THE Tour de France 2023 reached its official midpoint on Thursday July 13, as stage 12 (of 23) ended in the wine town of Belleville-en-Beaujolais. Ion Izagirre (Yon Iz-a-geerie) of the Cofidis team won, while Denmark Jonas Vingegaard of the Jumbo-Visma team has maintained its lead in the race for the yellow jersey.
This year’s tour has already produced plenty of drama and intriguing moments. But hey, I understand if you couldn’t follow, the stages happen early in the morning, they are aired on the Peacock streaming platform, and the Tour lasts three weeks. For those hoping to catch up, here’s a helpful overview of the main storylines you may have missed.
The Costly Crash of Mark Cavendish
British cyclist Marc Cavendish is 38, a geriatric age for a sprinter – these are the runners who navigate high-speed chaos and crashes in the final moments of a flat race. Throughout his career, Cavendish has won 34 total Tour stages, which ties him to Belgian legend Eddy Merckx for the most ever. Cavendish announced his intention to retire after the 2023 Tour. So whether or not he could break history was a major pre-race story.
Cavendish was close – he finished second in a sprint on Stage 7. Then disaster struck on Stage 8. With 36 miles to go, Cavendish and a handful of other riders crashed, and footage from the suite’s camera showed him grimacing and clutching his shoulder. It was diagnosed with a broken collarbone and had to abandon the race. Now all anyone can talk about is whether or not Cavendish will delay his retirement party until 2024 (myself included). Come on Mark, you can retire at 39 instead!
— NBC Sports Cycling (@NBCSCycling) July 8, 2023
Close calls for Americans
American cycling has yet to see a stage winner on this Tour. But two runners were close: Idahoan Matteo Jorgenson of the Spanish Team Movistar and Californian team Neilson Powless from the American team EF Education-EasyPos. Both raced aggressively in the Tour, attacking again and again in breakaway groups. Jorgenson has two near misses – on Thursday he finished third on stage 13 and on July 9 he finished fourth at the Puy de Dôme summit finish. The second result was a real nail-biter – Jorgenson dropped his breakaway mates near the finish, then started a long, steep climb towards the line. Victory seemed within reach, until Canadian rider Mike Woods broke away from a group of pursuers and began to climb the climb. Woods caught Jorgenson less than half a mile to go and passed him for the win. Many Americans – myself included – were hoarse yell at Jorgenson to hold his distance.
— NBC Sports Cycling (@NBCSCycling) July 9, 2023
Powless was also part of the breakaway on this stage, but his motivation was to chase points in the King of the Mountains classification – the polka dot race. He currently leads this competition ahead of Tobias Halland Johannessen of Norway. No American has ever won the KOM prize on the Tour. Go to the United States!
Weird Race Radio
Throughout this year’s Tour, NBC Sports broadcast audio clips from the Tour. The team leaders in the cars behind the peloton use two-way radios to communicate with the riders – they inform them of dangers or geographical features ahead, and bark orders to go faster, slow down, stop, etc. . In Stage 11, the show aired a very unorthodox audio clip from the UAE Emirates team bosses to the riders. “OK guys, now we’re planning C. Everybody jump the tiger!” barked the boss into the radio. “When the crocodile starts swimming, you jump!”
📻 A plan C developed for UAE Team Emirates 🐊🐯
— Highway Code (@RoadCode) July 12, 2023
Each sport has its quirky codes and clandestine language. MLB managers and players communicate through elaborate hand signals. NFL fans can recite some of the best audible quarterback calls of all time (Blue 42! Omaha! Mamba Georgia Hut Hut Hike!).
I have covered professional cycling since 2004 and have never known the sport to support verbal codes and secret communication. After all, they talk to each other on the radios. The whole situation makes me wonder if the Tour de France teams also employ decoding agents who intercept radio transmissions, translate them, and then attempt to take strategic advantage of the messages. I hope that is the case.
A heartbreaking tribute
basque rider Pelo Bilbao of the Bahrain Victorious team won stage 10 by passing in front of his breakaway companions in the town of Issoire. Crossing the line, Bilbao, 33, pointed to the sky and then to his heart. The gesture paid tribute to former Bilbao team-mate and friend, Switzerland’s Gino Mäder, died on June 16 after crashing in the Tour de Suisse. “When I crossed the line, I released all the energy I had inside and remembered the reason for this victory,” Bilbao said afterwards.
Mäder’s death sent shockwaves through the peloton – at just 26, he was an emerging star who had the physical gifts to one day fight for the Tour. Several runners honored Mäder with victory salutes and tributes in the weeks following his death. And ahead of the race, Bilbao said it would donate 1 euro for every runner it finished ahead in each stage to the Basoak SOS association – a group that plants trees on deforested land – in honor of Mäder. . Still, Bilbao’s tribute touched my heart. When Mäder adopted a dog from the streets of Bilbao, Spain, he named it “Pello” after his teammate.
🗣️ “I was just focused on being in the right breakaway. I saw that the @JumboVismaRoad had let a group go, it was my chance!
This victory is for Gino.” – 🇪🇸 @PelloBilbao1990 #TDF2023 pic.twitter.com/yDqyM7Ei2y
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) July 11, 2023
Wout on baby?
In the hours leading up to stage 11, reports surfaced on cycling websites that Belgian star Wout van Aert – an important lieutenant to race leader Jonas Vingaard –would drop out of the race that day due to the imminent arrival of her second child. It sounded like Patriots great Rob Gronkowski quitting the Super Bowl at halftime to become a dad — an unlikely situation, but one most fans could also relate to. Even broadcasters hinted at van Aert’s impending quit, a sign that the rumor was being taken seriously. Van Aert attacked in a breakaway that day and appeared to ride aggressively. Was it a sign that he was going to say goodbye to the Tour?
— NBC Sports Cycling (@NBCSCycling) July 5, 2023
After the stage, van Aert told reporters on the Jumbo Visma team bus that the story was wrong. His wife, while still heavily pregnant, was not due to give birth, so his tour would continue. Where did the rumor come from? It turns out Danish rider Mattias Skjelmose of rival team Lidl-Trek had told a Danish TV reporter earlier today. Skjelmose apologized to van Aert to trigger the scenario. The whole ordeal, however, put cycling fans on paternity watch for van Aert.
Jasper the disaster is no more
Belgian sprinter Jasper Philipsen was at the center of the recent Netflix docuseries Tour de France: Unleashed For all the wrong reasons. The series emphasized Philipsen’s penchant for crashing, disobeying orders, and generally messing things up. It’s no wonder his teammates gave him the unfortunate nickname “Jasper the Disaster”. Well, Philipsen helped tone down that moniker last year when he won two stages, the last of which was in downtown Paris.
In 2023, Philipsen has won so much that he has been given a new nickname: “Japer the Master”. He has already secured four stage victories and he holds a solid advantage in the competition for the green jersey of the Tour, which rewards the best sprinter. I spent a few hours this morning trying to come up with a better nickname than Jasper the Master. Jasper the blaster? Jasper going faster? Jasper Jasper, fast podcaster? Jasper rips like a Stratocaster?
Looks like I’m going to have to create a good nickname for Jasper during the second half of the Tour.