Things we’ve learned so far from the 2018 Tour de France

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Nine stages down, 12 to go. A week later than usual, the Tour de France has finally reached its first rest day, in the town of Annecy.

The general classification team leaders haven’t had much to ride for yet, but that will change on Tuesday as the race enters the Alps.

Here we pick out five things we’ve learned from the opening nine days in the saddle.

And we look forward to the real test awaiting the peloton and defending champ Chris Froome (pictured).

Gaviria breakthrough

There’s a new sprinter on the block, and his name is Fernando Gaviria.

The Colombian is making his Tour de France debut, having sprinted to victory four times in last season’s Giro d’Italia.

But few would have predicted the 23-year-old to be in yellow after the very first stage.

Gaviria out-sprinted world champion Peter Sagan and 14-time stage winner Marcel Kittel to the line in Fontenay-Le-Comte, becoming the first man since Fabian Cancellara in 2004 to wear yellow after his maiden Tour stage.

Gaviria also won the sprint on Stage Four to Sarzeau, beating Sagan and German veteran Andre Greipel.

But the Colombian hasn’t had it all his own way, being declassified along with Greipel for illegal sprinting manoeuvres on Stage Eight and relegated to the back of the lead group.

Sagan good for green

One man wants to be wearing the green points jersey more than anybody else in Paris: Peter Sagan.

The world champion is chasing a record-equalling sixth green jersey.

He was thrown off the Tour last year for causing a crash that left fellow sprinter Mark Cavendish with a broken shoulder, although the UCI later said the disqualification was a mistake.

Working in Sagan’s favour is his all-round ability (he competed in mountain biking at Rio 2016), which has seen him outlast most pure sprinters in recent seasons.

He has already proved that this year, winning on Stage Two despite a technical finish in La Roche-sur-Yon and following that with victory after a tough uphill sprint in Quimper on Stage Five.

With last year’s winner Michael Matthews already out of the race due to illness, the Slovak’s biggest threat this season is now Gaviria.

But Sagan may be able to hang on longer in the mountains than his Colombian rival — and pick up all-important points at the intermediate sprints.

Team Sky internal dynamics

Just who is leading Team Sky?

Three-time defending champion Chris Froome is aiming for a joint-record fifth Tour title.

But he’s not the best-placed rider on his team who could challenge for the yellow jersey.

That man is fellow Briton Geraint Thomas.

Thomas sits 59 seconds ahead of Froome as the Tour winds its way into the Alps, and is no slouch himself.

The Welshman won the Criterium du Dauphine ahead of the Tour.

Froome remains non-committal as to who Sky will ride in support of, insisting the team will go with a two-pronged approach in the mountains.

“We’re still here to try and win the race whichever way that is and I think it’s fantastic for us to have that option,” he said.

Crashes galore

While there has only been one punchy hilly stage so far this year, on Stage Six to Mur-de-Bretagne, the GC contenders have all had to deal with unexpected crashes.

Froome, BMC Racing’s Richie Porte, and Mitchelton-Scott leader Adam Yates all lost time on the opening stage.

EF Education First-Drapac rider Lawson Craddock went over his handlebars and fractured his scapula, but the Houston native, who is riding for Rigoberto Uran, has pledged to keep going in hope of raising money for his local velodrome, which was damaged in Hurricane Harvey.

After a team time trial on Stage Three shook up the GC, a late crash on Stage Four caught Uran and Ilnur Zakarin behind a break in the pack. Uran avoided losing time but Zakarin had no such luck.

Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin lost nearly a minute on the stage to Mur-de-Bretagne, while Dan Martin, who broke away for victory up the Mur, crashed on Stage Eight and gave up 76 seconds himself.

Then came the Tour’s nod to the ‘Hell of the North‘, a Stage Nine that involved 15 cobbled sections to Roubaix.

Porte crashed out with a broken collarbone before the peloton even reached the first sector of cobblestones. It just wasn’t to be for the Australian, who also abandoned after an accident last year.

Froome escaped unscathed from the pavé despite crashing, but there was no such luck for Uran, who conceded another 88 seconds. Movistar’s Mikel Landa and AG2R’s Romain Bardet both suffered as well — the latter with punctures — but managed to restrict their losses to just seven seconds.

And spare a thought for Bardet’s teammate Alexis Vuillermoz, who has withdrawn from the race after an incident with a spectator.

The Frenchman rode into Roubaix with only one working arm, after injuring his right shoulder blade tangling with a fan who wanted a selfie.

Long and boring

Crashes aside, a criticism of the race route so far is that it has produced a number of long and uneventful stages.

Stage Seven, the longest of this year’s tour at 231 km, was extremely flat, producing a day in which the peloton rode slowly to protect their legs before Dylan Groenewegen produced a clean sprint to take the first of two consecutive stage wins on flat courses.

While a brief spell of cross-winds produced some excitement, it was quickly quelled as the winds turned and normal racing resumed.

“Maybe they should just have the stages at less than 200 km in Grand Tours,” Team Sky’s Thomas told British television after the stage. “It would be more exciting for everyone.”

However, Stage Nine on the cobbles to Roubaix provided action that was anything but boring.

And with just three sprint stages left, the remainder of the Tour should produce exciting cycling.

Coming up…

The easy bit of this year’s Tour de France is over.

Next up for the 166 riders still left in the race is three days in the mountains of the Alps, starting with Tuesday’s Stage 10 from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand.

Stage 10 of the 2018 Tour de France takes riders from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand. (Image: ASO)
Stage 10 of the 2018 Tour de France takes riders from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand. (Image: ASO)

If the three Category One summits and the hors-categorie (“beyond categorisation”) climb up the Glieres Plateau don’t shake up the overall standings, Stages 11 and 12’s summit finishes — including the famous climb up Alpe d’Huez — will.

Stage 11 of the 2018 Tour de France takes riders from Albertville to La Rosiere. (Image: ASO)
Stage 11 of the 2018 Tour de France takes riders from Albertville to La Rosiere. (Image: ASO)
Stage 12 of the 2018 Tour de France takes riders from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Alpe d'Huez. (Image: ASO)
Stage 12 of the 2018 Tour de France takes riders from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Alpe d’Huez. (Image: ASO)

By the time Friday’s 13th stage, which should end in a sprint, comes around, there will be a new man in yellow.

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Author: ZK Goh
Olympic Channel news producer/reporter. All-round sports nerd.