Le Tour Stage 19: Zip It

Stage 19 crossed picturesque vineyards & produced a beautiful stage win, albeit with an unfortunate victory salute

As the peloton gladly left the Pyrenees in their rearview mirrors on stage 19, the breakaway specialists awoke from their slumber and emerged from the woodwork to storm the race and force Mark Cavendish’s Deceuninck-QuickStep to throw in the towel on forcing a bunch sprint.

When the dust settled at the end of the stage, Matej Mohorič, the strong Slovenian who won stage 7 with a long solo attack, had doubled up with yet another fantastic solo victory that caught the chasing group looking at each other and used their indecision to his advantage. Unfortunately, the quality of this win will be lost to the sands of time due to his “zip it” victory salute, which was last used by Lance Armstrong to signal to whistleblowers that their days in the sport would be numbered if they dare speak out about his sporting misdeeds.

Back in the peloton the GC contenders essentially took the day off, rolling in twenty minutes later with their focus set on tomorrow’s 31-kilometer individual time trial that will produce the final chance for them to advance or concede positions in the overall standings.

Stage 19 Notebook:

199km: There is a crash right after the start that includes some riders from the race-leading UAE Team. While the riders are down, Michał Kwiatkowski and Toms Skujiņš are attacking to bridge up to the early break, but Tadej Pogacar comes up to shut it down and tell them to get in line. In my opinion, this is a little bit of an overreach from Pogacar since the early breakaway doesn’t really concern him or his team and a chance at a stage win would be big for either Skujiņš or Kwiatkowski. And as I mentioned yesterday, he hasn’t done a great job of building bridges and goodwill in the peloton.

184km: Just a few kilometers later, the early break, which is being led by human power-generator Matej Mohorič, has pulled their gap out to over four minutes. At this point, it looks like this will be the early doomed breakaway and that we are heading towards a routine sprint stage.

150km: Michael Matthews and his BikeExchange team are still fighting for Green jersey points and work to distance Cavendish at the intermediate sprint point. This is great to see, but in reality, the only way Matthews can win is for Cavendish to have a problem on the final day and be unable to contest the final sprint (which does happen).

130km: The routine sprint stage is turned on its head when a massive group of incredibly strong riders rip clear of the peloton and set out in search of the breakaway. And this is a serious move since DQS has Davide Ballerini up here, which means they won’t contribute to the chase behind.

Oddly, back in the peloton, Bahrain is working to pull this back, even though they have a rider, Mohoric, in the front group. I understand they think it decreases his chances of success if this group gets up there, but on the other hand, it will ensure he stays away, while his chances of success without this are almost nothing.

116km: The peloton is keeping this move fairly close, around 20-30 seconds, and oddly, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome are two of the riders doing a lot of work at the front. I guess ISN wants to pull this back since they don’t have a rider up there, but I have to imagine it isn’t in Ineos’ interest to keep this pace past, since they will want Carapaz to get as easy a ride as possible before tomorrow’s TT.

115km: A group of five, including Greg van Avermaet and three Movistar riders, sits up and falls back to the peloton once the gap gets down to 12-seconds. I guess they think they are saving energy since the gap is getting so small and the move is likely to be caught.

115km-100km: ISN brings their entire team to the front to keep the pace on, likely because they missed the move and feel they have to get something out of the race, but how do they see this playing out? They’d be better off sending two bridge attempts, since even if they pull this back, another move will go, and they will be too tired to respond. The chase group catches the breakaway up front. They only have a 47-second gap, but ISN can’t keep this up forever and if they haven’t made contact by now, it won’t happen, since the breakaway riders are all stronger than the ISN team and are more motivated since they are racing for the win and not to mitigate a disaster.

78km: ISN has to give up the chase and the gap almost instantly balloons out to over three minutes and the peloton settles in for an easy ride to the finish and takes some time to catch up with friends.

30km: Up front, the attacks start to come thick and fast. Nils Pollit, the big German who won stage 12 with a solo attack, attempts to make another solo move but is marked closely by Trek-Segafredo, who has three riders in this move. While the move is unsuccessful, it does split the move and a smaller, stronger select group leaves the others behind.

25km: While Pollit is being marked closely, the winner of stage 7, Matej Mohorič, is allowed to simply ride off the front of the select group. Behind, the two Trek riders are simply sitting at the back, despite it being painfully obvious that Mohorič, one of the strongest riders in the world, is making the race-winning move here.

20km: Despite having to ride 25kms solo, Mohorič has the advantage of being completely dedicated to this move while the group behind starts playing games since nobody wants to be the one to close it down for the others. And we can see the way Mohorič hops a median to take the fast line through the roundabout that he is getting great information and is totally locked into making this stick. The race is already over at this point.

16.7km: We can see in the group behind that everyone is literally looking around at each other while Mohorič powers away.

800m: Mohorič has pulled out his lead to over a minute and I’m shocked at how low his cadence is. He must be pushing one of the biggest gears I’ve ever seen in a road race. It’s almost like he’s been strength training for the last 25kms.

Finish: Mohorič crosses the line for his second amazing solo win. Unfortunately, he gives the worst possible victory salute, the Lance Armstrong “zip it” gesture (as in, don’t ever talk about my doping or I will destroy you) that will steal the show and make everyone forget about this great win.

Ten Takeaways:

1) This is the second time Mohorič has won a stage solo and the 10th time it’s happened on this tour.

  • It is interesting that the reduced bunch sprint has been almost completely eliminated.

  • Also, the winning moves are going earlier and earlier at this race. This makes sense, since these groups aren’t incredibly well organized and it is actually an advantage to be out front alone.

  • Unfortunately, nobody will remember Mohorič’s great race-winning move and will only remember his bizarre “zip it” gesture at the finish line. Maybe he just has sensitive ears and the cheering was too loud?

  • I’m assuming he did this as an “F you” to the French Police who raided his team's hotel and confiscated all their belongings two nights earlier.

  • While I would feel similarly aggrieved if the police raided my hotel room and took my phone and computer with little to no evidence, I still can’t imagine a worse salute and would have advised him to do something else.

  • Also, an important thing to remember is that pro athletes are generally from a much younger generation and don’t have the same cultural touch points as the fans, so it is likely Mohorič knows very little about Armstrong’s career or his underhanded intimidation techniques.

2) Slovenia had won 1/4 of all stages so far at this tour (5 out of 19), and this is with one of the best Slovenian riders of all time, Primoz Roglic, effectively crashing out on stage 3.

3) Mohorič’s win shows the value of committing to a move early and just putting your head down and going.

  • Also, Trek, for the second time in this race, has numbers in a winning move and comes away without a win.

  • I can’t believe they didn’t designate a rider in that move to peg back any move from Mohorič, but perhaps as I said earlier, the fear of pulling others to the line to win the stage is just too great, which yet again shows the power of being solo.

  • EF was another team in that move who had multiple riders yet come away with nothing, and unlike Trek, don’t have a stage win already to fall back on.

4) DSM gets their best result with Casper Petersen in 3rd place. Maybe they should have focused more on breaks and less on sprints from the beginning

  • It is possible that having a mid-pack sprinter is more detrimental to your team than having no sprinter at all. Look at ISN, they have a sprinter who will never win a bunch sprint again in Greipel but it also keeps them from being an attack-minded team.

  • If you don’t have the sprinter crutch to fall back on, you are forced to make things happen on these flat days.

  • Bahrain is Exhibit A of this. While they technically have a sprinter in Sonny Colbrelli, he hasn’t finished top 10 in a single sprint at this race and they have shifted their strategy to hunt stage wins via solo moves instead of chasing down breakaways for a doomed sprint.

5) Movistar yet again screws up a favorable racing situation and at this point, questions have to be asked about their managment tactics and strategy.

  • They had three riders in the initial move, but had them literally all sit up when they saw the peloton closing in. Just after they were reeled in, ISN stopped working and the elastic snapped.

  • I am guessing this was a decision from the car and that they got way too cute thinking they would save energy by dropping out of the doomed breakaway before trying something later in the race.

  • This is yet another example of tactical mismanagement at that team since if you want to stage wins at a race like the Tour where the level is so high, you have to commit to moves that have small chances of success over and over again unless you have one of the very best riders in the world.

  • This also shows they have not successfully adjusted from being the support team of Alejandro Valverde, the world champion, to a fully functional team that can ride for themselves now that Valverde has aged out of his superstar abilities.

6) ISN sitting on the front unsuccessfully trying to pull the breakaway back was the crowning achievement of their incredibly subpar Tour de France.

  • They took a massive risk by loading up on expensive, older riders in the offseason instead of hunting around for better, younger unknown riders, and this is coming back to haunt them now.

  • As I said in the race notes, even if they would have pegged that move back, what happens then? It goes to a sprint that Cavendish wins? Another breakaway goes up the road that they can’t make because they are tired from chasing all out for the last 40 minutes?

  • Unfortunately, the only real solution once you miss a move is to have not missed the move.

7) Geraint Thomas working to peg back the move was incredibly strange.

  • We saw early on that Kwiatkowski was given the green light to try to make the early breakaway, so perhaps they are just looking for stage wins here. But they don’t have any riders who could have won on a course like today’s and they are likely incredibly tired from working for Carapaz for the past two weeks.

  • I can’t imagine what Ineos had to gain by closing that move down, and in fact, it actually hurt Carapaz because he needed the easiest possible pace to rest up for the TT tomorrow to try to jump into 2nd from 3rd place.

  • This makes me think it wasn’t a team call but simply a personal favor for his old teammate and friend Cavendish. If this is true, this is somewhat crazy and shows there are some serious fissures and disorganization inside that team.

8) The peloton almost misses the time cut, which would have been hilarious because to keep them in the race, they would have had to surrender green and Kom points.

9) With Mohorič’s win, only 8 out of the 23 teams have won a stage at this race, which means 15 teams have essentially gotten nothing out of this race.

  • And with two specialized stages remaining, and TT and sprint stage, this number likely won’t budge.

  • One thing to keep in mind is that Sunday’s procession on the Champs-Élysées could be much harder and aggressive than usual with so many teams needing to get something out of this race.

10) The pressure is clearly getting to Cavendish. We saw him throwing a temper tantrum due to some minor headset issue at the start of the stage. With his team not backing him to produce a sprint today, this tension will only increase over the weekend.

Stage 20 Preview & Predictions

When Christian Prudhomme drew up this Tour route, I’m sure he envisioned it all coming down to the 31-kilometer Stage 20 time trial. However, in reality, the race for the GC is all but over at this point.

  • The ‘wine trial’ will take place through the Bordeaux wine region and I have to imagine many of the riders and journalists will shift their focus from the race to imbibing the local fare starting tonight.

  • If Tadej Pogacar finishes this stage without a catastrophic crash, he will win the overall GC. Even a flat tire, or five, wouldn’t take up enough time to threaten his 5’45 lead over Jonas Vingegaard.

  • But, the race for the stage victory will be really interesting. Stefan Kung, the TT specialist on Groupama-FDJ, has been sitting in the grupetto and riding as easy-as-possible for the last two weeks and will be out for revenge tomorrow.

  • This is a faster course than the stage 5 TT won by Tadej Pogacar, so it will be interesting to see if Pogacar can compete with a power rider like Kung on a course that favors bigger riders.

  • Jonas Vingegaard put in a blazing time in the stage 5 TT to finish 3rd. This shocked me due to his light, climber’s physique, so I’ll be interested if he can replicate this.

  • If he can, it will be impossible for Carapaz in 3rd place to overtake him since he lost 1’17 to Vingegaard in the stage 5 TT.

  • Even if Vingegaard and Carapaz have horrible days, it is unlikely they will fall off the podium due to the 3+ minute gap between 3rd and O’Connor in 4th place.

  • So for that GC, the big battle to watch will be Wilco Kelderman attempting to close the 32-second gap to O’Connor to take 4th place. I know, very thrilling stuff.

  • Prediction: Tadej Pogacar, who has displayed an insatiable appetite for wins at this Tour, rips through the beautiful vineyards to win the stage and seal his second-consecutive Tour win. Vinegaard holds off Carapaz for 2nd place while Ben O’Connor holds off Kelderman to take a career-defining 4th place overall.