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France was out in force today.
I drove the stage start-to-finish along beautiful roads during Wednesday’s stage 5 of the Tour de France, and once the route hit Nyons on the backside of Mont Ventoux, the roadside was packed with fans.
Not Tour-in-July levels, but it was encouraging to see everyone out supporting the race.
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Crowds were sparse in Tuesday’s stage, but the route that day pushed through a rural mountain valley and ended atop a climb where cars and campers were not allowed to drive up.
Things were different Wednesday, and once the course hit the more heavily populated Rhône Valley, the public showed en force to show their affection for the Tour.
Some are fearful that big crowds could mean the Tour could turn into a massive, nationwide “spreader event.” Under a new French law, everyone must a facemask in public. And except for a few crowded places, the fans were staying well apart from each other.
I stopped and spoke to a few fans along the roadside. Except for one Belgian pair, everyone was French. With flight restrictions in place for Americans, Australians, and South America, this has the look of being a very French Tour from start to finish.
How good would it be to see a French winner? Place your bets.
Who isn’t digging Sepp Kuss’ so far in his Tour de France debut?
The Durango product lit up Tuesday’s decisive stage, leading out Primož Roglič to victory.
In just his third WorldTour season, Kuss is emerging as the best U.S. climber in a generation. It will be interesting to see if he can evolve into a stage race leader, perhaps even into a grand tour contender.
Let’s hope so. American fans need it.
Right now, he’s firmly committed to helping Roglic and Tom Dumoulin go as far as they can in this Tour.
As far as I know, he doesn’t have a good nickname. If he does, please hit me up on Twitter.
There was some name-play overnight on Twitter. One good take was, “This is the first day of Sepp-tember.” Another one: “Wake me up when Sepp tempo ends.”
My weak entry: “Sepp Up, or go home.”
Bring your best and CC me on Twitter: @EuroHoody
Pinot the man of the hour
I’ve always heard that Julian Alaphilippe was France’s most popular racer. And for good reason, he’s such a natural performer both on and off the bike.
Yet on today’s route, there was one rider’s name that was everywhere: Thibaut Pinot. Maybe some of it can be guerilla marketing, but all the big signs lining the route and painted on the road was Pinot.
Pinot hails from the Vosges, so it’s not as if some locals were out supporting their local son. Pinot raced in the area as a junior, so maybe he has plenty of old fans.
Thursday’s stage 6
The first week of the 2020 Tour has been brutal. And with what’s in store for Thursday, it’s no wonder riders took it easy.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Tour stage didn’t feature a breakaway. I’ve never seen that before — in any race. So that shows you how worried riders are about what lies ahead.
Also, just about everyone knew the stage was going to finish in a sprint. So why bother, right?
It was great to see Wout van Aert get the win. I had spoken to a DS on Wednesday morning, who told me van Aert would get his chances on select days if and when Primož Roglič and Tom Dumoulin were properly looked after. So the call was made late in the stage to let van Aert fly, by far one of the strongest riders so far in 2020.
Thursday’s 191km La Teil to Mont Aigoual will see movement. With the GC riders eyeing each other, it will be interesting to see who takes up the chase. Mitchelton-Scott will probably lead the charge to give Adam Yates a chance to “earn” the yellow jersey for real. Others in for a shot at yellow might collaborate to reign in breakaways to give the GC leaders a chance.
The stage won’t be easy. It’s all gentle rollers until it goes straight up. The finishing climb isn’t that hard, it’s the Cat. 1 Col de la Lusette (11.8km at 7.2 percent) at 15km to go that will deliver the split.
More so than Tuesday, this climb will tell us who has the legs to win the 2020 Tour. My pick: Always go with the mo — Roglič again for the win and into yellow.