What do you get when you take a writer’s brain, place it in a fan oven and turn up the heat for several days? It turns out, not a lot. That is, productivity drops way down, even when the cooked brain’s vessel sits on the sofa in as little clothing as possible (Oi! Get your head out of the gutter!) with the Tour de France playing in HD all afternoon. That I’m inhabiting the coolest room in the house is little solace given that the temperature is still over 30°C.
So, what’s this month’s column topic? I’m not going to try evaluate whether this is the “best Tour since 1989”, nor am I going to predict the outcome of this week’s Alpine trident, remark at the number of bidons consumed by an overheated peloton, celebrate the renaissance of French cycling, nor the decline of British – not in this column anyway…
Yes, this Tour has been one of the most thrilling in recent years – a race with a democratised ecology and several teams jostling for dominance rather than just one; five riders out of the top six within a minute of each other (at time of writing); a first week that was actually worth watching; not to mention a whole nation turning yellow with for once not overly optimistic anticipation (Allez!). My favourite thing about this edition though is the fighting spirit of certain teams that, though some of the top-rated in the sport, might not have been expected to play quite such an important role in the race.
That winning breeds winning is news to nobody, but it was Jumbo-Visma who were first to demonstrate it rather than the blue man group of Deceuninck-QuickStep. An unlikely win on stage one saw lead-out rider Mike Teunissen and his team carry a yellow-hued motivation into the team time trial. A second victory in as many days gave their GC man, Steven Kruijswijk, the best possible start to the Tour de France, and an even higher dose of inspiration for the coming stages. By the second rest day, the Dutch team had sprinted to a third and fourth stage win with Dylan Groenewegen and Wout van Aert, putting Jumbo-Visma at the top of the most wins of the Tour and their leader into a great position going into the last week. Can Kruijswijk keep the team’s momentum going and land on the podium in Paris?
After stage 17, Jumbo-Visma was joined at the top of the total wins leaderboard by Mitchelton-Scott. On the medium mountain stage into Gap, the lovable Aussie team got their fourth stage victory, all from breakaways and with three different riders. First was Daryl Impey who beat Tiesj Benoot over the line in Brioude, then Simon Yates took two imperious victories in the mountains. And finally, Matteo Trentin clinched a daring solo win in the last stage before the Alps. All came during or after their designated leader, Adam Yates, suffered a slew of ‘jours sans’, dropping completely out of the GC race. The team took their disappointment and turned it on its head.
All this grit and determination is a gripping subplot of this great race and is a beautiful reminder of the power of mindset. While Jumbo-Visma have had momentum on their side, Mitchelton-Scott have the stirring inspiration of an emotive sports director and a demonstrably positive team dynamic.
Winning breeds winning, but sometimes losing works even better.
Words by Emma Nicholson