First week of the Tour de France: from coffee rides to thermonuclear attacks

Although there is still a long way to go before the first rest day, we can already say that we have the first week of the 2023 Tour behind us and, above all, we have the perspective offered by overcoming the first mountain stages of the race, in this case the Pyrenees. Much has been said in the previous days and months about the top favorites and about the possible outcome of the race, and I can say with some certainty that expectations have been met: the two riders who a priori were going to fight for the first two positions have shown their rightful place and, furthermore, have offered a show that results in this first week of the Tour offering us much more than everything we got to experience in the last Giro d’Italia. Just by saying that the records of two cycling myths such as Tourmalet and Marie Blanque have been smashed, we all get the idea that we are witnessing a historic era in this sport.

The sprints have resulted in two victories for Philipsen (although 50% of the work was performed by Mathieu Van Der Poel) and apparently the few opportunities left for this type of rider should confirm his already clear dominance. The same rider shouldn’t have many problems to end up taking the green jersey if he manages to overcome the mountains, since with the new scoring systems it becomes very difficult for someone from the GC to end up winning it, no matter how much Pogi and Vingegaard are used to sprint after the flamme rouge. It is still too early to tell who is the favorite to take the mountain jersey, but logic suggests that, with such overwhelming dominance shown by the two favorites, said award should go to one of them.

The real excitement of the race has so far been concentrated in the fight for the stages and, above all, the GC. Between Yates and Lafay surprising the a priori favourites, the spectacle offered by Pogačar and Vingegaard in the mountain stages and Hindley’s stratospheric ride, we have no reason to complain about the outcome of the different stages. As for the GC, the Laruns stage deserves a special mention: a very hard first ride through Soudet (especially for the breakaway) followed by a completely stratospheric ascent to Marie Blanque that takes us back to the 90s to witness something similar in road cycling: more than 22 minutes at more than 7w/kg (with more than a dozen riders closely following these numbers). All this after considerable fatigue (+60 kJ*kg). It is worth noting the gap opened by Vingegaard in just 4 minutes, corresponding to almost 1w/kg extra over his greatest rival, something completely surprising given that the situation did not have much to do with previous occasions in which he had managed to do something similar with Tadej (cloudy and almost cool weather, less accumulated fatigue). I would also love to highlight here the courage of Vingegaard, a priori labeled in an incomprehensible way as a conservative rider when we already had preludes of what he has done here with his spectacular victories in Itzulia and Dauphiné.

Stage 1, already characterized by fireworks: 5:36 at 7.65 w/kg at Cote de Pike and still losing ground

Seeing what happened in the Marie Blanque stage, it was completely logical that Jumbo tried to destroy the Tour today with a solo attack by Jonas already in the Tourmalet. The plan went perfect except for one small detail: Tadej held on to the wheel. What followed next does not make much sense from a strategic point of view: Jonas, in second position, exposed to the air behind Van Aert’s wheel while Tadej saving energy in third position (the mere difference in watt savings between these two positions already far exceeds the watts Pogačar needed for his attack). Seeing the gap opened in the Tourmalet, Hindley and company should have been less worrisome and given that Pogacar had held up well in the Tourmalet, dropping him in a simpler climb after almost an hour on the wheel was unlikely. Therefore, for me the most logical option would have been to stop and wait to rebuild the team at that moment, which strangely was not done, with the result that we all already know in favor of Pogačar. This illogical end leaves us with a very open Tour ahead, in which it is impossible to predict what will happen in the coming days. Although I have my favourite, I know that barring incidents we will have tension at least until the Alps: The Puy de Dôme is a hard climb but with no options to attack before, the final 4 kilometers will hardly decide the Tour. By the way, the last two stages represent a huge slap in the face for those who defended that it was necessary to reduce the kilometers of time trials in the grand tours because said discipline resulted in greater differences than those that could be obtained in the mountains. As Tadej and Jonas have shown us, great legs can open anthological gaps and long rage attacks can happen. Such an ode to old school cycling.

Marie Blanque, key moment: 23min at 6.3 w/kg and still much time lost at the finish line

Finally, the last two days of pure spectacle have contrasted greatly with the embarrassment that we have already experienced on other occasions on a flat day. Yes, for some strange reason in road cycling you don’t compete every day, reserving some days for a coffee ride. It is very difficult for those of us who actively participate in this sport to explain, making it even more difficult for an amateur to understand. It is difficult to imagine a tennis match in which a set is dedicated to rallying without trying to win the event. For some strange reason, unknown to me until now, teams without GC aspirations or pure sprinters don’t try to sneak flat specialists into breakaways on flat stages in order to make it difficult for the sprinter teams. As a result we have authentic coffee rides, hardly televisable and rideable by an average cyclist in his training. Of course, nothing positive for the economic development of this sport. Luckily we are witnessing the golden age of road cycling with riders such as Vingegaard, Pogačar or Evenepoel who attack bravely and take advantage of all stages as much as possible. Fortunately, the times of total race control are apparently behind us.

Mythical coffe ride of the first week of the Tour: attention to the TSS and IF (the average watts were less than 170)


Sebastian Sitko

Professor of Sports Sciences at the University of Zaragoza, Doctor in Sports Sciences, Master’s degree in high performance sports by the French Olympic Committee, National Cycling, Triathlon and Athletics coach and official coach for the American College of Sports Medicine.