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REIMS, France (VN) — The 2019 Tour de France finally presents a stage for the sprinters, as Tuesday’s sprint stage from Reims to Nancy features a predominantly flat profile.
These days are easy for the race’s cadre of GC favorites, right? Wrong—flat stages bring a host of new challenges for GC riders. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is finding the perfect position within the fast-rolling peloton.
“It’s all about your position at the front to avoid crashes,” said Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour champion. “But there are entire teams at the front, so you are spending a lot of energy to be there. If you are at the front, you’re avoiding the accelerations and gaps at the back, which is also dangerous there.”
Indeed, there is no perfect position in the Tour de France peloton on the flat days. Ride too far at the front, and GC riders may wilt from the fast pace set by the brawny sprint teams. Ride too far back, and riders could fall victim to crashes.
“You always have to stay covered, but the speed is always high and there’s stress and it’s not easy,” Nibali said. “In the end, the energy we spend is the same all around.
“Maybe it’s more tranquillo in the flat stages, you can sit in the belly of the peloton. But at the Tour, everyone is stressed and you don’t think about saving energy.”
Television cameras on Tuesday showed the GC teams riding in various positions in the Tour peloton. With 80km remaining, an overhead shot provided a clear snapshot of the ever-changing peloton. Team Ineos rode at or near the front, tucking its GC men Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas in behind a single line of riders. The blue jerseys of Movistar were on the left-hand side of the peloton, just behind the sprint teams. Further back were the pink kits of EF Education First, located in the middle of the pack.
“Everyone is in the same boat, you just try to sit in the wheels as much as possible and out of the wind as much as possible,” Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) said. “We have a good team with many big guys so it’s pretty easy for me to stay out of the wind.”
Yates relies on Christopher Juul Jensen, Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn to usher him through the group. And if he needs to, he has Matteo Trentin and Daryl Impey.
“The further you are towards the front, the less people who can crash in front of you,” Yates continued. “There’s no real secret to it.”
Often after an escape moves free, a team will move to the front to control the pace. In these days, Deceuninck-Quick Step will want to help Julian Alaphilippe keep the yellow jersey as long as possible.
“The classification men got to utilize there teammates, that’s the most efficient way,” said head sports director at Mitchelton-Scott, Matt White. “You bring certain guys to this race purely for looking after your GC guys.
“There are some GC guys, like Christian Vande Velde and Bradley Wiggins, those guys could also ride the classics, bigger GC guys, it’s their bread and butter, but for the Yates bothers and Esteban Chaves it’s harder for them because they are smaller and can’t put out as much power on the flats. For the time trial type GC guys, in general, it’s usually a lot easier for them.”
“It’s definitely to save some energy,” added Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos). “If you don’t think about what’s coming in the second or third week, you can kill yourself quickly. Our team does a good job, we have one clear goal and everyone knows their role.”
Jakob Fuglsang (Team Astana) won the Critérium du Dauphiné and began the Tour as a favorite. In the flat stage in Brussels on day one, he already fell victim to a crash. Now, he is trying to recover even more than his rivals on the flat days.
“These days are about not getting caught out of echelons or behind crashes in the final,” Fuglsang said. “When you do GC, tough, there’s no real easy day. You still have to be alert and try to stay out of trouble.”