It was a day for celebrating the career of a French legend, and a day of celebrating the incredible lengths that pro cyclists will go to if they believe there’s even a sniff of a chance they might be able to ride for a Tour de France stage win.

It was a day for redemption, and for taking care of the basics, making sure you had enough to eat and drink. It was a day in which some succumbed to illness, and others pushed on in spite of it, potentially against better judgement. And it was a day when we marvelled at the depth of GC riding, and saw some familiar sights (Vingegaard and Pogačar duking it out head to head) and some rather more unfamiliar ones (Vingegaard getting the better of his rival in a sprint).

Yes, as this particular corner (well, middle bit) of France prepared for the homecoming of a hero, everyone who didn’t have skin in the GC game set out with hopes and dreams that today might be their day – and on paper, it had breakaway day written all over it.

Illness had clearly hit the Cofidis team bus, as both Alexis Renard and Ion Izagirre dropped away from the bunch very early, clearly suffering. Fred Wright too was an early casualty, but where the Cofidis boys stepped off their bikes to go and recover, Fred soldiered on.

The breakaway shenanigans were absolutely relentless, ebbing and flowing and ebbing again for tens of kilometres, and it’s the hope that kills you: eventually a group settled after over 90kms of racing, only for UAE Team Emirates to set out their stall, giving them a measly 2:30 maximum and making it clear that they weren’t interested in any other team taking potential spoils from the maillot jaune.

When the day was young, and the hope burned strong in the breakaway hopefuls

A period of calm followed, during which everyone caught their breath, and waited for the inevitable. The pace increased ahead of the final 45km of the day which would see the majority of the climbing, and we held our collective breath as Wout van Aert crashed as he overcooked the pace coming into a bend but was thankfully relatively unharmed.

The EF Education-EasyPost charge of Ben Healy and Richard Carapaz and their intrepid colleague-for-a-day Oier Lazkano was speculative, but ultimately went unrewarded, as along with the rest of the hapless break, they were finally closed down on the category 1 Puy Mary climb.

And then, a battle between the two best Grand Tour riders in a generation ensued, about which Lena has written in more detail below. Meanwhile on ‘Virage Bardet’ the French fans showed once again how they celebrate their heroes with pure panache.

Following the final climb, a crazy descent on what appeared to be a footpath which saw Primoz Roglič come into difficulty – but despite losing time, he was offered a reprieve as it was deemed a ‘racing incident’ (more on this from Alicia Moyo later). Yes, Roglič and Evenepoel remained locked in battle on the road, until the crash, and were awarded the same time at the end of it, and the rest followed on after, the top four and then the rest carving out their own spots on the GC leaderboard, with Giulio Ciccone of Lidl-Trek fifth on the road today and debuting in the top ten as a result.

As for our leading men, the two-up sprint everybody expected ensued, but the way it ended was entirely unexpected. Jonas Vingegaard’s emotional interview hit me right in the heart. Thinking back to that horrendous day at Itzulia, where riders were stretchered away with no idea when or even if they would return to the sport, and comparing it with the sight of Vingegaard crossing the line and raising his arms in victory, was testament to the sheer will and perseverance of the man, the unwavering love and support of his family, team staff and teammates, and the top notch care from his medical team. Here it is, if you haven't watched it, I urge you to do so.

At the end of the day, Fred Wright of Bahrain-Victorious, who had ridden most of the day in front of the broom wagon, came through just outside of the time limit, an agonising result for the former British champion, who will hope to be in better shape by the time the Olympics rolls around in a couple of weeks. Peter Barnes analyses the quality of toughness, and where we draw the line, in his thoughtful feature below.

ANALYSIS: You win some, you lose some

by Lena Koch

Some days you give your best and it’s simply not enough.

Team UAE made out of a nearly certain breakaway stage a GC stage through sheer power of will. 

Oftentimes UAEs rouleurs have been criticised in the past but Nils Politt and Tim Wellens were superb. A controllable break with not too much time and it only took a 100 kilometres of fighting. 

When the break didn’t get more than two minutes everyone knew Guillaume Martin's GC raid goals to get into the top 10 again and Ben Healy's stage victory dreams were doomed to fail. Several sick riders like Fred Wright hoped for a quieter start to somehow make the time cut. A wonder like the resurgence of Cavendish during the first stage. 

Because the last 50 kilometres were on paper Tadej Pogačar terrain. Four short climbs that are below double digits in altitude gain more or less scream "Tadej." 

So it was written and so it turned out well enough until Col de Pertus. Not only did Pogačar drop everyone on Puy Mary Pas de Peyroll, he even managed to extend his lead on the descent. 

And then it went to shit. 

Vingegaard closed the gap again on Pertus and Pogačar had to give it his all on the last mountain that he didn’t have any energy left for the sprint. 

It is the first time that Tadej Pogačar has a lost a sprint to Jonas Vingegaard. His fresh legs after a long and hard stage are one of his greatest attributes and very few GC riders would even think of matching that. 

But when you’re done you’re done. 

Maybe Pogačar had difficulties in fuelling. It happened in the past and his high cadence in the sprint and demand of a gel from the neutral service car certainly indicate that. Maybe his legs weren’t as good as expected. 

But on paper team UAE did many things right today. They are known for offensive racing. They used their domestiques to the best of their ability. None of them have the form to compete with the very best and can’t form an actual GC threat for the likes of Vingegaard, Evenepoel or Roglič. Pogačar gapped everyone.

You can do your best and you’ll still fail. And in the end despite the second place in the stage and still wearing the maillot jaune it might just be Tadej Pogačar who is the most disappointed today. Not Guillaume Martin, Ben Healy or even Fred Wright. 

The more you think you can win, the more you can lose. 

FEATURE: An explanation of the 3km rule, and how it might have saved Primož Roglič’s Tour de France

by Alicia Moyo

Despite crashing just outside the final kilometre and finishing 30 seconds behind Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič was awarded the same time as Evenepoel in the final standings for Stage 11, after being ‘saved’ by UCI Regulation 2.6.027.

This rule states that “in the case of a duly noted incident in the last three kilometres of a road race stage, the rider or riders affected shall be credited with the time of the rider or riders in whose company they were riding at the moment of the incident.” It therefore prevents riders affected by a fall, mechanical problem or puncture, from losing time in the General Classification behind the riders they were riding with at the time of the incident, and in practice, it means that those aiming to perform well in the GC aren’t incentivised to ride too aggressively or dangerously in the final few kilometres in order to ‘gain time’ on their rivals.

In today’s stage, the application of the rule caused confusion and controversy amongst fans, as the rule is most commonly confined to sprint stages – where the sprinting chaos can result in crashes that could unfairly affect the GC results, and where it is safer for the GC riders to stay out of the mêlée in front – and not mountain stages like Stage 11. In fact, Regulation 2.6.028 explicitly states that the rule shall not apply on mountain-top finishes. But this 3km rule did in fact apply to Stage 11 of this year’s Tour, as despite it being a mountainous stage, it didn’t feature a mountain-top finish – instead the finish followed a slippery and complicated descent. For safety reasons, it was therefore decided before the Tour began that the stage should benefit from the 3km rule, alongside Stages 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 16 and 18.

All of this forms part of a bigger picture – riders’ safety has become even more of a pressing issue this year – following a number of nasty crashes at numerous races – and race organisers, alongside the UCI, are increasingly coming under pressure to introduce new measures to make road racing safer. The changes to the application of the 3km rule is an example of this. In an attempt to improve safety conditions within road races, and following feedback from riders, the organisers of this year’s Tour de France announced that they would be testing changes to the rule. More stages would benefit from the rule, and in some stages, the 3km rule would even be extended – Stages 5, 6 and 10 were subject to a 4km rule, and 3, 12, and 13 a 5km rule.

In today’s stage, the application of this rule worked in Roglič’s favour, and preserved his fourth place to keep him in contention for the GC podium, but in the grand scheme of things, it aims to protect all riders, and disincentivise dangerous racing in order to avoid ‘losing time’. As a safety measure, it seems well appreciated, and in terms of how it could affect the GC battle? Well we’ll just have to see who it ‘saves’ next."

FEATURE: Toughness: a laudable trait?

by Peter Barnes

As Fred Wright approached the finish on stage 12, he waged his forlorn battle against the time cut. Dropped in the early stages of a very wearing day, this was not the Fred Wright with whom we’re familiar. Something looked wrong and it’s likely that he was suffering from some sort of illness.

Earlier in the Tour, Aleksandr Vlasov had a monumental crash which split his bike in twain. The effects of which seemed to be a grogginess and unsteadiness on his feet, as well as a bleeding head and a fractured ankle.

In both cases, I sat watching and wondering whether the rider should be protected from harm by their Directeur Sportif, who could make a judgment call to withdraw a rider - similar to a corner-person in boxing.

Cycling fans regularly praise the protagonists for their toughness. For example I will always remember George Hincapie breaking ribs during the Tour and still leading out Cavendish on the Champs Elysée. It is an endurance sport and those that endure the most suffering seem to fill the pantheon of greats as much as the winners do.

But that brings with it a problem, as does cycling as a sport in general. By praising toughness, it’s almost encouraged, and no doubt former grizzled old pros would have their say should current standards not match those of yesteryear.

The structure of the sport also creates a system that requires toughness, and it’s not something I have a particular solution for. However, in order to progress to the next stage, you have to compete the current one. There’s no substitutes and no free passes - your only hope if you’re having a bad day is that you can get through it and recover for the following day. It’s easy to see how a DS may have similar hopes for their riders “get them through today, assess at the end”.

It is the very nature of the sport, but I hope that team bosses would be more attentive and make the decision to stop on behalf of the rider - like a corner-person in boxing, throwing in the towel to prevent further damage in a sport that has a similar relationship to hardship and toughness.

In the case of Fred, it may have been pride that compelled him to continue, it may have been something else but my personal opinion is that there’s no lack of honour in knowing when enough is enough and perhaps his DS could have seen that the time cut wasn’t going to be met and saved him from further on-bike suffering.

Stage 12: Aurillac - Villeneuve-sur-Lot

About tomorrow...

1-1-1 Things of the Tour de France

by Mathieu Fraisse

one food, one fact and one local rider, for every place on edition 111 of Le Tour

1 food: prunes

As the Tour is heading toward the Pyrénées, today's stage will mainly be crossing Lot-et-Garonne département.

The main city of the area is Agen, and Agen is worldwide known for its famous prunes!

It's basically a dried plum you can eat plain or add to a large variety of recipes, both sweet and savoury (cakes, with meat…).

1 rider: Pierrick Fédrigo

This one is for all the Tour de France lovers from the mid 2000's, early 2010's era. 

With four stage wins in La Grande Boucle (2006, 2009, 2010, 2012) and a French National Championship win in 2005, Pierrick Fédrigo is a French fan favourite and a legendary TDF rider for many.

A breakaway specialist, especially in the Pyrénées, Pierrick definitely knew how to win a Tour stage. 💪

With his sprint skills, if you couldn't lose him in the ascents, he could beat even the best riders like in 2010 where he won in Pau in front of Sandy Casar, Damiano Cunego, Christopher Horner, Christophe Moreau and Lance Armstrong. 

Don't bring him to the finish line! But it was a joy for French people as you knew Fédrigo would bring you a stage win every year 😍

1 fact: Beach Quidditch in Lot-et-Garonne!?

You heard about every variation of sports on the beach (beach-volley, beach football, beach rugby…) and you probably heard about Quidditch, the official sport of the Harry Potter world.

Now mix these two things together and you’d get a brand new sport : beach quidditch! As you might know, brooms used by the muggles can't fly (Filthy muggles 😒) so the Dragonflies, Agen's (regular) Quidditch team, decided to take it on the sand!

If you like to run in the sand and sit on a broom, this sport was made for you! I'm not sure Harry Potter would have approved but I'm sure he would have enjoyed playing Quidditch during a sunny day in Lot-et-Garonne! Very different from Hogwarts surroundings to say the least 😃


Profile reproduced from the official Tour de France site

See, ordinarily, you might look at this sort of a stage profile and think that it had the potential to be a bit of a breakaway battle, with sprint teams chasing down the escapees for a last-gasp fight for the line.

This year's Tour de France though, while brilliant in many ways, has seen breakaways either fail to form at all on sprint stages, or be doomed to failure on GC days like today. Perhaps if this were the final week and there was nothing left to lose, it might transpire in a different way, but after the arduous day everyone's had out there today, and still with a great many sprint teams with a presence at the race and something to gain, I am expecting yet another effectively neutralised stage and a nailed on bunch sprint finish.

WBR team Predictions:

Sam: Biniam Girmay

Alicia, Lena: Jasper Philipsen

Mathieu: Pascal Ackermann

Stine: I predict an actual big breakaway happening, several Uno-X in there, bringing Abrahamsen level on points with PolkaPog again. Jasper Stuyven wins in front of Cort from the remains of the break, but it's a nailbiter in the last 10km against the sprinters. Jasper P is grumpy over not getting to sprint for the win.

Before you go...

Pure, unfiltered reactions from an overjoyed Visma-Lease A Bike team...

Geraint Thomas belatedly realises he's reached a bit of a milestone...

And just feast your eyes on this incredible image from Sunday's epic stage...

Until tomorrow, au revoir!

If you have enjoyed reading this post and would like to show your support for my free cycling content, consider buying me a coffee. And if you’d like to hear from me more regularly subscribe.
Share this post