Some things are more important than bike races. Life, love and those closest to us, who define our meaning, and shape our purpose, and give us a reason to get up every morning. Just 24 hours after writing about the absurdity of the UCI punishing Julien Bernard for the joyous moments he shared with those closest to him, the pro cycling community loses another one of its own – André Drege, who passed away following a crash on a descent at the Tour of Austria. The sheer cruelty of the loss of another young man in the prime of his life, doing what he loved, is crushing. Writing about the Tour feels hollow at the moment, with this cloud hanging over us.

As the worst possible news was filtering through, though, other riders were bravely taking on stage 8 at the Tour, and though it may not have been one that will stick in the memory, in terms of the way the day unfolded, the performances of two men at least deserve to be noted. This report will be somewhat shorter than usual, partly because it’s not an easy task to focus on the finer details of racing with such a dark shadow cast by today’s tragedy, and partly because there really wasn’t all that much to report on, anyway. So let’s focus on the bare essentials and, as they so prosaically say in pro cycling, we go again tomorrow.

Moody skies in north-eastern France (image credit: Emma Bianchi)

Stage 8 headed into north-eastern France, and it was a profile that looked good for a a strong breakaway and a big battle but for some reason, it just never transpired. The reasons for the lack of action could range from the number of sprint teams wanting to push for a bunch finish, to the wet conditions, to the fact that tomorrow’s stage 9 looks set to be a humdinger of a fight and it’s likely to take a lot out of the bunch. Or maybe they all just prefer the game of brinkmanship that is leaving all your breakaway eggs in the second two weeks’ basket.

The day started with a big loss for the race, as Mads Pedersen withdrew – the writing looked to be on the wall after he finished the time trial over four minutes down and wearing a grimace of discomfort. He heads off to heal and refocus ahead of the Olympics, and the race is all the poorer for it.

After an early mishap in the neutralised zone involving riders struggling to don rain jackets – perhaps foreshadowing a day of caution ahead – the much-anticipated breakaway began with just three riders – EF Education-EasyPost’s Neilson Powless and Stefan Bissegger, and resolute KOM stalwart Jonas Abrahamsen of Uno-X, before the EF pair later decided that they didn’t want to hang with the Norwegian and dropped back. And then, well… that was that. More foreshadowing, as Biniam Girmay bagged yet more green jersey points, in a competition which – with the points deduction for Jasper Philipsen and the withdrawal of Mads Pedersen – the Eritrean looks increasingly odds-on to win.

And Abrahamsen soloed all day, with no interest from any other teams, all of whom played their cards close to their rain-jacket covered chests. A brave, intrepid effort on the part of the Norwegian that reflects his participation in the entire race so far - according to the Danish commentary, Abrahamsen has been in a breakaway for 38% of all the kilometres ridden at this year's Tour so far. Quite the statistic.

The hero of the day: Jonas Abrahamsen (image credit: Emma Bianchi)

The skies were moody and the peloton moodier as the tension increased and we headed for our fourth bunch sprint finish of the race so far. It was another long, chaotic sprint, one in which Cofidis’ Bryan Coquard for a long while looked like having the winning of, but Girmay and Philipsen steamed past him and once again, the Eritrean raised his arms, the second stage victory for him in the first week of the race, and yet more beautiful, historic moments for both him and his team, who are increasing in confidence day by day at this Tour and in Biniam, finding a leader they can really unite behind. It's the unexpected story that this Tour really needs, especially on a day like today.

IN MEMORIAM: André Drege

by Anna McEwen

Today while most of us were distracted by the excitement and spectacle of the Tour de France.  Watching, wondering whether Jonas Abrahamsen of Uno-X Mobility’s solo break would somehow miraculously hold or whether he would inevitably be swallowed by the peloton, the worst possible thing happened on a decent in the Tour of Austria.     

André Drege, a 25-year-old Norwegian cyclist for Team Co-op-Repsol crashed. To the heartbreak of all, he did not survive the injuries he sustained.

The stage raced to its conclusion but following the confirmation of Drege’s death, the podium and award ceremonies were rightfully cancelled.

"It is with deep sadness and heavy hearts that we have to announce the passing of Andre Drege. On Saturday 6th July following a very serious crash during the descent of Großglockner at stage 4 of the Tour of Austria, André crashed and sustained severe injuries." The race organisers confirmed in their statement.

“Our entire team is devastated by this tragic accident, and our thoughts and prayers are with André's family and loved ones and his team Coop-Repsol, during this incredibly difficult time. Our hearts are shattered. There’s no words to describe our sorrow Our thoughts and prayers are with Andre’s family, his friends, relatives, his teammates, and all who knew, loved and appreciated Andre.”

André Drege who had stepped up to ride for Co-op Respol in 2022, was a promising rider who earlier this year had displayed his talents by winning the general classification at the Tour of Rhodes.

It is easy to forget the dangers that the riders face, both in the frantic action of a race and training rides alike. From the comfort of our living rooms watching the action unfold on the screen, we are cocooned from the reality of the speed they travel or to the hazards posed by the undulation of the road beneath their wheels.

We see this phenomenon when a spectator gets too close and we let out a collective gasp as they endanger the nearby riders by simply being unaware of how fast, how close, the peloton is going to pass by. We see it in the comments made on social media decrying new safety measures as ‘soft’.

Despite the losses we have already experienced we get lulled into a false sense of security. The worst has only recently happened, it can’t happen again. It was only in 2023 that we lost Gino Mäder, it can’t happen again.

But then it does. And the harsh reality of the danger of the sport that we love is forced back upon us. Another high-speed crash, another wheel that just slid out on a corner. And suddenly a family is missing a son.

I can’t claim to have known Drege, I have no personal knowledge of him apart from having watched him race on the screen, but my heart is now a little heavier as it carries the burden of his passing. As cycling fans, it is a burden that I am sure we all share.

It instils in me the urge to hug the riders close to my chest and tell them ‘Just stay safe.’

As the echoes of this loss ripple through the cycling community, our thoughts are with André Drege, his family, his loved ones, and his team.

André Drege, 4 May 1999 to 6 July 2024, taken from the peloton, forever in our hearts.

Impressions of Stage 8

image by Emma Bianchi

Stage 9: Troyes-Troyes

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: L’andouillette

The iconic food from Troyes, and most globally the Aube département, is obviously the andouillette! 

Behind this funny name is a recipe that won't please everyone (especially our vegetarians friends) as it is basically a sausage made from the intestine of pork, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings. So French!

It even exists an association called the AAAAA (no, I'm not yelling) = Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique (can't make it shorter 😏)

1 rider: Armand de las Cuevas 

Today we're going back in time as no current rider is from the area. Rider of the day is Armand de las Cuevas, born in Troyes in 1968.

French champion in 1991, he's mostly known to have won Dauphiné in 1998 and being one of Indurain's main domestiques during his Tour-Giro double back in 1992.

Insanely talented but very rebellious and struggling with his mental health, de las Cuevas ended his career at only 31 years old after multiple bust-ups with former teams and tragically died at 50 after committing suicide. 

1 fact: Llamas on the run!

Back in 2022, Police from the Troyes area were called to proceed to the arrest of very special fugitives…

In the countryside, a driver encountered three llamas wandering on the road, living their best lives. Policemen said “we were worried how to rescue them, we don't have any llama leash in our car!”

Luckily, the animals lived in a nearby farm and the owner arrived shortly after to collect his llamas. Funnily enough, the owner didn't have a truck big enough to fit all three llamas so he had to walk back 2 kilometres to bring the animals home!


Stage 9 Profile (from Tour de France official website)

Look, I’m not a betting tipster, so I’m certainly not making any promises, especially given how way off base yesterday's preview was, but if there’s any stage in this Tour that you can expect to be absolutely wild, it’s this one.

Just the threat of something that isn’t tarmac always has GC teams quaking in their boots, and with fourteen gravel sectors on this stage there is plenty of rough stuff to present a very real threat indeed. For teams without a GC rider to protect though, it's time to have some fun.

In terms of front-runners, a few names leap off the start list: Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) and Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Deceuninck) – the current and former UCI Gravel World Champions – are both present, along with seven past winners of Strade Bianche, including the maillot jaune himself and off-road geniuses Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. And plenty more besides, including the winner of this year's Clasica Jaen - the Spanish Strade Bianche - Movistar's Oier Lazkano. Of course, some of these riders have other priorities at this race and may not be going all out, but there is a wide range of possibilities when it comes to riders who will fancy a go at this stage.

Granted, there is less climbing than at Strade Bianche, and 32km of white roads as opposed to around 70, but it’s a stage that will cause upsets, and one that will invite exciting, attacking racing. Recent rain will see the gravel turn muddy in places which will invite its own challenges. And you can bet your house on the fact that Pogačar will want to try and win it.

Who doesn’t like gravel? Remco Evenepoel. He famously lost time on the gravel stage at the 2021 Giro d’Italia and is not a fan of difficult road surfaces, so he may be vulnerable - though a long time has passed since then, and he has a strong team around him to support. And who could forget the cobbled stage in the 2022 Tour when the contemporary dance routine known as ‘Jumbo Visma switching their bikes around’ occurred – they are prone to bad luck at the best of times, but throw in the variable of a stage like this and who knows what could happen.

Whatever does happen, it promises to be one to watch.

WBR team Predictions:

Sam: We have a breakaway filled with 'cross boys. Unfortunately Jonas needs help so Wout bails out and plays super domestique so the victory goes to world champion Mathieu van der Poel.

Mathieu: Pidders won't top 5 the Tour but his CX skills will help him get a win on muddy roads [Tom Pidcock].

Stine: Uno-X, buoyed by the power of all Norwegian cycling, shows why they had two riders in the top 12 of Paris-Tours. Rasmus Tiller wins after a race where the team has at least one rider in every damn move of the day, including the decisive one.

Before you go...

THIS is what it means to Eritrea. Just breath-taking.

As always, thank you so much for reading. We hope you're enjoying the content so far - just one day to go until we all get a much deserved rest day and head into week 2 of the Tour. This one has flown by, hasn't it? Au revoir!

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