Last year, Greg Van Avermaet took his first-ever Tour de France stage victory when he outsprinted Peter Sagan on a baking-hot day in Rodez. A year later, and not all that far from Rodez, Van Avermaet took his second Tour de France stage win - but this time, he also helped himself into the Maillot Jaune after an amazing day in the break. It was a special day for Greg, but also a special one for Strava - it‘s the first time a Strava athlete has taken the yellow jersey at the Tour and uploaded the winning ride.
Two days later, Greg was still beaming. BMC were in the yellow helmets of the best team, Greg was in the yellow jersey as race leader - and he wasn‘t finished yet. He again went in the break, and instead of losing the jersey (as was predicted), he gained time! It was a spectacular few days of riding for the Belgian classics specialist, but unfortunately, the mountains would finally exact their toll on him on the second big day in the Pyrenees.
With all of the climbing over a difficult long weekend in the Pyrenees, there were plenty of drawn faces and tired legs. There were no smiles or chit chat on the climbs - it was all business. As the riders crossed over the top of the never-ending series of climbs that punctuated those three days, smiles would creep in. Sure, they were at work, but there‘s one thing all cyclists can agree on - going downhill after a long, hard climb is one of the more enjoyable things on offer.
Thomas De Gendt‘s countryman, Greg Van Avermaet, got most of the attention last week, but the breakaway specialist had his time in the sun as well. De Gendt spent a great few days in the climber‘s jersey - only losing it on Sunday to another Strava athlete, Thibaut Pinot.
The mild temperatures of the opening week of racing gave way to full-on summer heat in the Pyrenees. The temperatures peaked at some point during Sunday‘s stage to Arcalis, and then promptly fell off a cliff when the final climb was hit by a colossal thunderstorm. Temperatures dropped from nearly 40C all the way down to 13C!
The rain and hail that buffeted leaders and gruppetto alike made for thrilling theater, but the mild grade of Arcalis left some of the major contenders longing for something - dare it be said - harder. Riders like Dan Martin will get all the hard they can handle come Thursday on Mont Ventoux.
The winding stretch of pavement up to the ski station at Arcalis in Andorra.
Thibaut Pinot‘s overall chances were dashed as soon as the race hit the Pyrenees. For someone who built their whole year around the Tour, this would seem to be a major hit. And it was, but it didn‘t take long for Thibaut to rebound and set some new goals: the very next day after seeing his GC dreams evaporate, Pinot went on the attack, and his mission was clear: the polka dot jersey. He got it on Sunday following another big day out scooping up as many points as possible.
Normally, when rain and hail hit a bike race, riders put their heads down, grimace, and grind out the remaining distance to the line as quickly as possible. It‘s not a smiling time. Every once in a while in these terrible weather situations though, a rider looks up, smiles mischievously - and good things happen. IAM‘s Jarlinson Pantano managed to acquire an umbrella in the final 4k of the race - and rode it all the way to the finish - wearing his own smile, and drawing out smiles from hundreds of soaking wet, freezing fans on the roadside. So good!
Mark Cavendish isn‘t known for his gentle racing demeanor, but following his third stage win of the Tour, he reached out a hand to the 24-year-old, up and coming British sprinter, Dan McLay - it won‘t be long for McLay. It won‘t be long at all.
The fight for images and video of the winner‘s face following a victory at the Tour is a sight to behold all on its own. It‘s a forceful, sometimes violent affair with the poor rider stuck somewhere in the middle, while teammates and team try to get in to share in the jubilant moment. It‘s cycling‘s version of a mosh pit, and it‘s a terrible thing.
Far away from the carnage of the post-finish line mayhem, the winning team goes back to their hotel, and often, a little champagne is enjoyed. In the case of Dimension Data, a fair bit of bubbly was consumed in the first week. After four wins in seven stages, the team ran out of champagne. After the first two wins, Cavendish got creative and gave sabering a try with some expert help from team chef, Lindsay Venn. When Steve Cummings won a day later - he couldn‘t go back to the traditional opening. The bar had been raised, and a giant kitchen knife was once again found and put to good use.
On the Cannondale-Drapac team bus, one thing is for sure each morning: Alex Howes will brush his teeth ahead of the race start.
The feed zone is an important part of each stage - its also a very dangerous one - as is clearly evident in the image of Dimension Data soigneur, Aldis Cirulis, being passed behind his back by recent Giro d‘Italia winner, Vincenzo Nibali.
Steve Cummings sprints over the final few meters of the Col d‘Aspin en route to his stunning solo victory at Lac de Payolle. The Brit has won four times in 2016 - each time out of a break (Tirreno-Adriatico, Pais Vasco, Dauphine, Tour de France) - each time solo. He‘s a sharpshooter. If he gets in a break, everyone is on notice: Cummings doesn‘t go up the road unless there‘s a very good reason for him to do so.
After a relatively benign first day in the Pyrenees, riders were hit over the head with everything the Pyrenees had to offer on Saturday. Climb after climb - four in all. The day started with the mammoth ascent of the Tour‘s beloved Tourmalet, just over an hour and 50 kilometers after the race started.
Riders descend down the Puy Mary.
Chris Froome is known for two things mainly - climbing and time trialling. Before Saturday, everyone would have laughed if descending were included in that list, but following a brilliant late race attack down the descent of the Peyresourde, the two-time Tour winner added a new skill to his two already extremely formidable strengths.
While Chris Froome was storming down the descent to an improbable victory and his first yellow jersey of the 2016 Tour, Pierre Rolland was crashing. The French climber had a slow leak over the top of the day‘s final climb that turned disastrous on the descent. He crashed hard, but got back up, finished the day, then the next, and the next. He took a beating, but as he said afterwards: “I‘ve got my two arms and legs. That‘s the key, so I can continue my Tour.”
The crushing three days in the Pyrenees necessitated some serious work from the teams‘ staff after each stage, as they sought to get their riders as close to new as possible after each difficult day on the bike.
Racers don‘t generally get their own rooms - they get a roommate. For the Tour‘s two Eritreans, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Natnael Berhane - they‘re a natural, easy-going pairing and always room together. After a hard day on the bike, they get back to their room, lie down (Natu had the unfortunate honor of a pull-out bed on this evening), and do what most of us do - spend a little time on their computer/phone.