FAN KICKS OFF CRASH-FEST
“I think as many as 50 per cent of the riders in the bunch went down in the opening three days,” Ben O’Connor said at the end of the opening week. The Australian, caught in the race’s second big crash, sustained a shoulder injury and a deep cut on his forearm that required a dozen stitches. Pre-Tour favorites PrimoÅ¾ RogliÄ and Geraint Thomas both hit the deck on stage three. The Slovenian quit prior to stage nine; Thomas soldiered on, reduced to a bit-player. Miguel Ángel López lost any GC hopes, while Bahrain's Victorious leader Jack Haig was abandoned after a horrific crash near the end of stage three. These incidents radically skewed the GC contest, forcing many teams to change tactics before the race was even halfway through its first week.
VAN AERT TAMES VENTOUX
Just 24 hours after he finished second in a bunch sprint, Wout Van Aert held off the best climbers in the race to win the Ventoux double day. His fourth win at the Tour helped once again to salvage Jumbo’s race and proved that he is a rider who will shape it for years to come.
POGAÄŒAR TEARS UP THE RULE BOOK
Stage eight proved the Tour’s most decisive for the GC, with Tadej PogaÄar taking the yellow jersey after riding away from his rivals over the final two passes.
“Before the first three climbs I said to my teammates, ‘Let’s try to blow the race apart,’ because I could see that everyone was suffering,” PogaÄar explained after his solo attack on the Col de Romme put him five minutes ahead of his GC rivals. “I went because the best defense attacks.”
MATHIEU VAN DER POEL FULFILS HIS DESTINY
“You can dream of a scenario like this, but to make it come true is unbelievable,” said an emotional Mathieu van der Poel after dedicating his debut stage win and yellow jersey to his late grandfather Raymond Poulidor, who never wore it despite making the final GC podium eight times. He continued: “It’s very special to wear the yellow jersey in my first Tour de France. If he were here we could have had a photo taken together with me in the jersey and him in his Crédit Lyonnais shirt. I can’t see it as my jersey at the moment but maybe I will tomorrow when there’s been time for it to sink in.”
THE DURANGO KID ENDS THE 10-YEAR US DROUGHT
One of the best pure climbers in the peloton, the USA’s Sepp Kuss demonstrated that attribute on what are now his home roads in Andorra, attacking on the fierce ramps in the mid-section of the Col de Beixalis. He then drew on all of his local knowledge to hold off former world champion Alejandro Valverde on the fast, technical descent into the finish. The win by Kuss, from Durango, Colorado, was the first by an American since sprinter Tyler Farrar won the 2011 stage into Redon.
“Over the last few years we’ve started to see a few more American riders at the highest level. It was great to be in the break today with Neilson [Powless], and the likes of Brandon McNulty and Lawson Craddock have also had good seasons,” said Kuss, who also revealed his girlfriend and her parents were at the roadside on the final climb. “She sent me a pin showing where they were, so I knew I had to do something before that.”
His hometown paper reported that athletes on the Durango Devo cycling program, which Kuss was previously a member of, took time off racing the US mountain bike National Championships to huddle around the TV and watch their hometown hero win.
“Made me cry today,” Devo co-founder and coach Chad Cheeney, credited for sparking Kuss’s love of cycling, told the Durango Herald. “So proud of Sepp, that smile, that dig. He’s one hell of a bike rider. I’m at the mountain bike Nationals, and everyone here was cheering for him. A legend in the making.”
Kuss’s success also continued Jumbo’s turnaround in fortunes, which would see Jonas Vingegaard take second place on GC on his Tour de France debut. “It’s all about what’s between the ears, the mindset,” Merijn Zeeman, the team’s performance director, told Cycling Weekly. “High-performance sport is also about getting used to disappointments and turning things around after you suffer them.”
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