It wasn’t about the final sprint, but about everything that preceded it, which was discussed for a long time after the opening stage of the Tour de France. Smooth hills and descents around Nice made for a dangerous race, dozens of riders went down one or more times during the stage.
Fifty kilometers before the end, Jumbo-Visma rider Tony Martin took control by spreading his arms. He straightened his back at the head of the peloton and his gesture left no room for doubt: guys, let’s take it easy, we can’t go on like this.
Who is the patron?
In the Evening stage the word ‘patron’, referring to the leader of the peloton, is used in retrospect. “I can remember stages in which the roads were very slippery and men like Jacques Anquetil, Rik van Looy and Eddy Merckx said something about it”, says Jan Janssen, the first Dutch Tour winner in 1968.
Martin’s action was also reminiscent of the gesture with which Fabian Cancellara wanted to assert his authority in 2010. A large number of riders crashed in the fourth stage of the Tour between Brussels and Spa, including Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, Alberto Contador and Cancellara’s leader Andy Schleck.
Four minutes after stage winner Sylvain Chavanel the peloton crossed the line. Cancellara didn’t want any riders to attack in the final meters, where he spread his arms and finished the group as a whole.
For years Armstrong was the absolute patron in the Tour, his will was law. That role was later taken over by Cancellara, among others, but the current peloton lacks such a real leader, a true patron.
The riders of Ineos, the team that dominated the Tour in recent years, rarely really pulled that status to themselves. That one of the Jumbo-Visma riders claimed the role on Saturday isn’t very surprising, according to Mike Teunissen, who wore the yellow for two days last year on behalf of Jumbo, but hasn’t been selected for the Tour this year.
With Primoz Roglic and Tom Dumoulin, the Dutch team have two big chances for the final victory in Paris. “I think it’s a bit indicative of the status of the team that we can and may say this”, says Teunissen.
“So who’s the patron now?” continues the rider. “That’s debatable, but I think we are the challengers in this Tour with this team. I think this will contribute to that.”
Teunissen: “What really struck me was that there were a lot of positive reactions from the peloton. Everyone is happy that this responsibility has been taken. You see that everyone is hoping for it but no one really dares to do it. That’s why it’s good that Tony has spoken out.”
Among others Trek-rider Toms Skujins praised Martin’s action:
The circumstances on Saturday were extremely difficult, says analyst Danny Nelissen. “You couldn’t race at full speed, then it just stops. Braking alone was dangerous, then it’s better to just take it easy.”
Good to be more critical
The cycling world has been startled in recent weeks by several crashes with major consequences. Fabio Jakobsen was in a coma for two days after a terrible fall in the Tour of Poland, his recovery will take months.
And two weeks ago the Belgian Remco Evenepoel crashed over a small bridge, down into the ravine, in the Tour of Lombardy. The result was a broken pelvis and a bruised lung and for Evenepoel it was the end of the season.
The crashes led to criticism in the peloton and cycling union UCI stated last week that inspections at the road races are being tightened up.
“Given what’s happened lately, it’s good to be a little more critical about this,” Teunissen said about the dangerous conditions in which riders find themselves and what happened around Nice on Saturday.
Jumbo-Visma rider Robert Gesink was even seething after the race and declared that the UCI should have intervened. “This was also a chance for the UCI to win, so we as riders could say the UCI had done well
With inspections prior to the stage on Saturday, however, according to the guests at the table, the crashes could hardly have been prevented. “In such a course you can’t check the safety from the car, only the riders in the peloton feel how slippery it is”, said Nelissen.