In this past week we have seen four stages end in a bunch sprint, and in each stage there has been the traditional format of a group breaking away early then being slowly reeled in. It’s predictable and, let’s be honest, quite boring. But there is something beautiful in the way a peloton rides through the day, regulating its pace. For the peloton to operate efficiently all its riders must show cooperation and respect. They share food, they share the wind. And everyone is restrained, mindful both of conserving their own energy and not becoming unpopular by ripping the legs off others.
Temperance also applies to the favourites. Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and their rivals know that the Tour will be decided on Mont Ventoux, in the following day’s time-trial, and in the final few days in the Alps. For every other day the objective to get through without losing time, and without wasting energy.
We all love to see fierce, guns blazing racing, but the Tour de France is more about conserving energy than expending it. It’s a long way to Paris, the cliché goes, the implication being that it’s always prudent to save some energy. In recent years we have seen talented young riders like Tom Dumoulin at the 2015 Vuelta and Stephen Kruijswijk at the 2016 Giro get themselves into a race-winning position, only to crack in the final days. Those who successfully pressurised them were patient, waited for the opportunity and then pounced. It makes for dramatic, if heartbreaking viewing. Could we see the same thing happen again, at the biggest Grand Tour of them all?
Photo by Marshall Kappel