himself, veering slightly toward Van Aert. The contact didn’t appear to alter the Jumbo-Visma rider’s course.
In the end, Caleb Ewan rocketed past Sam Bennett, Sagan, and Van Aert to snatch the stage victory. Sagan squeaked across the line just ahead of Bennett and Van Aert, adding a nice chunk of change to his green jersey account.
But, alas, this is the Tour de France, so there is always more to the story. A few minutes after the race, Tour organizers announced that Sagan’s second place finish would be relegated (Tour speak for nullified) as penalty for the contact with Van Aert. No points awarded to him today.
What do the rules say? Well, they clearly state that riders in a sprint finish must maintain their lines, staying on the straight and narrow, until the end. Yep, that’s what the rulebook says. In reality, every sprint finish I’ve watched in 20+ years has at least a little contact. These guys head-butt each other, throw elbows, and cut lines all the time. No one gets disqualified.
In the 2017 Tour, Sagan was ejected after colliding with Mark Cavendish on a similar sprint finish. In my opinion, both riders were at fault, with Cavendish taking an unsafe path next to the barriers, and Sagan bumping into him as he tried to stay upright. Guess who was sent home from the Tour?
Sagan has been the dominant sprinter since he entered the pro cycling realm, winning the green jersey every time he has completed the Tour. That adds up to seven jerseys in eight years. The only time he didn’t win? You guessed it, when he was sent home in 2017. Tour organizers have tried to foil him over the years, reorganizing and redefining the points classification so that it would be harder for him to win.
My take? I love Sagan and so do millions of cycling fans around the world. I’d venture that he’s one of the few cyclists whose fame extends to folks who don’t follow the sport. He’s a fantastic ambassador, giving the crowds a show, popping wheelies, and bringing new fans into the fold. Cycling needed a boost after Lance Armstrong and all the “allegations” of doping that went way beyond the American rider and his team.
I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that today serves as fuel for Sagan to rev his engine and contest every single sprint point on offer between now and Paris. Get that eighth jersey, Peter!
Phew! Now Let’s Talk about Stage 12
The longest day of this year’s Tour, it includes four categorized climbs, with the sprint point coming early (at 51 kms from the start). Time bonuses will be awarded to the first few riders over the top of the last climb, so pressure will be on all of the GC contenders. There’s a chance for an early break-away (maybe Sagan and his cohorts?) and count on some challenges from top riders like Egan Bernal, Primoz Roglic, and Guillaume Martin. Putting a little distance between yourself and your rivals is always a good thing, especially with a week and a half to go.
Wines from the Côteaux de Glanes IGP
I have discovered so many new (to me) wine regions already this year, and today brings another one: the Côteaux de Glanes. Not far from the AOC area of Cahors, whose wines rely on Malbec, wines from this region are a whole other thing: most of the production is red, based on Gamay, Merlot, and local variety Ségalin (a cross between Jurancon Noir and Portugieser.) They tend toward red-fruit flavors, with medium body and tannins, and are intended for early drinking.
Another French region that has a long history of winemaking, the Côteaux de Glanes encompasses part of the famed Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. Vineyards lie on south-southwest facing slopes atop rocky, argilo-calcareous soils that encourage deep penetration of the vine’s roots.
I don’t know much more than this about the region or its wines, and I suspect that most of the production is consumed locally. But I thought it would be nice to give the farmers of the region a shout-out. If you’re looking for an alternative for today’s stage, feel free to grab a bottle from Cahors, or even something from the Loire Valley – say a Cab Franc-based Chinon, or a Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine.
See you back here tomorrow for what’s coming up over the weekend!