Tour de France: Dylan Groenewegen sprints to stage win
Dutch rider earned a third stage victory for Jumbo-Visma on longest stage of the race
Netherlands’ Dylan Groenewegen celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the seventh stage of the Tour de France. Photo: Christophe Ena/AP
While the dust settled on the gravel climb to La Planche des Belles Filles, the Tour’s longest stage, a 230km haul from Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saône, was also its most soporific to date, illuminated briefly by a first sprint victory in this year’s race for Dylan Groenewegen of Holland.
As Groenewegen’s Jumbo-Visma team celebrated their third stage win in the 2019 Tour, there was more speculation over the hierarchy at Team Ineos after Geraint Thomas’s resurgence in the Vosges mountains and Dave Brailsford’s suggestion that those tipping the Welshman’s teammate, Egan Bernal, for final victory in Paris, were “getting carried away”.
“Egan was brilliant at Paris-Nice,” he said of the Colombian. “At the Tour of Switzerland he was fantastic. Very measured. But the field wasn’t the Tour de France field.
“For the first time he has been here with that pressure on his young shoulders. This is as much about learning how to manage that expectation as it is about trying to win the race, because I’m sure he can win this race.
“Part of that is learning to deal with the expectations of a nation. The Colombians — once they decide that someone is their man, they don’t hold back. That takes some adjusting to. It’s all new to him.
“You have to treat Geraint as a 33-year-old and Egan as a 22-year-old, even if you know they are both very talented bike riders. And you can feel yourself falling in to that trap all the time, thinking because Egan’s so good that he’s got all this experience. He hasn’t. He has to spend time at this race. He has to spend time in those shoes. And he has to absorb it and get used to it. Then he can come back and say: ‘OK, I know all about this race.’”
Whether that may be an attempt to deflect unwanted attention away from the 22-year-old to the more experienced Thomas is unclear, but Brailsford added that he was not surprised by the defending champion’s form in the Tour’s first real mountain stage.
“It was a bit of an unknown. It was billed as a demonstration of where everyone is at that moment in time, which I think it was in the end. I actually think Geraint would have liked it to have been ridden harder. I think he’d have preferred a bit more tempo up that last climb.”
With the French rider Thibaut Pinot emerging as one of his most dangerous rivals after Thursday’s steep finish to La Planche des Belles Filles, while others such as Vincenzo Nibali and Romain Bardet fell away, Thomas admitted he now had a clearer idea of which riders posed the greatest threat to his title defence.
“I felt good, it’s just that going into it you’re not sure how everyone else would be,” the Welshman, fourth at the first summit finish, said. “It was nice to be in front of everyone. I think I knew I was going OK but always, with the lack of racing you’re not 100 per cent sure how everyone else is compared to you, but I’m happy.
“Obviously Pinot was strong and Julian Alaphilippe is riding incredibly well, but I think everyone else is still there or thereabouts. It’s still early days. It was only stage six, but we’re off to a good start.”
“We’re pretty happy really,” Brailsford said of his team’s performance to date. “When we sat down before the race and thought about what we hoped to achieve, I think we’re pretty much on track really. Maybe actually a little better than we expected at this stage.”
If the signs were encouraging for defending champion Thomas after the finish to La Planche des Belles Filles, there were others who were left scratching their heads.
The most deflated was Bardet, widely touted as a potential winner of this year’s Tour, until the group of favourites turned onto the gravel road leading to the brutal finish and his illusions were quickly shattered.
“I’m ashamed,” he said of his latest time loss to Thomas, following on from his AG2R La Mondiale team’s lacklustre performance in the team time trial in Brussels. “Ashamed to have been not at my top level and to have just been a spectator for this first rendezvous.”
“I was well below my expectations, and I have to accept responsibility,” Bardet said. “It’s not a side of myself that I wanted to show on the Tour. But we’ve only done six stages, the high mountains are still to come.” – Guardian