MERIBEL, FRANCE (AFP) – Record performances in the Tour de France have raised eyebrows given the chequered history of cycling, and race leader Primoz Roglic was forced to defend himself declaring he had “nothing to hide” when asked about his credibility.
“I’d like it to be like before when we could attack and have fun for the fans, but the level is very high,” said Colombia’s fourth-placed rider Miguel Angel Lopez, an adept climber who has found the speeds set by the leading Jumbo pack tough to maintain.
On the Peyresourde and the Grand Colombier mountains second-placed Tadej Pogacar set records on the ascent, but that in itself is not necessarily suspicious.
“On the Peyresourde the wind was behind the riders,” explained Julien Pinot, the Groupama-FDJ team coach. “It’s very difficult to judge.”
The previous record set on the Colombier by Pinot’s brother Thibaut in 2012 was pulverised by Pogacar by three minutes.
“You could say it was a scandal, but the other record was set on another race (the Tour de l’Ain),” another coach, Samuel Bellenoue, told AFP.
“That ascent was also led by (Jumbo rider) Wout Van Aert, who set a high tempo with others in his tailwind,” he said.
The riders between first and sixth are separated by just 2min 13sec.
On the 2019 Tour, the differences were almost exactly the same. “I’m not convinced the riders are going faster than last year,” said Belgian cyclist Thomas De Gendt.
“Pogacar was also racing at the same level on the Vuelta last year, there’s a difference but not that great.”
Professional cyclists, like many other sports, were told to stay home as the coronavirus pandemic wiped months months off the racing calendar. Riders were afforded a lengthy rest with doping controls put on hold during this time.
“Preparation was better this year than in other ones,” Bellenoue said, adding that the type of training done was less risky and caused fewer accidents.
“Usually, the guys get here with around 30 days of racing in their legs while this time many of them have around 10,” said De Gendt.
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“As there have been so many races called off, all the top riders have come to the Tour de France, and the level is higher than previous years,” Colombian cyclist Nairo Quintana pointed out.
The Tour would usually face stiffer competition from the Giro and the Vuelta.
“Rather than the level of performances, it’s the level of the athletes themselves,” AG2R La Mondiale performance director Jean-Baptiste Quiclet explained.
This phenomenon is seen not only in the leaders of the teams, but also in the level of the back-up riders as teams have sent their best eight cyclists to the Tour de France.
“There were 50 riders on the first summit on Sunday, normally it would have been half of that figure,” Julien Pinot said.