Tour de France title contenders are set to enter their first melee of this year’s race tonight, but the battle may not be fierce enough to oust leading Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.
Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was tired from repetitive post-stage media requirements following Stage 5 overnight, however the puncheur’s panache has not been lost on rivals.
“I think Alaphilippe will hold on tomorrow,” said Mitchelton-Scott sports director Julian Dean.
Until now the yellow jersey hopefuls, including Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates, have focused simply on staying safe in the bunch that is typically nervy across the opening stages. Yates’s brother, Simon, the reigning Vuelta a España champion tasked with aiding his identical twin in France, has dismissed post-stage interviews this week, which may be less curt and more purposeful.
“When you’re those guys, or any GC rider, you are just sort of getting through these first days, trying to limit your losses a little bit and save as much energy as you can,” said Dean.
“Talking about saving energy, it’s not just on the bike. It’s all the energy you put out through your language, your expressions and everything. Being [conservative] around all that stuff is also key at this point.”
In-demand Ineos duo Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal as well as Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) are among those who have earmarked tonight’s 160.5km sixth stage, which features the first mountaintop finish of this Tour.
“You can’t always look to the first mountain top finishes in the Tour, if you look back historically on outcomes,” said Dean.
“It will be a test of the waters but it’s not really going to be that way all the way through the Tour de France. It makes it an important stage but not the be all and end all.”
Dean said Adam Yates has been bolstered by the selection of his sibling, who was a surprise inclusion in the squad following the Briton’s Giro d’Italia campaign.
“Whether Simon is here or not we believe Adam can be on the podium, but certainly it supports his cause,” Dean said.
“It’s good having them at a race together, they seem to work really well together and have a good relationship, which is good for the team environment as well.”
Dean was measured in his assessment of tonight’s race profile to La Planche des Belles Filles, which includes seven climbs in total and three first category, and how Mitchelton-Scott may tackle it.
“If the opportunity allows at any time during the Tour de France you’ve got to try and take time. If the opportunity allows, we’ll certainly try and take it. Otherwise it’s monitoring key rivals and mitigating time loss,” he said.
Dean pointed to other Frenchmen in the Tour as favourites for a stage victory.
“I think the French guys are going to be very motivated – [Thibaut] Pinot and [Romain] Bardet,” he said. “I think it’s a good stage for both of them and they’re both quite dynamic riders. It’s the sort of stage that they can do really well on.”
Alaphilippe currently leads Tour debutant Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) by 14 seconds on the general classification. Van Aert’s teammate Steven Kruijswijk is the highest placed title contender on the overall, sitting third at 25 seconds.