Renowned sprinters beat climbers on mountain finishes in the Massif Central. Tadej Pogačar drops skated Flemish veterans on the cobblestones of northern France. Fast men barely look like a bunch sprint in the 2022 Tour de France.
It was the Ordinary Man’s Tour, a kind of Wout van Aert race, although I don’t think you can design a route that doesn’t suit him.
The green jersey was the most attacking runner in the race, the best home and, like his jersey would suggest, most important in sprints, too.
He won last year on Mont Ventoux and on the Champs-Élysées and will probably win the penultimate time trial stage of the race again. He is in a class of his own. (Aside from GOAT Marianne Vos, who’s been doing this stuff since before it was cool.)
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The Belgian is an exception that confirms a rule. Previously, runner types were set and one-dimensional. Like calves branded with a hot iron shortly after birth: you are a roller, adventurer, climber, puncher. You don’t like it? Hard, stay in your lane and handle it.
Now versatility is on the rise. Tadej Pogačar is the best in the high mountains and in the time trial, but he is also capable of fighting in Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders. Downhill dynamo Tom Pidcock finished fourth on a hard-hitting climb at Longwy and won at Alpe d’Huez, not to mention his classic, mountain biking and cyclocross prowess.
Simon Yates won a Giro d’Italia time trial. Puncher Simon Clarke was in the lead after eleven cobblestone sectors. Valentin Madouas quietly does everything very well, from cobblestones to collarson the sidelines of the top 10. Nairo Quintana, a fan of the cobblestones, is aiming for Paris-Roubaix next year.
OK, just kidding, but you get the idea: more and more runners are casually diving into different circles of the runner-like Venn diagram, like artists mixing colors in paint buckets, and they’re thriving.
We are in puncher-sprinter-roller territory (Christophe Laporte) or climber–roller–adventurer land (Bauke Mollema) now.
This is not a Tour de France phenomenon; it’s sport in 2022 in a microcosm.
But the course of this year’s edition accentuated this turn. The journey is designed to deliver something remarkable for almost any day: potential crosswinds, a climb in the final, a finish on a four-kilometre climb, cobblestones. This year’s winner must be a real cyclist – climb all mountains and cross all bridges, whether Danish or metaphorical.
Of course, it always depends on how a route is run. And the strongest teams here are full of riders who do a lot to support GC prospects or win a stage on the road.
Being more complete means having more chances of winning a stage, of carrying out a great plan with your team (see Jumbo-Visma in Calais) or simply of surviving on rolling stages, with residual mental and physical fatigue a little less important during the race.
A more versatile group also increases the pace and level. When people like Caleb Ewan (not a wrong climber, per se) and Fabio Jakobsen go through day-long agonies with half their team just to make the time limit in the mountains, it underlines the central importance of climbing ability in modern racing.
You have to be in the peloton to win, and there’s a ripple effect for fast men. They and their comrades are weakened when a flat stage rolls over or forced to chase madly to catch up, like Dylan Groenewegen on stage 15 to Carcassonne.
And all these efforts for what too?
This year, until stage 15, we had a Tour de France where there were no grouped sprints in France. The result is that sprinters reinvent themselves and become opportunists to win.
“I knew this year we would have Dylan for the flat sprints. I had to adapt and work a little better to climb,” said Michael Matthews. The Team.
Lo and behold, on the road to Mende, he put more fanciful climbers like Thibaut Pinot, Louis Meintjes and Bauke Mollema to the sword with resolute swashbuckling races.
No more imperfect and romantic climbers
And as for the pure climber, he is long dead. There is no more Virenque or Mayo, flat scene strollers which would reliably lose as much time in a sharp crosswind as they would gain above 1,500 meters. These days, any young lightweight who shows promise in the mountains is tasked with improving their time trial skills, pronto.
Because turf attacks on romantic one-day breakaways: run conversationally, improve against the clock and that’s the difference between seventh place and the podium. The specialist is not quite dead, but his chances are increasingly limited.
What is the outcome of this Everyone’s Tour?
Exhausting and breathless race. Most stages are completed as one-day classics. There are no more lazy transition days; with opportunities seen everywhere, the peloton is on its knees (apart from Wout van Aert, who seems to be enjoying himself) with the Pyrenees yet to come. There may be more dropouts than usual, given the heat and COVID-19 as well.
But it was entertaining and enterprising. There will be more riders who embrace the age of all-rounder and adapt to expand their chances of glory in the future.