- The sprinters are facing a special challenge at the Tour de France. Because the course is completely tailored to the climbers.
- Even of the seven sections classified as flat, some are quite hilly or have a rising home straight.
- As a means against the monotonous sequence of many flat stages, the modified route planning acts.
- It also has consequences for the formation of the teams. There are hardly any muscle packages like André Greipel or Dylan Groenewegen at the start.
At the beginning of the week, Marcel Kittel paid a short visit to the Tour de France. Almost in a holiday mood, he seemed there, as he strolled around in the target area, white shirt, sunglasses, the blond hair perfectly. A greeting to old companions here, an expert commentary for the TV because – Kittel gave the impression to be in the clean. The 31-year-old is the most successful German tour sprinter of the past years, he won 14 stages, but this time he is not there. His contract with the team Katyusha has been resolved after a difficult phase; how it goes on with him is still unclear. Of course, he is following closely what his peers are doing.
The scene of the fast men faces a special challenge on this tour. For a while the sprinters – especially the very classic ones, who are difficult to get over the mountains, but play their mighty powers in the final meters of the stage – feel like the stepchildren of the tour. The course is tailored to the climbers, "the hardest tour in 15 years," judged track chief Thierry Gouvenou. Already in the previous year, some stages were so difficult that a striking number of sprinters came to the finish with too much backlog and were eliminated, including Kittel. Now more heavy mountain arrivals are added, many hilly stages, but only in a manageable number of days for classic sprinters.
Only two real mass arrivals have so far, in Brussels to a three quarters real. And for the remainder of the tour, the fastest men like Italian Elia Viviani (win in Nancy), Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (win in Chalon) or Australian Caleb Ewan (no win yet) will have three options: this Wednesday in Toulouse, next week in Nîmes and of course in Paris on the Champs-Élysées.
Also in the second edition of the new Germany tour (August 29 to September 1) is to be expected with a prominent cast. As organizer Aso announced on the first day of rest of the Tour de France, 15 of 18 top flight teams will participate in the four-day stage race – all except Movistar, Groupama-FDJ and Mitchelton-Scott. The German team Bora-hansgrohe plans to race with its local top riders Pascal Ackermann, Emanuel Buchmann and Max Schachmann. "The Germany tour is one of the highlights for us," said team boss Ralph Denk. 2018 were next to German top professionals also last year's Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas (UK), the Dutchman Tom Dumoulin and the Frenchman Romain Bardet at the start. The overall winner was Slovenian Matej Mohoric. The start of the 703-kilometer tour is this time Hanover, the final stage ends in Erfurt. SID
There used to be ten or eleven sprint options – today seven are the standard
Is not this approach a bit mean to the sprinters? "It's true," says Erik Zabel, two decades ago, even one of the best representatives of this field and today so-called performance manager of the Katjuscha team: "And probably that's why some sprinters are not there."
Zabel won the Green Jersey of the Best Sprinter six times between 1996 and 2001, and despite a subsequent doping confession for that period, he has not been deprived of the trophies. When Zabel coined the tour, it was common practice that the entire first week was dedicated to the sprinters. And over the entire three-week tour of France it could happen that ten or eleven sections were flagged out as flat stages and thus as a sprint option. Meanwhile, seven are the standard.
"The way the organizers build the track has certainly changed," says Zabel. For a few years, those responsible have come up with some ideas to stage more action and variety. And as a remedy for the monotonous process of many flat stages – early breakaway group, hinterterradelnendes peloton, collected outliers just before the finish – the innovations work, as the current tour shows.
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