• One of the starts of this year's Tour de France Fernando Gaviria is out, another sprinter casualty after a tough week and three days in the Alps (Getty) (Velo)Source: Velo
The Tour de France has suffered a blow potentially by its own hand following the opening foray into the mountains that eliminated virtually the entire field of pure sprinters.
Sophie Smith

20 Jul 2018 - 7:13 AM 

The winning fast-men of this 105th edition peeled off one-by-one en route to Alpe d’Huez yesterday. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) was the first to abandon on the third and final day in the Alps. The flood gates then opened with Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) calling time soon after.

“The past three days weren’t easy and too hard for me. I could only hope the peloton would ride-up the first climb rather slowly, but that wasn’t the case. I’m not sad; I’m a realist and a fair sportsman,” Greipel said in a statement.

The hemorrhage came a day after Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) missed the time cut on the short but mighty 108.5km tenth stage to La Rosiere.

Kittel had barely crossed the line when he spun around and down the mountain, pained and silent. Cavendish, who was more than one hour in arrears of stage winner and current race leader Geraint Thomas (Sky), also refused media, clashing into a journalist before taking a long turn and disappearing the way he came.

Speaking immediately past the finish line, Renshaw, who was one of three teammates initially sent to assist Cavendish, wasn’t surprised or emotional about the outcome.

“That’s what the Tour de France wanted - a stage like that - they knew it was coming,” the Australian said. “[It’s] too hard for the sprinters and too hard for me that’s for sure. [On a] short stage like that it’s every man for himself.”

Watch: Sophie Smith interviews Mark Renshaw post stage 11

The comment carried less weight then. Neither Kittel or Cavendish appeared to be in their usual Tour condition from the outset. Kittel has struggled to find a rhythm at Katusha-Alpecin, and tension boiled over here. Cavendish in his lead-up had moments of apparent absent-mindedness and in a career first made mental concessions to rivals once the race commenced.

However, Renshaw’s observations quickly gained gravity yesterday.

Race debutant Gaviria and Groenewegen collectively had won four stages between them, while Greipel was consistent in representing the established guard. Their respective exits could not be so simply attributed to form. Greipel’s chief lieutenant Marcel Sieberg and Kittel’s aid Rick Zabel also called it quits.

The surplus of cobbles that preceded the entrance into the Alps and the addition of short mountain stages, like La Rosiere, was designed to encourage more exciting and less controlled racing. Tour organiser ASO delivered on that but the question now is if the apparent cost was worth it.

Asked about the scenario yesterday, world champion and current green jersey Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) was diplomatic.

Watch: Sophie Smith interviews Peter Sagan post stage 12 about sprinters abandoning

“It was a really tough day today. I mean, three days in a row it was pretty tough and I’m sorry for the guys for sure,” Sagan told Cycling Central on Alpe d’Huez.

Pushed on whether the combination that has presented in the last 12 days was too much, the Slovak deferred to organisers.

“I’m not the jury, you know, I cannot decide. You’re just racing in the race. I just tried to survive today. It was also tough for me and I think also for the winner of the stage it was a tough day.”

Sagan is among a handful of versatile sprinters remaining at the Tour including Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ/GFC), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), who won in Roubaix, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).

ASO has been contacted for comment.