This is my live* blow-by-blow report of Stage 15 of the 2020 Tour de France, from Lyon to Grand Colombier. Why the asterisk? Well, I’m watching live, but you came later. Why did you do that? Because it’s 5:40 a.m. and you’re wisely asleep as I watch this race. Good call. Plus, you don’t just want to watch the coverage and try to make sense of it … you want my commentary, even if it becomes snide and accusatory at times, right?
Check out this profile. It’s gonna be an epic day.
Tour de France Stage 15 – Lyon to Grand Colombier
As I join the action, Phil Liggett is talking about the scenery and some abbey. Bob Roll joins in and mentions the abbey is famous for their aperitifs. This might not seem important to you, but it means a lot to me: it means the riders aren’t on the first major climb yet. That’s huge. When I’m not quite awake, it’s jarring to have to try to makes sense of what’s going on.
There’s a breakaway of eight riders, with a 4:32 gap on the peloton. The only good general classification rider in it, as far as I can tell, is Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept). But he sits 18th on GC, over 34 minutes back.
They’re showing a start line interview they filmed earlier with Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), the sensational American super-domestique. He’s had an awesome (albeit short) season so far, winning a stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné last month, and riding superbly for his team leader, Primoz Roglic, who leads the GC by 44 seconds over his Slovenian countryman, the teenager Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). Okay, Pogacar isn’t actually a teenager, but he looks like he’s about 14. Anyway, here’s some of the Kuss Interview:
INTERVIEWER: It is a big day today, can you divulge your strategy so that other teams can hear it?
KUSS: Blah blah blah [banal generalities because he’s not an idiot] blah blah blah.
INTERVIEWER: Will you adopt the same strategy you used in the Tour de l’An, on some of this same terrain?
KUSS: Actually, I didn’t race the Tour de l’An [you fricking idiot].
INTERVIEWER: It’s your birthday today, right?
INTERVIEWER: What would be your ideal birthday present?
KUSS: I know you want me to say something about defending Primoz’s lead and stuff, but actually I’ve had my eye on a nice electric tea kettle. I found one that is reputed to be efficient, quiet, and has no plastic parts.
The breakaway has broken up a bit. Now the three leaders are Rolland, Jesus Herrada (Cofidis), and Simon Geschke (CCC Team). I’m not grabbing a photo because that’s just too difficult. If these guys stay off, I’ll have more chances later.
Damn, look at this sweet mullet!
Notably, that fan alongside him is almost wearing his mask properly ... at least it’s covering his mouth. A lot of fans have totally fallen down here—you see them with their masks around their necks, screaming their heads off four feet away from our heroes like fricking idiots. Fortunately, the ASO race organizers are banning spectators from the last two climbs. Finally.
The breakaway—I’ll tell you who’s in it in a moment—has just reached the base of the first major climb, the Montée de la Selle de Fromentel (which translates to “climb of the wheat saddle” … whatever, dudes). It’s a beast … check out the stats.
Why are they mixing English and metric units in this graphic? Kilometers for distance, feet for elevation? Look guys, either go one way or the other. This is silly. Who is your putative audience? And do you even know what “putative” means? Are you even reading this? Who are you, anyway?
Now they’re showing a pre-race interview from earlier today with Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), who sits 9th on GC, only a couple minutes back.
INTERVIEWER: You’re having a great Tour.
PORTE: I resent the unspoken “for a change” in your sentence.
INTERVIEWER: No, it was just an innocent observation.
PORTE: Don’t give me that. You’re commenting on how for once I’m not collapsing psychologically like a little bitch.
INTERVIEWER: Don’t put words in my mouth.
PORTE: You’re alluding to my previous years as a team leader when my competitors destroyed me like dropping an anvil on a house of cards or Godzilla squashin’ a crouton with combat boots on or droppin’ a goddamn nuke bomb on top of an ant hill.
INTERVIEWER: I’m saying no such thing. But your recall of Eminem lyrics is impressive.
The breakaway is two kilometers from the summit of this climb. Herrada is falling off the pace.
OMG, Team Ineos loses two of its important support riders!
Okay, it’s not as bad as I thought. The announcers said it was Richard Carapaz, the star from Ecuador who won last year’s Giro d’Italia, but it’s actually just Dylan van Baarle and Andrey Amador. I’m not familiar with these guys so they couldn’t be important, could they?
The American Tejay Van Garderen (EF – Education First Pro Cycling) is dropped.
They’re showing an earlier interview with George Bennett, another Jumbo-Visma domestique.
INTERVIEWER: What is your team’s strategy?
BENNETT: Obviously Ineos has to take the fight to us.
INTERVIEWER: It’s clearly a brutal course today. Are you concerned?
BENNETT: I’m really just trying to survive this horrible infestation of ear mites.
INTERVIEWER: Since when do humans get ear mites? That’s disgusting.
BENNETT: Tell me about it.
Herrada takes max KOM points on the wheat saddle climb, further distancing Herrada.
At the front of the peloton, Michal Kwiatkowski, probably the best domestique on Team Ineos, takes a feed. I’m glad he’s still up there … the way that his team leader, Egan Bernal, has been riding—that is, very well but not brilliantly—we need him to have some support lest this Tour get boring.
To catch you up on what’s been going on since my last report, Team Jumbo-Visma has been doing an awesome job for Roglic, who has chipped away here and there at Bernal. Roglic’s closest rival now appears to be Pogacar, though youth and inexperience, combined with a weak team, will make things tough for him. Pogacar’s best domestique, Fabio Aru, oddly bailed on the Tour with no explanation. But Pogacar looks incredibly strong.
Huh, the stage leader now seems to be Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling), who must have passed the other three leaders on the descent. You can see the stats of this next climb, the Col de la Biche (translation: “ascent of the bitch”).
The motorcycle commentator is talking about Carapaz and Amador just trying to latch back on to the peloton. So I guess my steephill.tv roster is incorrect and it really was Carapaz dropped on the last climb. That’s surprising … he’s normally so good. Ah, they’re saying he crashed earlier in the stage.
Poor Thibaut Pinot. He’s barely hanging on the back of the peloton … this is just not his year. (But then, we’re all having a pretty crappy 2020, innit?)
They’re saying Amador caught back up, so Ineos has five guys in the group. But Kwiatkoski is visiting the team car for what appears to be medical attention (and no, I don’t mean doping, though he is on Ineos). I hope Kwiatkowski is good today. Carapaz still hasn’t rejoined.
At the front of the GC group, Jumbo-Visma is controlling things with a pretty brutal pace, led by Robert Gesink.
In the breakaway, Rolland is drilling it, dropping his companions (perhaps without realizing it).
We just have word from the NTT Pro Cycling team car that Gogl is not related to the great Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. You might say that the spelling gives that away, but remember that “Gogol” is just the phonetic equivalent of the Cyrillic “гоголь” in our alphabet. It’s really too bad this racer isn’t related to the author of “The Overcoat” and “The Nose.” I was hoping finally to interest my younger daughter in this race. She loves Russian lit and couldn’t care less about cycling … so my parenting work is only half done.
As Gogl reaches the 2km to go point, Rolland has caught him. I’m not sure how important this is because the peloton is only a couple minutes back.
Phil asks Christian Vande Velde, a fellow commentator, if the breakaway has a chance. “No,” Vande Velde replies. (I’m paraphrasing.)
Oh dear. Ineos is losing another domestique, the Russian powerhouse Pavel Sivakov.
Rolland has dropped Gogl, thus officially dooming Gogl’s breakaway dreams and his own. They’ve got 49 km to race and no way can either of them last all by himself for that long. I guess Rolland is just going for KOM points. Or maybe he hopes Gogl and Herrada can catch back up. (I refuse to say “get back on terms” because a) it’s hackneyed, and b) I don’t even really understand how it’s supposed to mean anything.)
Okay, the trio have come back together. Look at the crazy ratio of support vehicles to riders. Such a nice gesture when this breakaway almost certainly has no chance.
OMG, NBC just showed a flashback to a crash Rolland had on a descent at some point in the past. Freaked my shit out. He was carving a curve perfectly and his bike just slipped out from under him for no apparent reason. This does happen. It happened to me back in May, in fact, and to two other riders who happened to come by as I was sorting myself out. Sometimes the road surface is just slippery. The crazy thing is, I never grasped this until I became a 40-something and a dad. Prior to that, I descended as though nothing bad could happen, and it almost never did. When I crashed it was because of a puncture or something. How could I have been so naïve? Or did my naïvety protect me somehow, in which case the danger wasn’t real and there was nothing to be naïve about? I better exit this paradox before I lose my focus completely and stop paying attention to the race.
Herrada has been dropped on the descent. Could he have seen that crash replay somehow? Did his directeur sportif hear the commentary and warn him? Or is his mom communicating telepathically?
Note the ticker at the bottom of that frame: Van Garderen is over two and a half hours down on GC. Can you believe he took fifth overall in the Tour, twice? That’s age for you. I can relate. My shoulder hurts. I feel old. Damn.
Since nothing important is happening on this descent, and I’m already getting dark, let’s take a moment to talk about the problem of concussions in pro cycling. In Phil Gaimon’s cycling memoir Draft Animals, he describes how he crashed in a stage race and knew he had a concussion, but also knew his self-diagnosis would not be taken seriously if his helmet wasn’t broken. That was the only criterion his imbecilic team medic would accept as evidence. So as he sat in the team van during the drive down from the mountaintop finish, he put his helmet between his thighs and squeezed until he cracked it. Why should that be necessary?
A bigger problem is that riders don’t get checked out after a crash … if they think they’re okay, they just climb back on their bikes and resume the effort. The NBC commentators discussed this during yesterday’s coverage, and showed footage of France’s last GC hope for this race, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), getting up after a crash in stage 13. He gets to his feet, loses his balance, wobbles, and falls down. This happens a second time (I think … unless they just showed it twice) but nobody notices in the chaos around him, and he eventually gets back on his bike. (You can see the footage here.) Bardet finished the stage before his concussion was discovered. That is so dangerous, as the brain is really vulnerable after being concussed.
Wow, that is all so depressing! Don’t worry, we’ll put it all behind us when the final climb starts and things pick up. It’s a brutal climb, about 11 km long and gaining 1,265 meters (that’s 6.8 miles with 4,150 feet for you patriots).
Bob Roll says, “We’ve just been told they have a tailwind. That really benefits the stronger riders.” At first blush this seems like an absurd assertion. Doesn’t a tailwind make it easier for everyone? On closer inspection it would seem to only benefit the weaker riders at the back, since the front riders are getting kind of a reverse draft since the wind is blocked from them. But I guess if there were a headwind instead, the riders at the front would be slowed by it, with those in back sheltered. So maybe it makes sense. I’m freed to ponder this because the footage has been suspended by ads for a while. I have absorbed the ads for Zwift, Rocket Mortgage, and Geico so many times, I’ve developed a towering hatred for these companies and their products and would never even consider buying them. But I guess it worked … they managed to get their names up on albertnet, guaranteeing a massive digital marketing benefit as they soar to the top of search queries. Well played, you bastards.
Rolland and Gogl have actually extended their lead, up now to 1:44. It’s tempting to think this means something, but the GC group is still pretty large so clearly the hammer hasn’t gone down yet. These guys are still doomed.
Oh, no. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) has had a mechanical problem and now Herrada drops back to help drag him back to the group before the climb begins. Martin had a mechanical yesterday and lost a bunch of time. Poor dude. It’s odd: these modern bikes have thru-axles, like mountain bikes, which makes wheel changes really slow. I cannot imagine why they adopted that technology.
Rolland drops Gogl as he realizes he better pick things up. Do you need a photo of that? No, it’s really not that important, trust me.
The pace is going up as they tackle the hors categorie final climb, the fearsome Grand Colombier. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) is going out the back. Martin has suffered the indignity in this Tour of having his past exploits ignored. At least twice, Liggett has said that the recent stage win by Sam Bennett (Deceunink – Quick-Step) was the first by an Irishman since Stephen Roche in 1987. This is completely untrue as Martin has won two stages, the most recent being in 2018. I’m glad to have set the record straight here in case you have been watching that coverage.
Woah, Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) is getting dropped!
And now Bernal is going out the back! I can’t believe it!
Bernal’s teammates drop back to pace him. This is crazy.
At the front, Wout van Aert mashes the pedals for Jumbo-Visma, to do maximum damage to Bernal and Quintana.
Bernal takes a bottle. Presumably it’s full of whiskey, to start drowning his sorrows. He looks truly miserable. He’s lost a minute already. Liggett says, “He’s living his own private nightmare.” Um, actually, this nightmare is pretty public.
It doesn’t look like Pogacar has any teammates left. He’d better hope he doesn’t have a problem. He’ll be getting ready to attack, of course.
Fewer than 10 km to go. Van Aert detonates and heads toward the back.
George Bennett takes up the pacemaking for Jumbo-Visma.
I just ran away for a minute to wake up my older daughter. She is now miserable because a) she’s awake before 10 a.m., and b) I told her about Quintana being dropped. He’s like her favorite racer, but there’s no way I’m letting him marry her if he doesn’t get his act together. (Oh, wait, he’s married already anyway. I hope his family isn’t watching today.)
Bennett blows and falls back, clawing to try to stay on. Tom Dumoulin takes over for Jumbo-Visma.
Yates is getting a pretty good gap!
Back in the chase, Bernal is really suffering. He looks kind of dazed. Kwiatkowski paces him.
My online correspondent, normally very insightful (his last comment being, “Ineos can eat shit .. fuk them”) says, “We don’t have great hitting. We need Eva and Megan back!” He’s apparently multi-tasking at his kid’s baseball game. Wrong chat, dude!
With 4 km to go, Jumbo Visma is in complete control. Pogacar really needs to attack, unless he wants to wait until a later stage since he has no team to defend a yellow jersey. Best bet would be to take time (especially with the bonus) but not enough to get yellow yet.
Before this Tour started, my daughter predicted Roglic would win the GC. “Having Dumoulin as a domestique is, like, the biggest flex,” she declares. True, true. Look at the brutal pitches ahead of these guys.
His rivals easily cover it. That was a bit premature. Kuss moves to the front and shelters his leader to give him another shot in a few moments.
And now Porte goes for it! It’s an awesome move!
Alas for him, he can’t make it stick against this elite GC group. And now Pogacar attacks!
Roglic reacts immediately, but simply doesn’t have the legs. Pogacar holds him off and gets the win!
The rest of this Tour could get interesting … there’s a time trial coming up, and Pogachar did beat Roglic in the Slovenian national time trial championship earlier this season.
Wow, what an amazing stage. Van Aert put up such a blistering pace, he destroyed the hopes of two major GC threats in Quintana and Bernal.
Here are the stage result and the new GC:
There’s a silver lining to Pogacar’s loss of 1:21 in an earlier flat stage when he missed a split: if it weren’t for that, he’d have been leading the GC for several days already, with no team. Perhaps it’s better to let Jumbo Visma do an amazing job controlling the race so Pogacar can strike later.
Now Bernal finishes, looking desolate, like seven minutes down. Poor kid. I hate Team Ineos and all, they can basically blow me, but maybe it’s not his fault he ended up on a squad that, for all their doping prowess, can’t adjust their strategies when they don’t have an unstoppable wind-up doll like Froome to install in the field to pummel everyone to death.
They’re interviewing Pogacar.
INTERVIEWER: I’m not going to ask anything specific because you’re gonna say what you’re gonna say anyway, so just say something.
POGACAR: Jumbo set the pace really high, and the heat made it really difficult, in the end I was waiting for sprint, I am so happy to win again. Jumbo was really prepared today and from my point of view there was no reason to attack.
INTERVIEWER: You pronounce Jumbo with a “J” sound instead of a “Y” sound even though it’s a Dutch brand. Why is that?
INTERVIEWER: Can you beat Roglic?
POGACAR: Today Bernal cracked, maybe one day I can crack, or Roglic.
INTERVIEWER: When you say you can “crack,” do you mean that as a transitive verb, the implied direct object being Roglic? Or do you mean in the intransitive sense, that you could falter?
POGACAR: What the hell are you talking about?
I like how the Covid masks inflate and deflate as these guys talk, as they’re still catching their breath several minutes after the finish. I also like how Pogacar always has shocks of hair sticking out of his helmet vents. My hair used to do that, back when I had more hair.
Now they interview Roglic.
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t win a stage but I think I see a smile under that mask anyway.
ROGLIC: Actually, I never smile. I might be a robot. But yeah, like I said, the guys were flying today, and yeah, so far we are doing a great job in the Tour.
INTERVIEWER: You just said “like I said,” but you hadn’t said anything yet. What’s that about?
ROGLIC: I was talking earlier to the stuffed lion that I will be given soon. Just kind of making friends.
INTERVIEWER: It must give you great confidence having this great team around you.
ROGLIC: Fans complain that I’m boring in interviews, but you ask really stupid questions. Work with me here.
INTERVIEWER: You lost four seconds today. Are you livid about that?
ROGLIC: For sure it would be better that I gain four seconds. In fact, what if I gained 40 seconds? Four minutes? I’m so bored right now I could cry … will you please ask something interesting, or get that mic out of my face?
INTERVIEWER: Would you say this race isn’t over?
ROGLIC: No, it is not. Tomorrow is a rest day.
INTERVIEWER: Bernal lost several minutes, you must be happy about that.
ROGLIC: Like I said, I don’t really bother with others, we can only manage ourselves. In fact Bernal is dead to me. He doesn’t exist. He’s a nothing, a lack, a cipher, a ghost, a spectre. He’s a sausage. He’s a muffin.
INTERVIEWER: Did you really just say all that?
ROGLIC: No, that bastard blogger is putting words in my mouth again.
I didn’t get a snapshot of the interview but that’s a pretty boring shot anyway. Better to give you a few pictures that show how badly these guys have suffered today. Look at this crazy candid photo of Pogacar after his victory salute:
You can tell Dumoulin dug pretty deep…
It’s also pretty clear Sam Bennett had a hard day, facing the brutal climbs after picking up two more points over Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgroe) in the green jersey competition).
As for Sagan, he doesn’t actually look tired … just deranged.
Here is the top twelve on GC. Note how Alejandro Valverde, at forty years old, supposedly a domestique for Enric Mas, is managing to (selfishly) have a very good GC result so far. Better living through science!
Well, that’s it for today. What a glorious stage. Check back on Wednesday because I’m taking the whole day off work just to give you a blow-by-blow of Stage 17, which promises to be another epic day as it tackles the infamous hors categorie Col de la Madeleine and finishes atop the (also hors categorie) Col de la Loze. Be there!