Jonas Abahamsen sprays water on his face and neck during stage 1 of the 2024 Tour de France.

A rough day back at the office

One of the hardest opening stages in Tour de France history has already put many riders in the hurt locker.

Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X Mobility) fought to stay cool in the break.

Caley Fretz
by Caley Fretz 29.06.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Rimini, IT — The peloton dripped from Florence to Rimini, rolling through oppressive air. This is weather for naps, not attacks, and with a first stage of more than 200 km, with 3,800 m (12,460 feet) of climbing, most of the peloton seemed to agree. 

“A lot of guys were on hands and knees out there,” said Astana Qazaqstan director Mark Renshaw, who spent much of the day driving behind a grupetto containing most of his team’s riders, including a vomiting Mark Cavendish, plus an assortment of fellow fast-twitch friends. 

It’s a rough way to the start the Tour, but not an unexpected one. Nobody looked particularly happy rolling across the line, but it was still roughly what the sprinters were expecting. Cavendish probably wished he could have kept all his breakfast where it belonged, but Saturday was never going to be a sprint stage. The unexpected came at the front, not the back. 

“It was different (than what we expected) for sure,” said Visma-Lease a Bike’s Matteo Jorgenson. “We expected UAE to really take it on for Tadej [Pogačar], but the race was quite hard.

“It seemed like they lost a few guys early and realized they didn’t have enough to control the rest of the stage. That happens.”

Over the last few days, the talk of Florence was whether Pogačar would use these difficult early stages and his stacked team to put his foot through the race. He shouldn’t wait for Jonas Vingegaard to ride into form, the reasoning went, so he would have to go for it from day one. Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot had even gone so far as to predict the race would be over in the first week.

But while UAE showed brief signs of pushing on – the early signs of a plan being put into place – the team never fully spun things up. Key domestique Juan Ayuso appeared to be in some trouble and perhaps that scuppered plans. Maybe it was just hot – with temps passing 35°C / 95°F in the valleys.

Primož Roglič waves to the crowd as a team staffer fastens a white cooling vest on his torso.
It was that kind of day, as Primož Roglič (nice helmet, btw) and Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe teammates rolled to the start in cooling vests.

Renshaw thinks the heat caught riders off guard. It’s been a slow start to summer in much of Europe this year, with cold and wet days at key leadup races like the Criterium du Dauphiné in June. Most Tour de France riders were either there, at the slightly warmer Tour de Suisse, or at altitude, which is also generally quite chilly. Even when it’s hot, it’s dry.

“Nobody else seemed like they wanted to race,” mused EF Education-EasyPost’s Neilson Powless after the stage. His team did, spurred on by an opportunity for Alberto Bettiol, wearing his newly-earned tricolore of the Italian national champion, but the heat tamped down aspirations there too. “We started pulling quite hard early but in this heat you suffer for your efforts. You’re losing guys pretty quick so we had to stop and hope somebody else wanted to pull. Nobody wanted to. UAE was trying at one point but then eased off so we took it up again on the last climb but it was too little too late.” Bettiol finished 10th.

Losing guys early was a recurring theme. Jorgenson mentioned it too. Fifty kilometers into nearly 3,500 total, the first grupetto of the 2024 Tour had already formed. By the finish line, the peloton was down to less than 50 riders. Domestiques gone, aggressions slowed. A rough way to start the Tour. 

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