Of all the obstacles in the first 10 days of this Tour de France, it was the monstrous La Planche des Belles Filles lurking at the end of stage six – topped off with an unnecessarily gruelling gravel path to its summit – which was supposed to splinter the peloton, but instead it was the winds of stage 10 which blew open this race and left Geraint Thomas in pole position to win back-to-back Tours.
Thomas gained significant time over most of his rivals to leave himself second overall on the halfway point, and that was partly down to the road nous of Team Ineos. They stayed close to the peloton’s nose when and the winds whipped up and the speed was injected at the front, and it meant they were never at risk of being detached like so many others. “You’ve just got to be on it and ready to go at any moment, and that’s where we were,” Thomas said, before a parting shot. “But yeah, we race boring anyway, don’t we?”
Ineos principal Dave Brailsford claimed afterwards that they had it all planned out. “One hundred per cent,” he said. “Circled. This point. What’s going to happen at kilometre X. We’re going to take it on.” The plausibility of trying to pre-plan the chaos is questionable – more likely a blend of organisation and opportunism – but either way, Ineos’s success tells only half the story.
We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.
a day, more exclusives, analysis and extras.
Around them some of their rivals suffered bad luck while others made grave mistakes. Mikel Landa crashed late in the day and lost 2min 09sec. Team FDJ didn’t react quickly enough and a distraught Thibaut Pinot, previously 19 seconds ahead of Thomas, lost 1min 40sec. Stranger still was the decision of EF Education to provoke a split in the peloton by leading the first attack in the wind only to isolate their own leader, Rigoberto Uran, who lost 1min 40sec. The Tour de France takes three weeks to win but it can be lost in a few careless seconds.
Perhaps the most unnecessary impact was felt by George Bennett, the amiable Kiwi who would be second overall right now had not been fetching water bottles for team-mates when the peloton fissured. “I was under the assumption that I had to get them when no one needed them,” a downbeat Bennett said afterwards. “When we went around the bend it went full throttle for the fans and the peloton broke. That’s it.” His team, Jumbo-Visma, have been prioritising Steven Kruijswijk in the GC and made sure to protect him all the way to the finish, but it still seemed remarkable that they could so carelessly throw away another strong card.
These are the details which are easy to get wrong in the thick of the Tour de France but which Sky, and now Ineos, always get right. Not only is Thomas now second in the general classification but he has his co-leader Egan Bernal behind him in third. There is the wildcard of Julian Alaphilippe wearing yellow ahead of them, who has been exceptional thus far and holds a lead of more than a minute, but he is unlikely to stand in Ineos’s way once the road kicks high into the Pyrenees later this week, while Friday’s time-trial in Pau is another chance for Thomas to gain valuable time.
“With myself and Egan second and third it’s been a great 10 days,” said Thomas. “Obviously it would be better if we were a couple of seconds behind Alaphilippe rather than a minute, but other than that it’s great. Coming into the race you wouldn’t necessarily talk about Alaphilippe as a GC contender, so to get time on everybody else is massive, a real good bonus and now the harder Alpine and Pyrenean stages will start.”
Their rivals have not yet suffered terminal deficits, especially given the volume of climbing still to come in this particularly elevated Tour. But the way Sky have won in recent years, with their patient mix of controlled conservatism and dogged defence, is now exactly the kind of tactics which will bring them a first yellow jersey as Team Ineos. Thomas is in the virtual lead, and history suggests he will be virtually impossible to pass.