After nine days of intense racing, the world’s best cyclists have earnt their first rest day of this year’s Tour de France.
This year’s race is especially demanding. There is just one time trial over the three-week tour, meaning the race favours the pure climbers. Included are four summit finishes and 30 categorised climbs, with the maximum altitude reached peaking at 2,300m.
The tour’s credentials as the ultimate test for endurance athletes are self-evident, although there is added focus on the safety aspect after the recent tragic death of Gino Mader, caused by crashing into a rivine when descending.
Vingegaard gained more than a minute on Pogacar, amid concerns over the form of the Slovenian. His preparations have been severely disrupted, after suffering a wrist fracture racing at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April
On the 110th edition of cycling’s biggest bike race, the battle for the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) is already between the two pre-race favourites, Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar. The jersey is awarded to the rider who finishes the three-week race in the shortest amount of time, with Vingegaard holding a 17-second advantage over Pogacar at the first rest day.
The battle for the general classification has already swung back and forth several times between the Dane and Slovenian. On stage five, when the Tour entered the Pyrenees, Vingegaard gained more than a minute on Pogacar, amid concerns over the form of the Slovenian. His preparations have been severely disrupted, after suffering a wrist fracture racing at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April.
Those worries quickly dissipated however, as Pogacar delivered a superb attack the following day to gain time on his rival. He backed up his performance on stage six with a late attack on stage nine to reduce the arrears to a mere 19 seconds.
Jasper Philipsen won the stage. He then emulated his achievement with victory on both the fourth and seventh stages
The opening week has involved several other stories worthy of dominating the headlines. On stage one, the Yates twins battled for the first maillot jaune of this year’s tour. Adam Yates, who rides for Pogacar’s team of UAE Team Emirates, pulled clear of Simon Yates for a famous victory. It was the first time twins had finished first and second on a Tour de France stage.
The opening three days were fought in the Basque region, making up this year’s Grand Départ. However, the sprinters were made to wait for their first chance of glory, which did not arrive until the third stage.
The finish in Bayonne proved to be a sign of things to come through the opening week as Jasper Philipsen won the stage. He then emulated his achievement with victory on both the fourth and seventh stages.
The Tour de France is not just brutal physically though. Fairytale endings are rare and this was proven by Mark Cavendish’s week.
The Manxman was competing in his final tour, seeking to add one stage win to stand alone as the most decorated Tour de France stage-winner of all time. However, an innocuous crash on stage eight led to an injury, which forced him to pull out of the race.
Just 24 hours earlier, he nearly had his taste of glory in the bunch sprint of stage seven. After a messy lead out by all the sprint teams, Cavendish hit the front with around 200m to go, but an issue changing gears allowed Philipsen past him. There was confidence he had the form to win a stage though. The crash just a day later ended those hopes.
Victor Lafay won his first stage at the race and the first for Cofidis for 15 years
Cycling heartbreak repeated itself the following day. Matteo Jorgensen attacked from the breakaway with 48km of the stage remaining, only to be overtaken with 500m left.
Michael Woods had made up two minutes on the final climb of the day, overtaking an utterly exhausted Jorgensen with the finish line in sight.
Woods has been one of several individuals to taste success so far this race. Jai Hindley in his maiden Tour de France, briefly donned the famous yellow jersey.
Victor Lafay won his first stage at the race and the first for Cofidis for 15 years.
There remain an abundance of stages for riders to write their name into the history book. Perhaps by the time we reach the next rest day, we will have more of an idea as to who will be wearing the yellow jersey when the race rolls into Paris at the end of July.