Here’s something you probably didn’t know: the construction business accounts for an estimated 23 percent of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions—5.7 billion tons, according to the most recent estimates. Much of this comes from the use of concrete and steel, the two biggest contributors to emissions in the building sector. As the BBC has reported, if the concrete industry were a country, it would be the third-largest emissions producer, behind China and the United States. And there’s no end in sight: the United Nations Environment Program predicts that humans will put up the equivalent of a new Paris every week for the next 40 years. In the U.S., an architectural publication predicted that some 1.9 billion square feet of new structures will be built in the next three decades.
If only there was a sturdy and renewable building material—one that could actually help curb climate change while giving us more calming and aesthetically pleasing spaces in which to live, work, and play.
Such a miracle substance exists, of course. It’s wood. As you are no doubt aware, trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the atmosphere during photosynthesis. The carbon is sequestered in the tree while it’s standing and remains locked inside wood products after it’s harvested for lumber. (Large amounts of CO2 are released only when wood decays or is burned.) America’s oldest standing wooden home, the Fairbanks House, built in Dedham, Massachusetts, in 1637, is still holding onto 400-year-old carbon today. That’s a major reason why environmentalists fight so hard to preserve existing forests and plant new ones—studies suggest that it’s the most useful thing we can do to mitigate climate change.
Cutting down a tree for lumber, of course, ends its carbon-inhaling days. And even within well-managed woodlands, reforestation takes a significant amount of time, especially when you’re waiting on the large specimens that are traditionally used in construction. Still, over the long term, forests managed for timber sequester carbon nearly as well as wilderness woodlands do. And in the U.S., we’re currently adding more trees to our working forests than we’re cutting down—there’s as much forest today as there was in 1910, according to the Forest Service. We can add a lot more if we develop construction methods that make use of smaller trees, which can be propagated in a few decades, rather than giant ones that can take centuries to grow.
Enter mass timber, a term for a category of innovative products made from smaller pieces of wood—such as two-by-fours and two-by-sixes—that are either glued together or cross-laminated to create beams, structural walls, ceilings, and floors. These pieces can be prefabricated to make building highly efficient. And with the latest milling machinery coming to market, even small-diameter trees like black spruce can be used.
The Nature Conservancy is so bullish on mass timber’s potential to drive reforestation that it commissioned an exhaustive study, involving 16 institutions across Europe and in North and South America, investigating how new practices might move the planet toward the organization’s goal of expanding forests by 500 million acres by 2030. “That would mean 200 billion more trees,” says Mark Wishnie, the Nature Conservancy’s director of global forestry and wood products. “Mass timber isn’t a silver bullet for growing more forest, but we’re hoping that it’s part of the silver buckshot.”
Mass-produced cross-laminated timber (CLT, in industry parlance) was first conceived in central Europe. Austrian foresters, looking to make better use of smaller trees for traditional building techniques that favored large exposed beams—think Bavarian chalets—created the first mass-timber presses more than 30 years ago. Scandinavia followed suit, but the U.S. was slow to embrace the idea. That finally started to change in 2013, after the Forest Service initiated studies of CLT technologies. Around the same time, a few forward-thinking Americans and Canadians began incorporating Austrian-made CLT into one-off buildings. Even so, as recently as 2016, organizers of the Forest Business Network’s annual mass-timber conference could point to only a handful of domestic projects.
Since then, mass timber has taken off. This spring, Woodworks, an advocacy group for wood construction, counted 549 active CLT projects, and analysts expect that to rise into the thousands in short order. Interest in mass timber has been boosted by high-profile buildings like Carbon12 (a mixed-use luxury showpiece in Portland, Oregon, that at eight stories is the tallest CLT building in the country), Minneapolis’s seven-story T3 building, and a hip new hotel in downtown Bozeman, Montana, called the Lark. Sidewalk Labs, owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has proposed creating 3.2 million square feet of new mass-timber buildings in Toronto, some up to 30 stories high, as well as a CLT factory in Ontario. Then there’s Walmart, which in May announced that it will build its new corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, using mass-timber materials.
The Department of Defense is also keen on wood. In collaboration with the Forest Service and Woodworks, the Pentagon conducted blast simulations on an assortment of mass-timber buildings; it’s now planning to erect wood-construction hotels on military bases considered to be at high risk for a terrorist attack. Other research suggests that CLT is resistant to earthquakes and—get this—fire. The outer layers tend to char, insulating the wood from the flames, and the lack of oxygen in the highly compressed material offers minimal fuel to burn.
“We’ll never look back,” says Ben Kaiser, the architect and developer behind Carbon12. “We’ll only build using mass-timber products going forward. We’ve seen firsthand that this methodology is approaching a panacea.”
Many experts believe that the real growth opportunity in North America involves buildings between four and twelve stories (which mainly means office parks and apartment buildings). Rosy guesstimates from some analysts have mass timber amounting to as much as 10 percent of U.S. construction within the next 30 years. Part of this will happen because CLT projects can be completed much more quickly, but a major underlying factor is that building habits haven’t changed much since we began shifting away from wood following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. As venture capitalists like to say, the space is ripe for disruption.
It also helps that architects are excited to return to a beautiful material. “The aesthetics of wood can’t be oversold,” says Craig Curtis, chief architect with Katerra, a Silicon Valley startup that opened a 250,000-square-foot mass-timber manufacturing facility in Spokane Valley, Washington, this summer. Studies have shown that the human sympathetic nervous system, which controls our fight-or-flight response, is less active when we’re around wood, that students are less stressed in classrooms made with lots of wood, and that office workers are happier and more productive in wooden buildings. Like houseplants and windows with park views, wood elicits a calming connection to the natural world.
So what’s holding back the revolution? Predictably, the concrete folks aren’t happy about mass timber. In Washington, D.C., lobbyists are trying to hamstring Forest Service research, claiming that the government is unfairly picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Industry groups have put up billboards disparaging wood construction and making unfounded claims about fire risk.
Simple inertia also makes change difficult: for a century, architects and engineers were trained to build with concrete and steel, and most are still taught that today. Producing mass timber requires expensive machinery, which is slowing the development of domestic CLT mills. The U.S. has just a handful in operation at present and is adding only a few more every year. It will be decades before we have enough manufacturers across the country to keep the material and shipping costs down and the supply up.
Some environmentalists are justifiably wary of the logging and timber industries, having seen supposedly green efforts like salvage logging sometimes used as a smoke screen for what amounted to deregulation. Last year in Oregon, backers of a 12-story mass-timber building faced strong pushback for sourcing wood that wasn’t Forest Stewardship Council certified. So far most of the materials going into mass-timber products in the U.S. come from conventional lumber sources. To get more environmentalists on board, the industry needs to catch up to Europe and incorporate lower-quality wood from smaller trees into CLT layers. This is especially important in the wildfire-prone West, where the wood cleared in thinning operations is often burned on-site. If instead you can find a market for it, small trees can “pay their way out of the woods,” says Michael Goergen, vice president of innovation for the nonprofit Endowment for Forestry and Communities.
Government support is also essential. Oregon has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote CLT in an effort to boost its logging industry, but we need the federal government to incentivize mass-timber construction by favoring it in contracts and offering tax breaks to developers that incorporate small-diameter wood into their projects.
Tree crops don’t always provide the kind of habitat that supports diverse ecosystems. For that we need to continue fighting like hell to protect our remaining old-growth forests. But if you take it as truth that climate change is the greatest threat to the planet, then mass timber offers a rare opportunity—a chance to transform the construction and logging industries so that we reduce emissions while adding millions of carbon-sequestering trees to the landscape. We’ll cut them down and then grow more, gardening the earth as stewards living in a built world made more and more out of wood.
Contributing editor Marc Peruzzi lives in Montana.
Bicyclists are dying on our streets, and, if you hadn’t noticed, people are pissed off about it. The statistics are grim: in the U.S., 2016 was the deadliest year for cyclists in a quarter century. In 2018, fatalities jumped 10 percent over 2017. In New York City, where 19 cyclists have died so far this year in accidents compared to ten in all of 2018, bikers staged a mass die-in protest in early July in Washington Square Park. A lot of factors have contributed to the bloodshed, including too many cars, distracted drivers, piecemeal bike lanes, and more cyclists on the roads. Yet despite the efforts of many American cities and towns to make neighborhoods more walkable and bikeable, people are increasingly fearful of riding—or even running or walking—around cars.
It’s no wonder we’re all migrating to dirt. Trail running now counts nine million participants, up from only a few million a decade ago. A Canadian Shimano distributor informs me that bike shops in Toronto are selling gravel bikes (beefed-up road bikes with fatter rubber) at a nine-to-one ratio to road models. On the participation front, mountain biking is also on the rise. The Vermont Mountain Bike Association, which can be read as a bellwether for the collective health of the sport, has grown from 1,250 members in 2014 to more than 6,250 members today.
Vacationing in search of dirt is also all the rage. Summer tourism to mountain towns and mountain resorts is booming right now, with many mountain lodges doing more summer business than winter. And what’s the biggest driver of that—other than the fact that drinking White Claws on the beach (and then dodging traffic on the walk or ride home) gets old? The build-out of hike-bike-run trails both at ski areas and around towns. Trail construction is currently a major initiative in the resort business, and local tourism boards are behind it, too, supporting the efforts of trail associations.
Dirt is suddenly resplendent. Athlinks, the tech platform of Life Time, which owns and operates health clubs and participatory events like the Leadville, Colorado, race series, Dirty Kanza, and Chicago Half Marathon, reports that off-road events—gravel and mountain-bike rides, trail and mud runs—dominate the wish lists of their members. Meanwhile, says company spokesperson Kimo Seymour, its data on timed races shows “modest to significant declines in events on pavement over the last three to four years, specifically road running, road cycling, and triathlon.” Also surging right now, he adds, is youth mountain biking.
Beyond the fact that our nation’s roads have grown too unpleasant and just downright deadly, people are flocking to dirt because, as we understand better every day, spending time in nature can improve our health in numerous ways. Personally, I’ve largely quit my longtime road-cycling habit after many years of road riding recreationally five days a week. (I was also bike-commuting 150 to 200 days a year but work from home now.) During my decade and a half of living in Boulder, Colorado, I advocated for safer roads. I adopted lights and brighter clothing. I stopped at stop signs and signaled my turns. But over time, as I lost friends and friends of friends to tragic bike accidents, I found myself feeling safe only when riding in pelotons. And since pelotons are widely scattered in western Montana, where I now live, it’s dirt for me. Many in my wider community of cycling buddies have followed a similar trajectory.
We really shouldn’t abandon the road, though. According to cycling-advocacy group People for Bikes, bike commuting currently accounts for about 10 to 12 percent of all cycling, and it’s vital for our health and the health of the planet that we grow those numbers. But the only safe way to do that is to follow the lead of bike-friendly places, like the Netherlands, and do more than merely paint bike lanes. We need physically protected bike lanes and paths. The goal isn’t coexistence; it’s segregation. In big urban areas, this will require large-scale capital investments. In places like Boulder and Park City, Utah, where it’s possible to commute on dirt, how about more of those low-cost options we call trails?
In the meantime, let’s fight more vigorously to get the word out that bikes are an important part of our transportation infrastructure. Tim Blumenthal, president of People for Bikes and a former editor at Bicycling magazine, told me that the group’s advocacy has grown from pushing for bike lanes and infrastructure to now include the message that bicycles are a public good, improving health while lowering transportation costs. He says this is especially important in a social climate where a lot of anger is directed at bicyclists.
As for diehard roadies, Blumenthal sees signs of hope in self-driving cars and bike computers that talk to them via GPS. Such innovations, he posits, could dramatically reduce crashes (though that could be wishful thinking). He also thinks that the near future car makers, phone companies, and government will collaborate on a strategy to make it impossible for drivers to text behind the wheel. But these are small improvements to a fundamentally broken system.
“Will the road experience ever return to the point where we feel truly comfortable and safe again?” Blumenthal asked rhetorically. “The tough answer is that it won’t. And that’s a sad thought.” He pegs the cause to simple volume: Americans drove 600 billion more miles in 2017 than they did in 1997. “To think that the experience of safely riding on the road is done—it’s hard to even process. Improving or just recovering the recreational road experience is the biggest challenge that People for Bikes faces. And we just don’t know what to do. The nation accepts 40,000 car-accident deaths a year. In the current climate, the lives of road cyclists aren’t held in much regard.”
I would argue that the same is true for road runners and pedestrians. Until that changes, we’re all better off getting dirty.
With four-time champ Chris Froome missing from the starting line, his teammate and last year’s winner Geraint Thomas banged up from a recent crash, and stalwarts like Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde promising to work for their teams and not the overall general classification, prognosticators were having a hard time picking favorites for the 100th anniversary of the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. Turns out that was a good thing. By the time that what some people are calling the most dramatic Tour in a generation wound up in Paris on Sunday, the top three riders were separated by less than one minute and 31 seconds, a Frenchman captivated a weary nation, and aColombian reigned supreme.
With Ineos’ (formerly Team Sky) highly paid climbing domestiques showing rare signs of weakness in the mountains, the team with the biggest budget in cycling was suddenly not as dominant as it has been. Which meant that, until the final two days in the Alps, it was anybody’s race. And that made for some fun racing. Instead of sitting on the front and controlling every stage like superteams have done since the Armstrong era—a boring as hell if incredibly effective tactic—every day actually went down like a bike race, with no one team winning two stages until the 13th stage and dark horse racers moving into yellow after bold attacks and singular athletic performances. In the end, Ineos won this edition as well, but that’s to be expected. Ineos’ budget is about $50 million. The average team’s budget is less than half that. With no well-funded Red Sox or Astros to Ineos’ Yankees, the disparity is just too much. But more to the point, super teams make for dull bike racing.
Best Prodigy Fulfilled
Only last year, cycling news outlets were calling theColombian youngster Egan Bernal a “diamond in the rough.” As the current Tour champion, the 22-year-old is not rough anymore. In 2015, a famed cycling scout found Bernal in Zipaquirá, Colombia, and had him do a V02 max test to get a feel for his potential. His score? 88.8. (Bernal latersaid he scores over 91 when properly trained.) If accurate, either score would place him above five-time TDF champ Miguel Indurain and justbelow four-time champ Greg Lemond for the highest among Tour champions. He’s also cool under pressure, a solid bike handler, and by all reports, a level headed family guy. Colombians are still dancing in the streets. And while nothing is certain in pro cycling, they should buy more dance shoes.
Best Pure Bike Racer
In the end, the sustained climbs at altitude proved Julian Alaphilippe was human, but to wear yellow for 14 days of the Tour, the Frenchman had to tap reserves I doubt even he knew that he had. He won in the hill country, he won the time trial, and he routinely pulled back the best riders in the world on terrifying descents. And he did all this with humility and panache, like a mix between cycling legends Laurent Fignon and Marco Pantani. In the process he captivated the world, but especially the French, who, for the first time since 1985 believed they had a chance to win it all. In that regard Alaphilippe and the French came up short. But that’s the petty view. Alaphilippe (he was honored as the Tour’s most combative rider) made the French—and the world—fall in love with the grit, drama, courage, and beauty of bike racing again. Whether he decides to hone his climbing and pursue grand tour victories or return to his specialty as a one day rider, Alaphilippe will be remembered alongside Eddy Merckx as a pure bike racer.
Best Pocket Rocket
Caleb Ewan, lead sprinter of the Lotto Soudal squad, is only five foot fourand lacks the unworldly wattage of the Tour’s musclebound sprinters. So how did the Australian win three stages like he was shot from a canon? By forcing his already aero body into an extreme position—his head is bobbing so far over his front wheel that his rear wheel skitters around with each pedal stroke—Ewan slips through the wind and doesn’t need the extra watts to move his light body. He’s the Pocket Rocket heir to all time great Mark Cavendish in this regard. But because he’s even lighter he should be able to climb the big mountain stages before the time cutoffs—meaning he’s primed to win many grand tour sprints in the future.
Best of All Time
Peter Sagan.Not only does Sagan ride finish-line wheelies on his time trial bike (don’t try that at home) and ease up mid race to sign autographs for his massive fan base, but having claimed his seventh overall green jersey for the 2019 race, he’s now officially thewinningestgreen jersey wearer of all time. That makes seven green jersey’s out of eight tours and breaks famed sprinter Erik Zabel’s long standing record of six wins. Sagan has now worn the green an incredible 121 times—his nickname in the peloton is the Hulk—but has done so while managing to win stages outright, too.
Best Call by Race Officials
Officials consistently refuse to bend and start stages earlier when heat waves torture the racers. But when a storm cell dropped rain, hail, graupel, and snow on the route (and sent mudslides across the tarmac) race officials did the right thing by putting the safety of the riders first and dramatically shortening the final two stages. The move likely benefited the French star Julian Alaphilippe, who held onto 5th overall despite cracking on the shorter stages, but it may also have saved his life. He was in hot pursuit of the favorites in a mad descent and rapidly approaching the hazards when the race was called.
Best Show of Honesty
Tejay van Garderen, the only American hopeful for the overall, saw his Tour come to an abrupt end when a moment’s inattention (there was a noise emanating from his bike) caused him to ride directly into a traffic island and street sign. The resulting violent crash left him with open wounds on his face and a broken thumb, but he finished the stage and only abandoned when the x-ray came back positive and he determined he’d be risking the safety of the riders around him if he tried to continue with a poor grip on the bars. When Lance Armstrong tried to deflect some of the blame unto the traffic islands that are growing evermore common, Tejay said “It’s also not safe to be looking down.”
Best Redemption Tours
Julian Alaphilippe won yellow early and then lost it to poor strategy. Colombian overall contender Nairo Quintana cracked on a climbing stage and gave up four minutes. And Italian former TDF winner Vincenzo Nibali came into the tour looking for stage wins to no avail. And then redemption happened: on Stage 8, Alaphilippe escaped from the yellow jersey group on a steep final climb to nab yellow. On stage 18 Quintana attacked from the breakaway and seamingly soft pedaled to victory. And on stage 20, Nibali repeated that tactic in still more dramatic fashion holding off a surging yellow jersey group by seconds after riding solo for many painful miles.
Best Breakaway Artists
Simon Yates came to the Tour to work for his twin brother, Adam, but when Adam faltered, Simon went to work on the breakaway. He won two stages outright and could possibly have won a third if he’d worked with Bernal to finish the climb. His bold attacks and the dramatic win by Thomas de Gendt on Stage 8 elevated the breakaways to a status not seen in years. They’re also testament to the dynamism of a wide open race, the likes of which we hope to see more of in years to come.
Le Boss traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 3 to launch this year’s edition of THEMOVE, his daily podcast covering the 2019 Tour de France for Outside. If you tuned in to our recaps last summer, you know that, as commentators go, Lance Armstrong punches hard but seldom punches below the belt. And unlike the milquetoast play-by-play and punditry the networks deliver in their coverage—it’s tough to bite the hand that feeds—he’s not afraid to rip into Tour organizers, team managers, competitors, and drunk fans making a nuisance of themselves. Lance knows what plays. But with the help of his inquisitive non-cyclist sidekick, JB Hager, and the thoughtful (and better-looking) former pro George Hincapie, who brings a welcome calming influence to the show, the Redacted One also provides the most insightful Tour analysis we’ve seen.
Our coverage begins with a preview on July 5 and Stage 1 on July 6, then wraps up three agonizing, dramatic, bloodstained, and glorious weeks later on July 28. Live television does a decent job of showing you the race. But it takes Lance, George, and JB to explain what the hell just happened.
Stage 21: It’s a Wrap! Egan Bernal Wins Yellow, Colombia Goes Crazy, and the French Fall in Love with the Tour Again
Caleb Ewan Shot From Rocket: Lance: The final stage has come and gone. Has anyone located the canon that Caleb Ewan got shot out of? By the way, I was right. My second correct pick of this Tour. Yes, he’s a pocket rocket. I was listening to the Aussie feed and his style on the bike is not all that efficient. Even his team was saying it was going to be difficult for him to win on the Champs because it’s cobble and your rear tire is bouncing around.
George: Did Gronewegen let up a little bit thinking he had it in the bag? It looked that way. Either way, Ewan was going to beat him.
Lance: He was going twice as fast.
George: They’re going 60 kilometers an hour, and for Caleb to come with that speed after racing his ass off for three weeks is super impressive.
Patrons of the Day: Lance: It’s Peter Sagan. He beat Erik Zabel’s record and won his seventh green jersey.
George: Good pick. And that means I get to go with Caleb Ewan.
JB: Johan Bruyneel [Lance and George’s former director] earlier gave Julian Alaphilippe the Patron of the Tour nod.
Lance: I agree with that.
George: Me too.
Colombia Goes Wild: George: It’s going to explode even more now with kids getting on bikes. The four Colombians were all on the front today and they were thanking Bernal for winning to prove to the world that a Colombian could win.
Lance: We saw that in the U.S. We need to see that again. Sponsorship explodes and youth participation skyrockets. But a note to up and coming racers: you want to get in the game and play at this level, you should know that we might be looking at ten years of this. Bernal is only 22.
George: The outcome of this race is setting up for a great race next year. Froome missed out from a crash. Thomas crashed just before the race. It’s going to be exciting.
Lance: We saw Jan Ullrich win the Tour at a young age. You start throwing that type of attention and money at them and life is too easy. At age 22, Bernal’s world has just been rocked.
George: His teammates say he’s a really mature guy. He’s the one that’s saying not to take too many risks. I didn’t see him partying. He has a family around him.
Lance: It will be an hourly occurence that someone is knocking on his door asking for an autograph.
George: But he won the Tour de France for his entire country. My parents are in Colombia right now and there are parties on the street.
Best Tour Ever?Lance: It comes close, but it needed a Mount Ventoux or L'Alpe d'Huez to put it over the top.
George: I thought it was exciting and I’m glad to see a Colombian on top.
Lance: Johan picked him to win. He’s a savant. He’s not guessing. He’s paying attention.
Next Year: Lance: You have these other teams spending so much money, people like Trek and Dimension Data, without even getting a stage win. All those teams get Ds and Fs in my book.
George: There needs to be some shake-ups. Who is going to beat Ineos if those three Tour de France winners stay?
Lance: They don’t want to leave Ineos. Look at what happened to Richie Porte after he left. Nothing good. They have the best program in the sport. And I’m not talking about anything nefarious. It’s the training and the money and the whole package.
Stage 20: Nibali Gets Healthy and Gets a Stage, Alaphilippe Goes Backwards, and the First Colombian All But Wins the Tour Before Paris
[On a stage foreshortened by global weirding and the accompanying closed roads and scary weather forecasts, Ineos returned to form and rode Alaphilippe off the podium. The exciting part? Lo Squalo nello Stretto di Messina, took the stage from a breakaway.]
The Overview:Lance: Big news broke last night that it was shortened. Mudslides and road issue. So we were treated to a 59 kilometer stage, that I think was robotical. Aside from the panche of Vincenzo Nibali—my Patron of the Day. You had team Jumbo-Visma controlling the race so that Kruijswijk could say on the podium. And then you had Ineos take control.
George: Ineos essentially did a team time trial. Go to the front. Ride as hard as you can. Peal off.
Lance: It’s over, but tomorrow is still a road stage. If you crash and can’t continue, you don’t win.
Egan Bernal Retains Yellow: Lance: This is the beginning of the Egan Bernal era. He’s only 22. We’ll be seeing him for a long time. A scout found Egan Bernal. He sold him to team Ineos. And he put a Tour de France victory clause into his contract with Ineos. How much coin is that worth? He got a payday when he transferred him to Ineos. Now he gets two bites at the apple.
George: We have three Colombians in the top ten. As a Colombian, I would like to see a South American team come out of all this. But for now all the stars are on Ineos.
Lance: Imagine how boring it would be if Ineos put a star in each grand tour.
George: They weren’t the dominant team they’ve been in the past but they still get first and second.
Lance: What is Froome thinking right about now? Two of his teammates have won the last two tours.
George: I’ll tell you what Froome is thinking. He has a fire in his belly right now. From all reports he was stronger than both Thomas and Bernal before his crash. He’s out pedaling with one leg right now.
George’s Patron team Jumbo-Visma: George: They won multiple stages. Road hard the entire time. Had guys on the final climbs. They road a great race.
The Shark of Messina Finally Shows Its Teeth: Lance: Vincenzo Nibali didn’t need to be here. He was sick. He didn’t come here to win. They didn’t have a GC threat. He could have gone home. Instead, he stays in the race and completely shreds the field on the final breakaway. He’s a true professional.
George: He was in the breakaway from the get go. Clearly he had one goal today and he pulled it off. And he held off the GC guys, who setting an incredible pace behind him dropping some of the best riders in the world. He won by ten seconds over Valverde.
Lance: The way Nibali handled himself is extremely professional. I don’t see him winning another grand tour, but you have to say he’s one of the best of all time.
Movistar Is Dumber: George: They could have won the stage today. They had three guys in the top ten at the finish. But their tactics were off again. I don’t know what that team is thinking.
Tomorrow: George: It’s going to be a huge battle for the sprint tomorrow. Bunch of teams that haven’t won stages.
Lance: I’m picking Caleb Ewan again. He’s the fastest man in the race.
George: I would agree that Ewan is the fastest, but I’m going with Kristofff.
And a Nod to Bob: Lance: Not only did Bob Roll do an amazing job covering the race in a difficult situation following the loss of Paul Sherwen, but he was a different Bob Roll. He was more serious. And I think it worked.
George: I miss seeing him on TV as much, but I enjoyed listening to him.
Stage 19: The Day That the Skies Broke and the French Fell
[First, French star and podium contender Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) abandoned with a torn muscle. And then, on a day that saw race leader and Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep) attacked and decidedly dropped with 40-plus kilometers to race, all hell broke loose as a micro-burst from a storm cell buried roads in hail, graupel, mud, and rock, forcing the organizers to cancel the racing after the summit of the penultimate climb, the Col de l'Iseran.]
The Big Cancel: Lance: I’m speechless. It was surreal.
George: This tour doesn't stop surprising us.
Lance: The original images on TV were of hail and snow, which looked like enough to cancel the race. But there was two feet of mud on the road on the final climb. A full landslide.
George: During my first Tour, in 1996, they stopped us. I was in a world of hurt and I was glad. That’s the only time I’ve seen a Tour stage shortened before today. What an incredible day it was. I was heartbroken to see Pinot pull out of the race though.
Lance: Why? He pulled out because he hit his leg on the handlebar.
George: You don’t know how much pain he was in. [Early reports say Pinot tore muscles in his leg, possibly hamstring.]
JB: As we record this, the official stage website has no official numbers on GC.
Lance: They canceled the end of the stage. Just like that. They came over the radios and said the race was canceled. But it took awhile for the riders to believe them. I don’t blame them. You can tell them. The team can tell them. The officials can tell them. And they keep going.
George: False cancellations have happened before. At the Giro, Rigoberto Uran pulled over and put on a jacket when he was told the race had been neutralized. Nibali kept going and made up time. Today you saw Uran and Nibali chatting and gesticulating strongly. I’m sure they were talking about exactly that.
Lance: You have to keep going until you see Tour Director Christian Prudhomme pull in front and say it’s over. Now there’s a bunch of speculation on what would have happened. I’m saying that Julian Alaphilippe would have lost five minutes by top of the final climb. He got lucky. Just saying.
George: I think with his descending skills, he could have possibly caught the Thomas group by bottom, but after that we’ll never know.
Lance: He had only classy comments after the race. I have a lot of respect for him. It is what it is. We have no idea if Thomas and Kruiswijk would have caught Bernal. It was pandemonium.
George’s Patron of the Day: [Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was one of the last survivors of today’s breakaway. He’d been conserving energy waiting for a GC leader to come by. When Bernal did so he locked onto his wheel on the descent.]
George: My Patron is Simon Yates. He caught up with Bernal. He could have sat on his wheel on the flats and the first part of the final climb and then won his third stage of this race. Again our former teammate and Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White had set it up perfectly.
Lance: Bernal would have gone 100 percent. Are you out of your mind? He would have ridden Yates right off his wheel.
George: We’ll never know what would have happened.
Lance’s Patron of the Day: Lance: My Patron is the only person that never loses a stage. Mother Nature. But let’s give a shout out to America’s first grand tour stage winner Andy Hampsten, who won a stage of the Giro in the snow. Bob Roll was there to help him. They don’t race bikes like that anymore.
Egan Bernal Has a Huge Engine: Lance: He’s now the most likely racer to win the tour. At age 22, he is the youngest rider left in the race. I thought that would make him the youngest ever, but in 1904 a 19-year-old won after the four riders in front of him were disqualified. If Bernal holds on you’re looking at 10 plus years of a guy who can win the Tour.
Tomorrow: George: I know we aren’t talking about next year yet, but Bernal, Thomas, and Froome on the same team [Ineos] next year? Three Tour winners on one team? How will that work? But it ain't over. We have weather tomorrow. Everything changes though. Ineos goes to the front and rides tempo. Will Thomas set tempo for Bernal? I don’t know.
Lance: He has to. I had to ride for Contador one year.
George: There’s no doubt that Bernal was the strongest, but the biggest loser was Thomas. I think he lost the most out of today's decision to cancel the race. The final climb suited him. (By the way, Nairo Quintana went a minute faster than my former teammate and close friend Cadel Evans did on the Galibier yesterday. It’s now the fastest time up the Galbier ever.) Anyway, tomorrow has three big climbs. And today the guys didn’t get their typical post race cool down. Their legs will be a mess to start the day tomorrow. But Ineos is going to do what they've done historically. They’ll go to the front and control the race. I’m curious about what Thomas will do. Maybe he attacks everyone. And maybe Alaphilippe attacks on the downhills and makes up time.
Lance: The yellow jersey makes you ride twice as strong. Losing it, you go in the other direction. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him attack. He’s a bike racer. But Alaphilippe is not on the podium in Paris.
George: I’m not counting him out. He’s got some downhills that he could attack on.
Lance: You’re crazy. The weather will be a factor. And he knows he got lucky that the stage was shortened. Kruijswijk tried to stay on Bernal’s wheel. He couldn’t. No way can Alaphilippe.
George: Bernal is also the youngest guy in the race, he’s never had the pressure of his entire country on his shoulders. Colombia wants this. He ain't sleeping tonight.
Lance: He seems pretty cool and collected to me. If he can’t sleep tonight, he’ll be fine. It’s the second day after a bad night that you have a bad day.
George: Expect more fireworks tomorrow. Then it’s see you in the douches.
JB: The results just came in. The GC is now as follows: Bernal, Alaphilippe, Thomas and Kruijswijk.
Stage 18: Alaphilippe Defies Armstrong and Retains Yellow, Quintana and Bardet Redeem Their Tours—Even If the Polka Dot Jersey Is a Joke, and the Sickest Descender in the Tour de France Just Might Win the Whole Damn Thing
[Climbing specialist Nairo Quintana (Movistar) attacked from the breakaway today on the famed Galibier—and rode away from everyone, moving himself from twelfth place to seventh. Romain Bardet (AG2R) at least wears the dots. And race leader Julain Alaphilippe took the final descent like a Formula 1 driver.]
Why Didn’t They Attack Alaphlippe Sooner? [Of the contenders for the overall, only Ineos’ Egan Bernal made a bold move to leapfrog his teammate Geraint Thomas and make up time on Alaphilippe. The rest of the yellow jersey group waited for the final kilometer.]
Lance: I have a lot of thoughts about today’s stage. My phone was blowing up like ‘That was amazing.’ I was like ‘Really?’ Hats off to Julian Alaphilippe, that little MOFO is tough and can descend better than anyone, but I don’t think you should be able to win or stay in contention on dowhills. I’m also disappointed in the teams. Why didn't they attack Alaphilippe sooner on the climb? Hat’s off to Nairo Quintana. But the lack of attacks and the downhill finish robbed the stage of drama. I was in disbelief watching today. You’re on the road to Alpe d’Huez or Les Deux Alpes and instead you have a downhill finish.
Movistar Is Dumb: Lance: That Movistar team is hard to figure out. They chased down their own rider. Earlier in the race they shelled their best guy, the same guy. Why would you do that? They interviewed Movistar’s Michael Landa after the race and asked him about Quintana and he had an eight-second delay before he could find an answer.
George: By time alone, they had Quintana back on the podium with an eight-minute lead in the breakaway and they put a guy in the front to pull for Landa who ended up getting dropped. What the hell were they doing? They could have pulled a double shot today and put Quintana in the top three overall and taken the stage win. Quntana had that much of a lead.
Lance’s Patron: Lance: My Patron of the Day is Julian Alaphilippe. To get dropped, suffer, recover, and get back down the hill like a motorcycle is impressive. He’s a badass bike racer. He’s also choosing disc brakes, which are about a pound heavier. And the braking made a difference on his descent.
George: I don’t see why you wouldn’t go with discs on a day like today. Inneos chose the lightweight climbing setup and those stiff and lightweight wheels don’t handle well on descents.
Lance: The whole wheel is carbon, including the braking surface. And it’s the braking surface that’s the problem. They still haven’t found a braking compound that works well on carbon.
George: I think it’s the stiffness of the wheels that causes you to descend slower. They’re too rigid.
Lance: Whatever. On a dry road, Alaphilippe is going faster by two or three seconds through each corner because of the better braking.
George: Alaphilippe was coming around people on the inside corner and saying, ‘Hey guys, I’m still the boss of this race.’
George’s Patron: George: Nairo Quintana. He’s on an upswing and a lot of guys are on the down. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.
The Polka Dot Joke?Lance: I can’t remember the last time the best climber in the tour was in the polka dot jersey. It should be based on time.
JB: Quintana and Froome have won in recent years but your take is that the best climber doesn’t always get it?
Lance: Bardet is not even in with the top 20 climbers in the Tour this year.
George: I don’t agree with that. He’s in the top 10, I think, but the polka dot jersey race is what makes the Tour so hard. It’s the races within the race that keep the intensity up. Teams like ours would base our strategy on that. This is why the Tour is so interesting.
Lance: Could you at least agree that Bardet is not the best climber in the Tour?
George: I can agree with that. But I don’t think they should change how they award the jersey.
A Day for Colombia: Lance: Bernal was strong today. They were at 8,000 feet. That’s going to benefit the Colombians. Quintana soft pedaled over the top.
Tomorrow: Lance: I get discouraged by these passive tactics. They have to talk to each other tomorrow. 'If we don’t combine forces then we’re going to lose,' which they will. The teams that want to win need to send their climbing lieutenants to the front and put Alaphilippe on the limit.
George: I don’t see that happening. I don’t see anyone strong enough to withstand that beside Bernal
Lance: If Julian Alaphilippe gets over the fourth climb tomorrow with the group, he’s seeing Paris. These teams have to make the race, they have to attack this guy. If they want to drop him they better do it with conviction because he will catch them on the descent and he’ll get a French moto driver to help do it.
George: They’re testing the waters, putting 20 to 30 seconds on him but now they need a minute 30 and they’re running out of time.
Lance: If they don’t get rid of him and I mean really get rid of him tomorrow he wins. These short stages are always the hardest ones. They’ll warm up and then it will go full gas.
George: If I was in charge of QuickStep, I’d go the the front and try to hold it together for as long as I could. Do all the work for Alaphilippe in the descents, valleys, and flats before that last climb. Nobody talks about it but these days in the Alps are full of danger and risk.
Lance: And it’s looking like rain all day tomorrow. Talk about danger and risk.
George: That could benefit a certain guy from Wales [Thomas] who is used to riding in wet conditions.
Stage 17: Team Mitchelton-Scott Takes Its Fourth Win from the Breakaway, Lance Scoops the 'New York Times'—by years, and Say Goodbye to Yellow Tomorrow, Julian Alaphilippe
[Today was for the breakaway specialists, while the rest of the field tried not to pass out from the heat. But tomorrow’s climb of the famed Izoard (rhymes with “it’s so hard”) might narrow the potential winners to four.]
Patrons of the Day: Lance: It’s International Tequila Day and my Patron of the Day is our old teammate Matt White, director sportif with team Mitchelton-Scott. The Australian team now has four stage wins. That’s after a disappointing GC performance by Adam Yates. But the director has to keep a team motivated and he’s one of the best.
George: Matt White is always trying to learn from coaches in other sports. He’s always thinking about strategy. His plan was to keep the break in control until his rider Matteo Trentin could ride away. Trentin is my Patron of the Day. He hasn’t won a stage at the Tour since 2014. For him to come back and win today is a testament to his ability.
Today’s Breakaway: Lance: We saw a breakaway of 32 riders get away in 100 degree temperatures. No news really. No shakeup in the GC—just a brutally hot day of racing for the riders in the breakaway. You could see that was a strong breakaway group with Greg Avermatt, Thomas de Gendt, and Ben King out there—all breakaway specialists. But the obvious people typically don’t win these stages. Anything can happen.
George: Normally the fastest guy doesn't win with that many racers in a breakaway. It can come down to strategy. Today was an exception with Trentin going. He’s both a strong and smart bike racer. He saved his energy until the perfect moment then jumped. These guys are tired. It was an impressive day for him. Everyone is on their last legs. They interviewed Ben King after the race. He said he was on the front, and then his chances were just gone.
Lance: That interview with Ben King. I was like damn: The lights are on and nobody is home. He was just cooked.
George: Every Tour is hard, but the first week this year was really stressful, they were racing hard almost every day. And now this week has been hot. All the factors are adding up. We’ll see dead men walking in Paris. Lance and I had a hot Tour in 2003. Lance lost 12 pounds in one time trial.
Super Tuck in the Gray Lady: [The dangerous super tuck that sees racers contort themselves into such an aerodynamic position that they’re sitting on the bike’s top tube was a hot topic last year. Recently the New York Times picked up the thread.]
Lance: I’ve been ragging on the super tuck forever. Now the New York Times has written an article on it. They interviewed a racer and asked him how much control he has in a supertuck. He shrugged and said, “Not much. You pray.” Another rider said he needed to make up minutes on the descents. “I’m saying a prayer as I go,” he said. George, should cycling ban the super tuck?
George: I have video of Lance 3.0 trying to super tuck on a training ride the other day. Just like the Tour, he’s trying to get every advantage.
Lance: That’s was with a dropper post on a mountain bike. I’m all for seeing dropper posts at the Tour.
George: We might see that someday. I feel like I have a lot of control in the super tuck. I don’t see a need to ban it.
The Heat Is Hot: Lance: Peter Sagan [the famed sprinter in the green jersey] was calling on the rider’s union—a worthless organization—to protect the riders on these hot stages. But you can’t cancel stages. The only solution I see is to start earlier. Sagan just doesn’t want to be roasting in the grupettos [the small groups of sprinters that ride at a more casual pace on non-sprint days]. But we’ll save the discussion of the riders union for another day.
George: In 19 years of racing I was never in a bike race that they shortened or canceled because of the heat.
Lance: You can’t drink enough water in this heat. Every day you get more dehydrated. In any other professional sport that was contested in these temps, I guarantee you that those athletes are getting IV solutions with saline to rehydrate them. That’s not allowed at the Tour. That’s crazy talk.
JB: Any Joe can get an IV on the street now. They sell them in Texas for hangovers.
Lance: The reason they implemented that ban was because they tested for plastic as evidence that a racer had taken a blood transfusion. The bags and tubes are made of plastic. Before the ban, if a rider tested positive for plastic he just said “Well, I had an IV. So they said no IVs. It’s called biting off your nose despite your face.”
George: I found it shocking that the race leader, Julain Alaphilippe was going back to the team car to get ice. You have to save these guys. Every ounce of energy matters right now. But QuickStep had one of their riders in the breakaway. That’s unacceptable.
Tomorrow Julian Alaphilippe Loses Yellow: Lance: He loses the jersey tomorrow. I’m calling it. But first let me say something about the course. If you’re going to utilize these iconic climbs like the Galibier, then finish on top. That’s not happening tomorrow. But that might have to do with the paper—the cash. The towns pay a lot of money to the race. But regardless, I don’t think Alaphilippe is in yellow tomorrow night.
George: I’m not in total agreement about tomorrow. They have some serious climbing beforehand. If somebody attacks and gets away by a minute, QuickStep should be able to collect them.
Lance: I think we have five people that can win the tour and Alaphilippe is not one of them. Like everyone else I’m guessing. But somebody is going to have a bad day. And then it’s about four people left that can win: I think Kreiswick (Jumbo-Visma), Pinot (FDJ) and Bernal (Ineos). Geraint Thomas’ crash yesterday might rule [last year’s champion] out.
George: Thomas doesn’t even know how he crashed. How do you not know? His brain must have been shot off. I think Alaphilippe’s bad day already happened. I think he can rally tomorrow. And I think he finds friends in the peloton.
Lance: I disagree, but it would be great for the sport and great for the French.
George: The battle will commence on the Col d'Izoard climb. You hit the climb and the first part is not as steep and it’s pretty straight so it’s easier to pull guys back, but then it gets steep and goes to switchbacks. We’re expecting fireworks on the steep section. The race has to happen on the 'Izoard.
Lance: They’re calling for thunderstorms. I don’t like downhill finishes, and I for sure don’t like them in the rain.
George: If you get into trouble on the climb, you can use that downhill with friends and teammates to pull yourself back to the leaders. I’ve got Michael Landa (Movistar) for tomorrow. They haven’t won a stage. They’ve taken some heat for not working as a team. They need to prove that they can work together for a win.
Stage 16: Geraint Thomas Goes Down But Not Out in a Crash-Filled Stage, Jakob Fuglsang Abandons the Tour, and Caleb Ewan Brings the Sprint Train Home
[After a markedly crash-reduced beginning to the Tour, some of the GC favorites felt the tarmac today. Ineos team captain Thomas went down and nicked a knee, Quintana got banged up, and Fuglsang crashed out in what was likely the last sprint finish before Paris.]
Schizophrenic Day: Lance: It took me 16 stages to predict the winner. Two days ago I did pick Caleb Ewan to win today—all 5’4” of him. Do you think he’s done growing? It was a boring / exciting day. Boring in the sense it’s a transition day, which we have to have. But the heat and the key crashes and the final sprint finish made it exciting. My initial pick to win the overall, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana’s captain) is out of the race. Fuglsang, Nairo Quintana, and Geraint Thomas all crashed. Quintana looked fine, but Thomas’s crash hurt. When someone highsides like that and the bike flips and you get pile-driven into the pavement, it hurts. We’ve said this all along. His team has said it. Thomas crashes a lot.
George: You have to stay focused. It doesn’t matter how hot and tired you are. That’s a tough blow to Thomas. He’s going to need all the luck he can get to stay with the leaders now.
Lance: I think he oversteered in that corner and then the front tire caught and he got flipped.
George: I can’t imagine that he oversteered in that corner. He must have hit a wheel.
Lance: Frankly, I’m surprised he crashes so much. This was his third crash of the Tour. He came out of the British track world. Those riders have a lot of skills.
George: A lot of pressure and fatigue setting in.
No Mas Enric Mas? [Julian Alaphilppe’s (in yellow) best teammate for the climbs is reportedly blown.]
George: My guys says that he has nothing left in the tank. But he needs to be a key figure in helping Alaphilippe. They need to get him straight. He still has a job to do. If he rallies, it will make the race even more exciting. And Alaphilippe needs that right now.
The Power of Yellow: George: Former GC star Alexander Vinohourov said he knew that yellow made you stronger but it doesn't make you fly. We’ll leave that loaded comment alone for now. But the yellow jersey doesn’t just make the guy in yellow ride harder but his teammates, too. This happened to us when Lance won the prologue in our first year.
Lance: You’re missing one critical piece. Besides being the Bad News Bears of the European peloton, we bought a tour to win the tour.
George: The point is that our team did more than we ever thought possible and I think we'll see that from QuickStep this week in defense of Alaphilippe
Froome is Still the Ineos Leader: [Four-time champ Chris Froome crashed out before the Tour ever started this year, but he’s still the Ineos leader.]
Lance: according to my source, he's the guy the team rallies around. They like Thomas, but despite having two guys in podium contention the team morale is at an all time low. You sense comradery with a team, and I’m not sensing it.
George: I remember when Mark Cavendish was the world champion and he was going back for bottles for the team. It messes with your team. He would come by our table at dinner and ask if we needed a sprinter for next year. When the best rider on your team is out or relegated to domestique status, it can hurt your chances. And from what we heard leading into the Tour, before he got hurt, Froome was the best rider.
Patron of the Day: Caleb Ewan’s—Baby?
Lance: My Patron of the Day is Caleb Ewan’s baby. I’m kind of joking around but I’m kind of not joking. Ewan was sprinting at 38 to 40 miles per hour in front of his wife and newborn today. It’s inspirational to have your family there. The baby’s name is Lilly. When she’s 21, we’ll send her some Patron tequila.
George: I have to go with Caleb Ewan. The pressure is off for him to perform. He’s already won one stage. The heat was taking its toll. He said he didn’t feel good today. But he did it anyway.
George Breaks Down the Sprint: George: QuickStep wasn’t doing their usual extended lead out because they are saving guys to protect Alaphilippe later. But they still did an awesome lead out at the end. With 200 meters to go, you saw Viviani (QuickStep’s sprinter) hesitate for just a moment. That hesitation allowed Ewan to take a jump from six guys back. Ewan nipped Viviani at the line. That slight hesitation cost Viviani the race. And then it was ‘See you in the douches.’ He’s just so aero. His output isn’t anywhere near the wattage of the bigger sprinters but it doesn’t need to be. It was the same with Cavendish. If you're aerodynamic you don’t need the same watts.
Lance: He’s another pocket rocket. Cav started that trend.
Tomorrow: Lance: The heat is on. Not a flat day. A day for the breakaway. I'm going to call for Thomas de Gendt to take the win
George: That’s a good pick. I'd love to see one of our three Americans left in the race—who are all breakaway guys—make a move. I think all three of them have a chance tomorrow.
Lance: The day will end up with 90-degree heat and thunderstorms.
George: They said they were drinking six bottles an hour today, but I found that hard to believe.
Lance: I think they were taking six bottles and dumping three over their heads.
Stage 15: Alaphilippe Reveals a Crack, an Injured Tejay van Garderen Guest-Stars on THEMOVE, Simon Yates Takes His Second Stage Win, and Thibaut Pinot Is Now Lance’s Pick to Win It All
[A long hot day in the saddle followed by a monster climb reveals that Julian Alaphilippe is human. He’s still in yellow, but he’s human.]
Chinks in the Armor: Lance: This was the first time they’ve ever finished on this climb. And what do you know? It was another exciting day. We saw the yellow jersey and Julian Alaphilippe finally falter. Today he showed the first significant crack and I think that’s the start of more cracks to come.
George: It’s still the most exciting Tour I’ve seen in a long time. You were completely wrong about that.
Lance: I completely agree. There were bodies everywhere today. It was on. We saw the first crack in Alaphilippe. It’s the beginning of the end for him. Geraint Thomas wasn’t looking good either. But Thibeault Pinot is strong. If he was in a different place on that crosswind tour he’d be 10 seconds out from yellow today. A stretch of 5K makes the difference.
George: The stage was super aggressive. We had Quintana in the breakaway. I can only imagine the other breakaway riders asking him: “Why are you here? You’re ruining our chances to stay away.” Movistar was more aggressive today. Their tactics were better. But there is tension in that team now. The fact that Quintana didn’t even look at Landa to help him stay with the yellow jersey group says a lot about the tone.
Tejay Predicted These Fireworks:Tejay: During the Dauphine [a famed warmup race for the Tour] there was a group of heavy hitters attacking on one stage. But nobody panicked because everybody thought that Ineos would bring it back for [captain] Chris Froome. And they did. The way that Froome was looking at that time, Thomas would have been working for Froome at the Tour. Imagine Froome didn’t get hurt and that Bernal and Thomas were working for Froome. This race would have been shut down. With Froome gone and Thomas showing weakness, it leaves the race more open for these big moves to get established. And those big moves are going to decide the race. I told Rigo [Tejay’s teammate on EF] to look for that winning move today. He didn’t have the legs to go with it. But he would have if he did.
Lance: Without Froome it is anybody's race. We talked about that from the get-go.
George: And that's going to continue because QuickStep does not have the team to do what Ineos has done in the past. And if Pinot takes yellow, FDJ doesn’t either.
Tejay: Nobody is going to be able to repair the damage if the race gets blown out. I still think that the winner of the Tour could come from a move like we saw today. There is no one team that’s strong enough to sew it all back together.
Tejay Recovers at Home: Tejay: The crash was stage 7. A 230-kilometer long day. An easy day for the sprinters. Those can be some of the most dangerous days because you fall asleep and stop paying attention. I heard a little noise in my wheels and I looked down to see what it was—and boom, I hit a curb and a sign.
Lance: Countries all over the world are trying to manage traffic by adding rotaries and barricades and islands. You hit a traffic island basically. The way we manage traffic in 2019 isn’t safe for bike racers.
Tejay: It’s also not safe to be looking down.
Lance: How much did it hurt because you broke your thumb? You still had to ride 200-plus kilometers with a broken thumb.
Tejay: It wasn’t fun. But I needed to get to the finish. Sometimes the scan comes back negative. If it wasn’t broken I might have been able to go on. My hand wasn’t functioning though. If I stayed I’d have been putting other people at risk. I stayed on the last wheel that day for that reason.
Lance: The classy part was that you said you were just glad nobody got hurt. At any other race, the rider goes home. At the Tour people try to figure out how they can stay unless it’s dangerous to the rider or other riders.
Shoutout to Simon Yates, but Pinot Could Be the New Favorite—or Can Alaphilippe Stay Strong?Lance: Yates was almost my Patron of the Day, but I have to give it to Thibaut Pinot. Johan is now predicting him to win.
George: There’s no doubt that he’s now the strongest climber, but we have a lot of racing left. As much as I’ve gone on about Alaphilippe, he showed he’s human today. I expect Quick-Step will get stronger as a team. I think he can still win. The rest day tomorrow will help.
Lance: He burned all his matches. And it’s going to be 100 degrees every day in the final week.
Tejay: I was talking about it with the guys earlier. We always size people up. I’ve always lumped Alaphilippe in with the one-day race winners. I’m picking Pinot for the win. He’s looking good to me right now.
George: If he takes the jersey in the Alps, his team might not be able to control the race. And let’s not forget that Thomas only took back what he lost to Alaphilippe yesterday.
The French are Psyched: Tejay: I think the French love panache and Aalaphilippe has that in spades.
George: I think the whole country is going to get behind both those guys, it's the first time for a French winner in a long time. I think Pinot and Alaphilippe will work together.
Tejay: I’m not so sure. When Alaphilippe went with Pinot today instead of staying with Thomas, it might indicate that there’s a French rivalry there.
Lance: It’s been awhile since they last won in 1985, they’re going to rally for any French rider, even if Alaphilippe has more panache.
What about Steven Kruijswijk? [The Jumbo-Visma rider is in third with arguably the strongest team in the race.]
Lance: I think he’s going to win.
George: He has the best climbing squad in the race. You can’t count him out. He’s a good pick.
Tejay: I was a teammate of his on Dutch development team, Rabobank. His entire career he’s dealt with a recurring injury that caused a delayed start. I’ve always seen him as a mega-talent. I think that slow start is why he’s not talked about.
Lance: He also hasn’t made any explosive dramatic attacks.
Tejay: He rides like me. He wears people down by attrition. He’s going to wear people down in the Alps.
Tuesday: [Tomorrow is a rest day]
Lance: This is the part of France with the Mistrals [notorious northwesterly winds] and the stage is a circuit. At some point they'll be in the wind. The heat is an issue moving forward. Even the sprint days are going to take it out of the GC guys.
Lance: Caleb Ewan is my call.
George: Viviani is out because he’s working for Quick-Step. I’m thinking it’ll be Alexander Kristoff.
Stage 14: Alaphilippe Cracks Thomas (Again!), Quintana Gets Dropped by His Own Team, and the French Are on the Move
[Just as nobody predicted the fireworks of this Tour de France two weeks ago, even yesterday nobody predicted that yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) would not only stay with the GC favorites on the murderously steep Col du Tourmalet, but send half of them off the back while doing so. Nor was anyone calling for Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) to win the day.]
Bodies on the Tourmalet: Lance: This is exciting. I will give props to the Tourmalet. This climb tested the guys today. I still think the other side is harder [the stage went up the “easier side” of the climb today], but this side is hard. There were bodies everywhere. What a day. A short stage [73 miles] made it harder. [A shorter distance usually translates to higher intensity.]
George: I rode it in 2008 and it’s a tough climb. Three hours and ten minutes.
Is Alaphilippe Unstoppable Now? Lance: Julian Alaphilippe continues to impress. You always look at their faces and body position to judge how they’re feeling. When other people were looking like they were suffering, he looked good. He’s clearly on the wave. Momentum is a wave. I’ve been in that zone and they can throw anything at you and it doesn’t phase you.
George: A lot of my buddies in the peloton are saying he’s going to have a bad day, but I don’t see it. He’s riding too well right now.
Quintana Attacked by... His Own Team? [The climbing specialist from Team Movistar who was expected to attack today went off the back in a big way.]
George: He got dropped while his team was in front pulling. Mentally that’s just crushing. He grabbed a Coke from a stranger. Clearly he was bonked. If you see a GC leader grabbing a Coke from a stranger at the Tour de France, he’s bonking. Had he communicated to his team they could have gotten him some food and nursed him back. But no.
Lance: He got dropped by his team. They were on the front hammering. What happened with their radios?
George: I know you would have said something. I know it never happened, but you would say something.
More GC Guys Off the Back Swinging:Lance: We also didn’t expect to see [Geraint] Thomas off the back.
George: Richie Porte was swinging. Dan Martin was swinging. Jakob Fuglsang was swinging. This has been one of the most exciting Tours in a long time.
Expect French Alliances to Form: George: Alaphilippe’s Quick-Step team is still a question. His teammate Enric Mas who I thought could protect him had trouble today. I think he’s forming alliances. He could have gone with Pinot at the finish in my opinion, but he might have pissed him off if he did. I think he could have gone. He’s [banking] future love for future days. They have a good relationship. They’re friends.
Lance: The Quick-Step director is making the rounds. They’ll figure out a way to get him support.
George: They’ll have to shift tactics a bit. Today you saw Movistar and Ineos taking control. They must have thought that he’d crack. He didn’t, so now they’re going to attack him. He was by himself today at the end. But I would not be surprised to see some smaller French teams throwing a climber up there to help him. The President of France was at the finish line. That will incentivize the French. They’re on the move.
Thomas Pedals Squares:[The Ineos captain and last year’s champion did not look good on the bike today. In the final kilometers it caught up with him.]
George: We were surprised to see Geraint off the top and [teammate Egan] Bernal didn’t wait for him. He said the team didn’t ask him to wait. And that there wasn’t much he could do.
Lance: Thomas said he felt bad all day long
George: If he feels better or if Bernal has the legs, Ineos need to start attacking. I’d be surprised if they think they can ride people off their wheels after the last few days.
Four Categorized Climbs Tomorrow: Lance: The final climb is 12 kilometers at 7 percent. Julian Alaphilippe has to find friends. He’s going to lose everybody. It’s longer day at 182 kilometers. It will be fun to watch.
George: Quick-Step’s goal will be to get everyone over those early climbs so Julian Alaphilippe has some help. And I’d be shocked if I saw Ineos and Movistar at the front.
Lance: Why would you touch the wind unless you stand a good chance to win the day?
George: There could be a breakaway tomorrow. Quick-Step would like to see that. It will take pressure off them. And then the day after tomorrow [Monday] is a rest day.
Patron of the Day: Lance: It has to be Thibaut Pinot. The French are on the move.
Listen to JB and Johan’s preview of Stage 15 on THEMOVE.
Stage 13: Never Underestimate Julian Alaphilippe, Today’s Favorite Wout Van Aert Crashes Out, and It’s “See You In the Douches” to Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet, and Egan Bernal
[Tour de France Time Trials have been boring for decades, but in keeping with this year’s “anything goes” event, today’s race against the clock was one to remember. On the 100th anniversary—to the day—of the introduction of the yellow jersey to the race, a Frenchman rode to victory in yellow, against all odds.]
Don’t Bet Against Julian Alaphilippe: Lance: Calling him our Patron of the Day doesn’t even begin to give him credit. I’m speechless. Nobody would have predicted that. To dominate the time trial?
George: Yesterday we were predicting he would ride well but that he would lose 30 seconds, not gain 15.
Lance: It was phenomenal. And now we have to have this conversation about whether he can hold on until Paris. It is the question everyone is asking.
George: He rode away from the GC guys today, but he also rode away from them in every steep climb to date. He put time back on Thomas on the flats today. It was a “see you in the douches” move. I’m thinking he can hold on. He made a huge statement.
Lance: He is an amazing bike handler. He was supertucking in a time trial. He’s not very aero either. This guy is surprising us all. The last little pitch was tight and steep. He was flying up that hill in front of his home crowd. The volume must have been turned up to 11. He has Mr. Momentum. I said it was going to be boring second half [of the Tour]. I’ve changed my mind.
Wout van Aert Crashes Out: [Heading into a corner with the lead, three-time cyclocross world champion Wout van Aert appeared to hook a banner and a barricade and suffered a horrendous crash that ended his Tour. We don’t yet know the extent of his injuries.]
Lance: This is a guy that Geraint Thomas predicted would win the stage. The crash was spectacular in a bad way. People typically hit barricades on the outside. He hit on the inside.
George: He cut the corner too tight and had a horrible crash. We hope he’ll be alright.
Rohan Dennis’s Mystery Exit: [Yesterday, the Bahrain-Merida rider suddenly and bizarrely dropped out of the race mid-stage, though nothing appeared to be wrong with him.]
Lance: Nothing has officially come out, but now we’re learning that he was just not happy with his equipment. His time trial bike isn’t right. He borrowed his old bike from is old team and matched up his position exactly but in training simulations he’s losing a minute on 40k. Imagine if you’re the best time trialists in the peloton and you know you’re going to lose a minute at the same wattage… At this level, if that’s true, it’s like bringing a Citroen to the Formula 1.
George: It’s hard to believe it’s that much of a disadvantage, but we do know there are differences between bikes.
Lance: If the bike is a minute slower, that’s on the manufacturer. But you still have to deal. We know Dennis is a feisty character, but if you’re a professional athlete and you’re paid to ride in the Tour, you can’t just up and leave. That’s unacceptable… There was a time you would put your sponsor’s logo on a better TT bike, but those days are over. Trek had this jalopy of a TT bike. I was like, “That’s not going to work.” I rode a different brand.
Lance Versus Bardet? [Romain Bardet (AG2R) had a terrible time trial today and made the horrible decision to switch bikes before the final climb. It did not end well.]
Lance: On that course today, I could beat Romain Bardet. Right now.
George: I have a thousand percent confidence that you could not.
An American in the Top 10: George: Shout out to the American Joey Roskoff for a top-ten finish today. We used to call him the King. He won a lot when I was on the team with him.
Sagan Rides a Wheelie on a TT Bike: [It’s how he crossed the finish line.]
Lance: I don’t know how to do a wheelie. Imagine doing one on a TT bike? That’s a guy that’s comfortable on his bike.
Is Bernal Now Thomas’ Domestique?Lance: We touched on it yesterday, but as predicted, Thomas put a big time gap on his teammate Bernal today. That means something psychologically for everyone on the team. I’m talking directors and teammates and soigneurs. The notion of co-leadership is gone. Geraint Thomas is the leader of that team.
George: But Ineos is also not in the lead. They’re going to have to use Bernal to put Quick-Step on defense. Quick-Step has the yellow jersey and the rest of the peloton is sick of seeing Ineos win with its massive budget. The other teams will work to see Ineos lose. When Ineos starts throwing fireworks, Quick-Step might find some friends in the peloton.
Lance: I can’t disagree with anything that you just said.
An Easier Approach on the Tourmalet:[The peloton will climb the famed Tourmalet tomorrow—only from the easier side.]
George: Everyone keeps saying we’re going to have to wait to see how Alaphilippe climbs. But he’s been climbing and dropping people the entire race. What more do you need to see?
Lance: Today had to have taken something out of him. Tomorrow is going to be exciting. I’m not going to say he can’t do it. Tomorrow is a mountaintop finish, but it’s not very steep. Greater than nine percent at the end. Big wide road. Good pavement. Short day. It’s not that tough.
George: Ineos will try to take time back. It will be a really hard day. I don’t see a breakaway staying away. The winner will come from the favorites.
Lance: This is an iconic climb with a Frenchman in yellow on a Saturday. We won’t have seen crowds like this in a long time. And am I the guy that said the second half was going to suck? I’m contradicting myself. I was wrong. I’m picking Alaphilippe tomorrow because I’m not betting against him.
George: I’m going with Quintana. He has to attack and make up some time.
Stage 12: Simon Yates Executes a Miraculous Win, Lance Frets About the Lack of Fireworks, Rohan Dennis Bows Out Mysteriously, and Julian Alaphilippe Should Hold Yellow Tomorrow
[The stage opened to a series of aggressive and exhausting breakaway attempts that saw as many as 40 riders off the front. But it finished with a sprint between three of the day’s strongest climbers. Adam Yates’ twin brother and super domestique at the Tour, Simon, took the win. Back in the field though, it was dullsville, with Team Ineos sitting on the front and the favorites resting their legs for tomorrow’s time trial.]
Simon Yates Executes a Masterful Win: Lance: Simon Yates [Mitchelton-Scott] now has a rare trifecta. He’s won a stage in all three Grand Tours. That’s a huge accomplishment. British Cycling doubted the Yates brothers early in their careers. That was a mistake.
George: The team owner was in town watching the race. The team had a plan to put a bigger guy and a climber in the breakaway. It worked out perfectly.
Lance: Our one-time teammate Matthew White [race director for Mitchelton-Scott] is a damn good tactician. Is that your impression George?
George: He was a solid tactician on the bike when he was racing and he’s an even more astute tactician now. He was also one of the nicest guys in the peloton when he was racing.
Alaphilippe Holds Yellow on a Dull Day: [It was long forecasted that the Quick-Step phenom would lose the jersey on stage 12. That didn’t happen And neither did any GC attacks.]
Lance: It was 130 miles of racing and a big climb, but Alaphilippe holds onto yellow.
George: Today wasn’t as exciting as we were anticipating. We didn’t see the fireworks
Lance: Hopefully not foreshadowing of the days to come. But I’m worried about it. I said it yesterday, I’m going to say it again today. We’re spoiled. We’ve had 12 winners out of 12 stages. But I think we’re going to be disappointed in the end. Ineos controlled the pace today. The strength of Ineos relative to the course and the other racers is impressive, but it could make for some boring days ahead.
George: They had eight guys on the front at the end. That shows how strong they are.
What’s Up With Rohan Dennis? Lance: [The Bahrain-Merida rider] pulled out of the race today under mysterious circumstances. What do you make of it George?
George: It’s super odd. He was a favorite for tomorrow’s time trial and he was at the front of the race today mixing it up in the breakaways. We have no idea what happened. Nobody knows what happened. Why would you pull out after being so aggressive at the beginning of the stage? We’ll have to wait to confirm what happened.
JB: He was seen walking to the finish in street clothes.
Lance: I was just sent a quote from his team. “We saw Dennis at the side of the road. He did not want to talk. We were confused. Nothing is wrong with his physical condition. We asked him what was going on and he said he didn’t want to talk. He later abandoned the race. We are disappointed.” Obviously something is going on with the team.
George: He has left teams mid-season before. But this would be highly unusual.
[Here’s the team’s official statement: “Our priority is the welfare of all our riders so will launch an immediate investigation but will not be commenting further until we have established what has happened to Rohan Dennis. Meantime we continue to support our riders who are mid-race.”]
Why No Fireworks?: Lance: Again, I’m worried.
George: The start was aggressive with 40 guys away. That was a lot of stress for the GC guys. Once the break was established, I’m sure the GC guys were saying ‘I need to conserve for tomorrow.’ It’s a shorter time trial. But even short time trials can be decisive.
Lance: I’m not sure why nobody attacked, but I will agree that tomorrow is going to be decisive. Whatever dynamic is happening between Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal in their co-leader roles with Team Ineos, we’ll have more clarity tomorrow. I don’t think it’s a toxic deal, but it’s really will be decided by tomorrow’s time trial. If you’re Thomas and you put 30 seconds into your co-leader, and that’s what I’m expecting, that changes the dynamic. And by the way, Bernal will start third or fourth from last and Thomas will start second to last so Thomas will know what he needs to do. And I should also point out that Julian Alaphilippe has a minute and a half on Thomas. My prediction is that he keeps yellow.
George: And Alaphilippe was under zero stress today. He’ll be relatively fresh tomorrow.
Lance: If we would predict that in normal times he’d lose a minute to Thomas tomorrow, he’ll lose less than that with the yellow jersey on.
George: He could also get some moto-drafting love. He’s a French rider in yellow.
Lance: The lack of time trialing and the easier mountain stages work out well for Alaphilippe. It would be incredible for him to hold it through the mountains though. He’s done a lot of hard racing to get to this point. He’ll crack at some point.
Is Astana Losing Faith? George: Up until today they were putting the entire team behind their captain Jakob Fuglsang. Today they had riders in the breakaway. Maybe that’s a sign they have less confidence in Fuglsang.
Quick-Step Goes All In: George: Viviani [a sprinter] was on the front towards the end. You never do that with your sprinter unless you’re changing your tactics. They are all in for Julian Alaphilippe.
Patron of the Day: George: Viviani is my Patron. He wins for going to the front and working for the team. Sprinters rarely do that.
Lance: My Patron is Simon Yates. He rode flawlessly and stuck with the plan.
Listen to the full recap of stage 12 on THEMOVE here.
Listen to JB and Johan’s preview of Stage 13 on THEMOVE here.
Stage 11: Lance Never Got Hugs, Caleb Ewan Gets His, and 11 Winners in 11 Stages
[Finally a dull stage before the racing moves into the big mountains. But for Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal, the day was anything but boring. Caught behind a crash with 20 miles to go, he had to work his way back through the field and then wait for his moment to nip Dylan Groenewegen at the line.]
A Popular Winner: Lance: Caleb Ewan finally got the stage win after a relatively short, 104-mile stage. The winner always gets hugs from his team. But I’ve recently seen guys on other teams give the winners hugs. Caleb Ewan had two separate guys on other teams give him hugs. He must be a nice guy. I never got hugs.
George: I did... But Lance 3.0 deserves more hugs these days. He’s a much nicer guy. Ewan got stuck behind that crash with 30 kilometers to go. It’s hard to get back in position and win a stage after something like that.
Lance: One guy dropped back to help him, but fighting back to the field is an exclamation point on his victory.
George: Don’t try his sprinting technique at home. To get aero, his face is nearly touching his front wheel. That’s why his rear wheel slides around. But that position and style would be unsafe for anyone else.
Lance: He's aerodynamic, but he’s inefficient. He’s all over the bike. The less side-to-side body English you have, the more your energy is directed forward. He won today in a skinsuit, by the way. Nobody wore skinsuits in our day. You can equate that to watts.
George: I don’t know about your body positioning argument. For a sprinter it’s whatever is fast for you. He hesitated for a moment just before he went. Normally that ends your chances, but today it was to his advantage. [Because of his quick pause, Ewan was able to get in Groenewegen’s draft.]
Eleven Stages, 11 Winners:Lance: We’ve had 11 different winners in the first 11 days. That hasn’t happened in 25 years.
George: It’s incredible. And the sprints have all been decided by centimeters.
Is Quintana a Captain Without a Crew?:Lance: There was a big pileup when the peloton went into the trees near a town and the light changed. Quintana was stuck behind it. I bring that up because he signed a deal with Arkea-Samsic, an obscure French team. I think that’s a bad move for him.
George: It could be bad for his chances immediately. The Movistar riders might not be as incentivized to work for a rider that’s leaving a team.
Lance: Why did he do it? Dinero.
Will Climbing Specialists Make a Bid Tomorrow? [There likely won’t be a big shakeup in the overall, but with a big climb coming 20 miles from the finish, some climbers lower down in the standings could make a break for it. If they get caught, a reduced yellow jersey group could come to the line.]
Lance: We’ve been spoiled. This first half of the Tour had been very exciting with lots of winners, and lots of breakaways, and lots of attacks. And, although I hesitate to say this, that could mean that the second half might be boring in comparison. There aren’t any iconic climbs. The guys are tired. We’ll see Ineos take charge.
George: Waaah [whining noise]. Movistar is going to get much more aggressive now. It will be exciting.
Lance: We’ll see what Quintana leaving means for the team. Maybe [Quintana’s Movistar teammate Mikel] Landa gets a green light.
Lance: The top of the final climb is 20 miles to the finish. That distance neutralizes the final climb.
George: I’m assuming there will be a breakaway at the end and it will winnow down the peloton because of attacks. If a small yellow jersey group comes to the line, it’s an advantage to Alaphilippe.
Lance: I’m going to pick Vincenzo Nibali [2014 Tour de France champion and Bahrain-Merida super domestique this year]. His goals have changed. But if anyone can hold off the group on a climb and a descent, he can. He’s a dude with a chip on his shoulder because he took some blowback from the media for his form at the Tour.
George: I’m going with Alejandro Valverde. [Similar to Nibali, Valverde is a Grand Tour winner who is working for Movistar at this race. He also climbs and descends at an elite level.]
Patron of the Day: Lance: Caleb Ewan. Super excited for him.
George: Same pick for me. He’s been so close. He’s shown that he’s had the power and the speed but he’s just been slightly out of position. Sprinters are so emotional that they sometimes lose control when losses stack up. Getting a win today says a lot about his mindset as a bike racer. So tip of the hat to Calen Ewan.
Cooling Down: [Spinning on a trainer immediately after a race is now the norm. Only a few years ago, it was an anomaly.]
Lance: We would finish in the red zone and go right to the bus. No cooldown. In hindsight that was a mistake. We’re learning a lot about recovery these days.
George: A cooldown is reportedly a hundred times more effective than a massage after a race. My recovery was leaving dinner early. In my opinion, every second in bed was recovery time.
Listen to the full recap of Stage 11 on THEMOVE here.
Listen to JB and Johan’s preview of Stage 12 on THEMOVE here.
Stage 10: The Wind Wreaks Havoc, a Cyclocross Star Thumps the Sprinters, and Christmas Comes Early for Geraint Thomas
[It was predicted to be a day for the sprinters, but after 10,000 feet of gradual climbing on slow roads, a crosswind caught an ill-prepared and tired peloton and split the group into echelons. GC favorites like Thibaut Pinot, Jakob Fuglsang, Richie Porte and many more were caught out.]
The Patron of the Day Is The Wind:Lance: I’m going to make the wind the Patron of the Day for Stage 10. Just goes to show you that you can’t take a nap during the Tour de France. Lo and behold the Patron of the Day shows up, the trees are moving, the echelons form up, and a bunch of GC guys lost out.
George: The mental part of keeping your mind sharp is exhausting, but this was inexcusable. They knew the wind was a factor and half the field wasn’t in position.
Lance: Ten days of hard racing in and guys are just cracking. But the wind is also physical. It takes a ton of energy to get in the right place. Everybody was scrambling to figure out what happened afterwards. It happened during a commercial break during the TV coverage so it was hard to tell. It seems that the EF [Education First] team went to the front in the wind and their eyes were bigger than their stomachs. They were hammering on the front. And then the next thing we know we come back from a commercial break and they’re dropped.
George: EF went into the wind on the front, and my sources tell me that [team leader] Rigoberto Urán was already in the red zone. Ineos passed them and Quick-Step and that was where the split happened. Uran lost minutes. And they knew about the wind.
Lance: EF wasn’t the group to be in the front. They aren’t Ineos. They took the bull by the horns and got the horns. When people think about the Tour they think about the big climbs and the TTs. You don’t think about wind as much at the Tour like you do in the spring Classics, but I’ll explain it quickly. If the wind is coming from the right, everyone wants to be a little to the left behind the wheel in front of them. With that many riders though, you run out of road. Then you’re going in single file in a straight line and it snaps. It takes one guy that can’t hang and it snaps. A second echelon forms, but that second group of guys isn’t as strong. They’re there for a reason. And if you’re a team leader that got caught out, you’ll lose time.
George: If I saw a whole team together like Ineos was today I would immediately get my guard up. Somebody knows something. You have to be hyper alert. If you see the peloton splitting, you have to sprint full gas to stay on. But today they had the information and got screwed up anyway. Everybody knew the wind was coming so it became a question about who can get up there and work together. Guys were just cracking today. And other guys made up the kind of time they only could have prayed to make up in the mountains.
Lance: Christmas came early for Thomas. Also Nairo Quintana and Dan Martin [UAE-Team Emirates captain].
George: Some team directors are walking around with their chests puffed up, others are hanging their heads. Trek had a disaster day. They got the information over radio that there’s going to be some serious wind and the guys said ‘we’re good.’ And they went backwards
George’s Patron of the Day: [Today’s winner in a sprint finish among a reduced field was the three-time cyclocross world champ, Wout van Aert. He added win number four to Jumbo-Visma’s impressive stage count this Tour.]
George: We haven’t seen someone this young and talented in a long time. He’s 24 years old.
Lance: Don’t forget this kid ever. He’s a ’cross champion, he won a prologue time trial, and he won a sprint today.
George: We haven’t begun to see how good he is. Jumbo’s morale must be off the chart today.
Rest Day Hammering? George: It’s been incredible racing going on so far. They need that rest day tomorrow. I hope they can recover. Today was 10,000 vertical feet of climbing.
Lance: Shout out to Christian Vande Velde. He predicted that this would be one of the hardest Tours ever. I doubted him. But we’re not even in the Alps and Pyrenees yet and these boys are cracking. They've been racing every day.
George: Lance hated rest days, but he was a bit of a freak. I liked to chill out, recover. I embraced the rest day.
Lance: I’m always of the belief that the body has to stay turned on. That sounded weird. My belief was that you have to go out and hammer. You have to go hard. Stay in bed all day and you’re terrible the next day. We did two hours and dropped the hammer.
George: It’s true that if the following day starts uphill after a rest day, you can’t get your legs in the groove. It hurts.
Lance: Did hammering not work for us?
George: It worked. For you it worked. I got dropped on the rest day, but it worked.
Lance: [But Wednesday’s stage 11] actually looks like a perfect day for getting your legs back under you. If I was the team leader I might even take a full rest day tomorrow.
George: First hour is going to hurt. Ton of attacks.
Listen to the full recap of Stage 10 on THEMOVE here.
Stage 9: Kristin Armstrong Joins the Crew (After Towing Lance All Day), the Moto Controversy That Won’t Die, and Lance Admits He Has Skeletons in His Closet
[Today the show came out of Boise, where George held a gran fondo and three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong joined the podcast.]
Lance: Today we’re honored to have Kristin Armstrong join us. My extraordinary domestique today. She hauled my ass on the entire gran fondo. George Hincapie has been replaced.
George: Lance had a hard time on the bike today. I’ve brought back Cranky. He’s been nice to me for 10 days. That’s over.
How’s Lance’s Fitness Right Now?[George and Lance are racing each other at the end of the month.]
George: My fitness is fourth and two on the goal line
Lance: I’m fourth and two on my goal line. I took a leak in the shower when I got home. That’s how tired I was. I nearly went to the hospital. It was bad.
Daryl Impey Gets The Stage: [The 34-year-old Mitchelton-Scott rider played the breakaway like a cagey veteran and won at the line.]
Lance: Daryl Impey is one of the nicest guys in the peloton. He was on RadioShack with us. If you like seeing nice people win, today was a good day.
George: Daryl did a great job. I sent the team a congratulatory note. They’d ridden that stage back in March and they picked it then for a win. It doesn’t work out much better than that in pro cyçling.
Kristin Weighs in on the Tour: Kristin: It’s been one of the more exciting Tours in the last years. It’s been so unpredictable, and I like unpredictable. I look forward to watching because of that. And we have two more weeks of this unknown with mountaintop finishes. I like that there isn’t a clear leader yet. It keeps me viewing. I used to fast forward so I knew who won, but now I’m watching.
Lance: As we said in the beginning, Froome and Dumoulin aren't here so it’s anybody’s race.
Kristin: I always have the hopes that the next American will come up and win, but right now they’re either injured or domestiques working hard. That makes me learn more about all the riders. Who can crack who.
These Huge Climbing Days Add Up:Lance: They did 9,000 feet of climbing today. Back to back to back. The man with the hammer is going to come for some of these guys pretty soon.
George: According to my sources, Alaphilippe is going to keep the jersey for a few more days but they’re going to rely on a few other teams to do it. QuickStep will get some help at the front
The Moto Controversy Returns: [There was much grumbling after yesterday’s stage that the French riders that attacked—Alaphilippe and Pinot—drafted off the camera motos driven by Frenchmen.]
Lance: Anytime there’s a Frenchman by a moto it’s going to generate a lot of buzz. Fuglsang was very critical. If they were motorpacing and they still couldn’t catch Thomas de Gendt [the stage winner] then more power to de Gendt.
Kristin: As a competitor you have to put it out of mind. I believe in karma.
George: If you attack first you’re going to get some moto love. That’s just a fact. And you better believe the attackers are relying on those motos to get them love on the way out of each corner. That’s when the drafting really helps. They’re timing their corners accordingly. I lost a podium at Paris-Roubaix because the guy in front of me got on the moto. I had really good legs but I could not close that gap. You remember those days.
Don’t Call it a Comeback:[Lance pressures Kristin Armstrong to come back for the next Olympic Games. JB questions whether comebacks are a good idea.]
Lance: No. But I’m pretty sure this woman doesn’t have half the shit in her closet as I had in mine. If you need a training partner, I’ll come up here and sit on your wheel for America. I also motorpaced today behind Kristin. All day. I’m not pulling. I made a video and put it on my Instagram. We’re going 28 she’s just rolling, calling out stuff in the road. Homegirl has three Olympic medals and she’s 45 years old. I’m saying the Tokyo Games. Yes or no.
Kristin: I can’t see that happening but I’ll drag you around whenever you want.
Johan Switches Favorites: George: Like we mentioned yesterday there was some tension with [Egan] Bernal not coming back for [Geraint] Thomas as he chased back on, but now Thomas clearly looks stronger.
Lance: I think Thomas is looking good, but he has this tendency to crash a little more than he should. I’m shocked that he’s this healthy after those falls.
George: I’m sticking with Fuglsang but I’m liking Lance’s pick [Thomas] more and more. I’m only seeing him getting better. And Ineos is one of the strongest teams in the race.
Condolences:[Breakaway specialist Alessandro De Marchi (CCC) crashed today and is out of the Tour.]
George: Fractured clavicle, fractured rib, lung contusions and numerous contusions. A bad day for my old team CCC.
Fun fact:[Stage 7 winner and breakaway artist ThomasDe Gendt is doing all three major tours.]
George: I couldn’t do it that more than 60 days of racing.
Lance: No way, no how.
Tomorrow is Undecided: George: It’s a day for the sprinters. Teams that have not won yet will really be battling it out. There will be a breakaway but they will get caught. There will be a sprint finish.
Lance: I’m not so sure. Look at the profile. It’s 200-plus kilometers. And I’m not sure the sprint teams will want to work that hard. Look at Caleb Ewan [Lotto Soudal]. He was saying the other day, ‘Don’t bother, I’ll find a wheel.’ If you don’t want a lead out then you can’t expect your team to pull you all day long. If you’re getting paid to be a sprinter for a team then you need to take that responsibility. If you have seven teammates burying themselves for you your mindset should be I’m going to do if for these guys. I think it will be a breakaway.
George: It’s still early enough in the Tour that the teams that haven’t won a sprint will put some riders on the front. They’ll make sure it’s a sprint. I’m calling it’s Groenewegen.
Listen to the full recap of Stage 9 on THEMOVE here.
Listen to the preview of Stage 10 on THEMOVE here.
Stage 8: Thomas De Gendt Takes One for the Ages, Alaphilippe Rips Back the Yellow Jersey, and Gianni Moscon Now Has Two Pinarellos
[This was perhaps the most entertaining day of all-out bike racing the Tour has seen in years. One part grueling, Spring Classics-style throwdown and one part Tour de France mountain stage—they climbed over 12,000 feet. The GC guys were forced to race while breakaway artists fought for the win and two Frenchmen escaped from the yellow jersey group to change the overall standings. If you missed this one, watch it on demand.]
Lance: Stage 8 was all about one man. What Thomas De Gendt [Lotto Soudal] did today was one of the most spectacular performances from a breakaway I’ve ever seen. Pretty clear who today's Patron is—Thomas De Gendt. That performance was outstanding. He went away at kilometer zero. He may be the Patron of the first week. He is cycling’s breakaway specialist. Today he started the breakaway, ends up with four guys on a day that we said was going to be hard, and then drops two of them. And he survived over 12,000 feet of elevation gain. For him to get out on a breakaway was impressive, but to stay away on the last 20 kilometers was incredible. I gave him no chance.
George: And he dropped his fellow breakaway rider Alessandro De Marchi [CCC Team], who is also one of the strongest breakaway specialists in the peloton.
Lance: And he stayed away from Alaphilippe [who violently took back yellow today] who was charging. Thomas De Gendt deserved to win.
George: And Alaphilippe. [With only a few kilometers left to race, Alaphilippe sprung from the yellow jersey group where he was quickly joined by fellow Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot of FDJ. The pair nearly caught De Gendt while moving back into first and third in the overall respectively]. Alaphilippe was all in for yellow, and he’s going to fight to keep it now.
Lance: I said earlier that he wasn't able to contend for the overall, but I’d like to take that back. He was strong on the big climb the other day and he was strong again today.
George: And he was getting no help from his team. He was getting his own water bottles.
Lance: As an aside, Quick-Step are heavy users of Keto Esters [a legal supplement that is reported to help with performance at the mitochondrial level]. I’m not exposing anything. They’re legal. At first it was [Team] Sky that had access; now all the teams do. And it works.
George: They might have to change their tactics to help Alaphilippe. They can’t contest for the sprints and the GC.
Lance: He’s been dominant. He left the best riders in the world again today. But you can’t do that every day. Eventually it catches up to you.
George: He’s been keeling over at the finish line for three days now.
Lance: Hats off to Pinot for learning how to descend. To follow a guy like Alaphilipe is impressive.
Ineos Crash: [Michael Woods of EF Education First went down in a corner and took the Ineos squad down with him (team leader Egan Bernal was safe at the front of the pack). The crash resulted in Musco’s bike being split in two and last year's winner Geraint Thomas having to fight back down from a 30-second gap. High drama.]
Lance: They all went down like dominos. Musco now has two Pinarellos. You can’t be all that confident going downhill after you see your bike do that.
George: I took two observations from that crash. The first one is just how strong Thomas is now in managing to come back. His teammates gave him everything they had, but Thomas took it from there. And the second observation: Egan Bernal, their teammate and co-leader, didn’t even come back in the yellow jersey group to get him back to the front. Here’s a 22-year-old not going back for last year’s yellow jersey winner. If I’m the director I would have said go back.
Lance: I’m betting the director said stay at the front. Hedge the bets.
George: Thomas is emerging as the clear favorite.
Lance: To me that would be exceptional because before the Tour he did not look good.
Four Americans Drops to Three:[American Tejay van Garderen abandoned the Tour yesterday with a broken hand and multiple cuts and contusion from a crash of his own making.]
George: I love Tejay. One of my great friends in the peloton. Something happened in the lead-up to this Tour. He was on great form before that. He went too deep. I don’t know. But to crack on stage six and then crash on stage seven is heartbreaking.
American Ben King Was in the Breakaway: George: Happy to see him there. Fellow southerner. Won two stages in the Vuelta last year. Hope to see him in more breakaways before this one is over.
Don’t Trust the GPS: Lance: If you’re following the gaps on TV you know they've been all over the place. Whatever they’re beaming up from the number plates on the bikes is off. For the fan at home don’t look at those and think that they’re accurate. It’s a ballpark of the gap.
UCI Cycling is Taking a Survey: Lance: They’re now asking the public what they should do to fix road cycling. I would be remiss if I didn't fill out the survey. [Check it out here.]
Tomorrow the GC Guys Will Hide: George: Extremely difficult day tomorrow.
Lance: Starts off with a Category 1 climb
George: I don’t think Quick-Step will even try to control that stage. And they won’t be able to do if they try. So I predict a breakaway gets away.
Lance: I think the GC guys will hide as much as they can. The roads are just slow. The chip sealing in this part of France is slow. You feel it at the end of the day. It’s just slow.
Has Anyone Ever Ridden a Stage Hungover? [Lance answers this question from a fan.]
Lance: Yes, people have ridden stages of the Tour with hangovers. I won’t name names, but their was one rider who would get hamskied and not in a good way. And in 2003 I rode into Paris slightly nickered up. Johan [Bruyneel, Armstrong’s former team director] looked at me and he was like: “Oh my god. You know today counts?” That whole day was terrible.
Listen to John and JB’s preview of Stage 9 on THEMOVE here.
Stage 7: The Mad Quackers of Quick-Step, Dylan Groenewegen Gets His Day, and Expect Alaphilippe to Take Back Those Six Seconds for Yellow Tomorrow
George Breaks Down The Sprint Finish: George: It feels good to pick another winner. I’m one up on Johan now.
Lance: Hats off to George. Viviani [QuickStep] was in the armchair, but he hit that incline and lost it. What I love about these boring days, is that you learn a lot about chateaus.
George: This was an interesting lead-in to the sprint because you had multiple teams taking their own lead-outs. But Quick-Step is just dominating the leadout these days. You don’t want anything to do with the full quackers on that squad. [See stage 5 for Lance and George’s discussion of what a quacker is.] They’re crazy. They didn’t get into that position by accident. Anyway, Quick-Step was all together with two kilometers to go. It was the perfect leadout. And then we have my boy Dylan Groenewegen [Jumbo-Visma] and Caleb Ewan [Lotto-Soudal] back behind them. Groenewegen and Ewan come around everyone on both sides. When that second Quick-Step rider peeled off, Groenewegen did not wait. He went on his own into the wind and won it. Ewan stayed in the wheels for just a fraction of a second but almost won anyway. It was a great sprint.
Tejay Has Another Bad Day: [After cracking on the first major climb of the Tour, American Tejay van Garderen’s misfortunes snowball.]
Lance: Today was 143 miles and just boring. Besides the sprint, the only two exciting things that happened were Tejay’s crash and the split in the group after the intermediate sprint.
George: Tejay hit a sign at 30K and had to ride another hundred-plus miles with blood on his face all banged up. I really feel for him and I hope he’s OK. I’m a big Tejay fan.
Nature Calls and Quintana and Martin Get Caught Out: Lance: The group accelerates through the sprints. Everyone knows this. But two GC guys were caught sleeping. [Nairo] Quintana and Dan Martin were caught out. If things went a little differently and they couldn’t chase back on, it’s see you in the douches [showers] for their overall chances.
George: There’s no excuse for riders of their level to make that kind of mistake. They spent as much energy coming back as the guys in the sprint. That might cost them in the stages to come.
Lance: Dan Martin is a heads-up bike racer. I was surprised to see him back there chasing. But they made it back.
George: About nature breaks: They will fine you if you pee in the wrong place. It happened yesterday. They don’t want you peeing in front of families. The woods are fine, but not in front of somebody's picnic. The French say it’s no proffie, not professional. They say the same thing if you eat donuts in the peloton.
Soul-Sucking Calorie Counting: George: I just learned this from the coverage this morning but the teams are now tracking every calorie the riders are putting in. They have devices that track your glycogen levels in the muscle. We had nothing like that. We were trading bars in the group. After five days of racing, you are so sick of what you have to eat. But now they’re measuring their intake and that can’t happen.
Lance: We’re getting to a place were wearables can actually measure these things and make a difference. When we were racing those devices were a novelty, but they didn’t work.
George: Mentally that would be brutal to me. I enjoyed eating a real meal and recovering based on feel. If they took that small freedom from me I don’t know what I would have done.
Fun Fact: [Current yellow jersey holder Giulio Ciccone is related to Madonna. He also got a contract extension from Trek-Segafredo.]
Lance: And I’m a distant relative of Muhammad Ali. Seriously. I was just informed of this. I’ll bring evidence before the Tour is over. You better watch your trash talking George.
And the Trash Talking: [George reveals shots of Lance from yesterday’s training ride. He’s keeled over in one and and sprawled out in a lounge chair in the second.
George: I’m poking the bear, trying to get Lance motivated for the big race.
Lance: George’s wife tells me that George naps 90 minutes a day. I work. This sumbitch sleeps.
Patron of the Day: Lance: It has to be Groenewegen. I didn't expect it. He crashed early in the Tour and got dropped in the TTT but he came back.
George: He was perfect today. Congrats to him.
Watch For Alaphilippe Tomorrow: Lance: It’s another hard day, it’s 200K with lumpy categorized climbs. I’m going to call it right now. Alaphilippe is going to get the yellow jersey back tomorrow. He’s going to do exactly what he did on Stage 3 and win the day.
George: My take is that the breakaway sticks tomorrow. But Alaphilippe might still get those six seconds back. I have PTSD from this stage. It’s one kilometer up and one kilometer down all day long. If you’re controlling the race, the teams behind are trying to get into breaks and the field is sending these groups of 20 guys up to sit on your wheels. And then at the bottom of every descent they attack like mad to get away. For a team trying to control a race it’s your worst nightmare. I don’t think Trek-Segafredo will try to control that tomorrow.
Stage 6: Dylan Teuns Takes the Stage, an Italian Waves His Arms in the Air, Alaphilippe Barely Loses Yellow, And Gravel Spices Up the Tour
Better Than Advertised:Lance: We all were expecting an exciting day. With 100 miles and 13,000 feet of climbing over a bunch of categorized climbs, how could it not be? And it was an exciting day. I have to say, and I said it after Julian Alaphilippe won, but wow, this is entertaining bike racing. Throw some gravel in, throw some 20-percent climbs in, I thought it was awesome. I loved it.
George: What a day. I think Quick-Step was kind of half in there in terms of pulling and protecting [Julian Alaphilippe in] yellow. They shouldn’t have allowed the gap to go over eight minutes. [Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) were part of a breakaway that built up to an 8-minute gap with about 70 km to go. The break kept shedding riders until, at about 4 km to go, only Teuns and Ciccone were left. Then Teuns dropped the Italian on the final climb, 50 meters from the line.] Maybe they weren’t even expecting it, but Julian Alaphilippe turned out to be one of the strongest guys of the day. They didn’t need to lose yellow.
Lance: I thought Alaphilippe would lose yellow, but it didn’t have to happen. Alaphilippe was impressive. This raises the question: Can he transition into an overall contender? The final climb today was only seven kilometers. It’s no Mont Ventoux. And on the penultimate climb he didn’t look good. He had the mask on, gritting his teeth. But it turns out that wasn’t a premonition of the finish. He was right there with [last year’s winner and the strongest of the GC bunch today] Geraint Thomas. I’m going to make him my Patron of the Day. I thought the opposite would be happening. I thought he’d be off the back of the group of favorites. Not off the front. He went off the front of the GC group and then held most of them off.
George Readjusts his Favorites: George: I clearly failed in my overall picks. Vinceno Nibali [Bahrain-Merida] did not look good today. Alejandro Valverde [Team Movistar] proved that he’s there to work for the team. I see Geraint Thomas, Alaphilippe, and Fuglsang [Astana] as the strongest guys in the race.
Lance Picks a Second Patron of the Day—Bobke: Lance: My second Patron of the Day is [commentator] Bob Roll, he’s doing an amazing job. And he picked stage winner Dylan Teuns from the breakaway. Nobody picked him but Bob. He knows what he’s talking about.
Lance Picks a Third Patron of the Day—the Organizers: Lance: My third Patron of the Day are the race organizers, ASO. We all know how hot and sexy gravel racing is right now. For ASO to lean into gravel is a smart move. I loved it. If in five years the trend is unicycling they should have a unicycle stage. I think they’re making the right move. They’re listening to the people. Maybe they’ll have all dirt climbs in the future. I’m curious what the riders had to say about the gravel. They may have hated it. But we loved it.
Breaking News, Italians are Demonstrative:George: Ciccone [second on the day and now in yellow] is my Patron of the Day. He worked all day in that breakaway and nearly won the stage and yellow.
Lance: Ciccone. He’s Italian, they really get wound up. Waving his arms at Teuns. Cleary his director came on his earpiece and said you have a chance for yellow, start pedaling.
George: I think they worked something out between themselves. “You get the win and I get the yellow.” That type of arrangement, because when it mattered they stopped arguing and held the gap.
Geraint Thomas Is Back: George: He made a statement today. He rode away from his competitors and caught and passed Alaphilippe on the steepest part of the course.
Lance: In the saddle too. That’s hard to do.
Who Cracked? Lance: Michael Landa [the Movistar rider attacked too soon and cracked hard]. Not only did he get caught but he got caught and went out the back. A guy with that much experience should know the course.
George: Tejay van Garderen [of Education First]. I was surprised. I thought he’d be stronger. I hope he isn’t sick. And I hope he comes back for stage wins.
Lance: Nibali. Nibali lost 50 seconds to Geraint Thomas in under a kilometer.
A Shoutout to Christian Vande Velde’s Hair: Lance: Christian’s Hair is my fourth Patron of the Day. Chris Horner [Vande Velde’s co-host on NBCSN] would kill to have that hair.
JB: I would kill to have that hair.
The Hand Sling Explained:[In the footage today we saw a number of riders reach back and sling teammates and even competitors back into position.]
George: I’ll take that since Lance has never done one in his life. A hand sling is an etiquette thing. Maybe you opened a gap on a teammate that you didn’t mean it. You put your hand out and pull that guy back. When everyone is at full gas you need to make amends.
Sleep in Tomorrow: Lance: Let’s talk about something really boring—tomorrow’s stage. It’s the longest stage of the Tour. And it includes a nine-kilometer neutral leg. Add that in and it’s a 240km day. I hated the neutral zones. Neutral is a terrible word.
George: I'm going to go with Dylan Groenewegen [Jumbo-Visma]. Great team and he’ll get a great lead out tomorrow. And there will be a lot of collaboration from the sprinter teams during the day so they’ll get there fresh.
Lance: I’m going with Viviani [Quick-Step].
Listen to the full recap of Stage 6 on THEMOVE here.
Stage 5: Sagan Dominates, Michael Mathews is Not a Quacker, Hater Tots, and Why You Should Get up Early to Watch Tomorrow
[Peter Sagan won today’s sprint finish in classic Sagan style, meaning he was able to dispatch the big sprinters on the stage’s rolling terrain and eventually win by an entire bike length.]
That Crystal Ball Again: Lance: I swear to God Johan Bruyneel [George and Lance’s former team director, who has been following Lance’s daily recaps with preview podcasts for the next day’s stage] has a crystal ball. It’s surreal. He picked Peter Sagan today.
George: I was not given the opportunity to choose a winner.
Lance: We both agreed that it was going to be a breakaway.
George’s Patron of the Day: [Patron means boss in Spanish. And Patron Tequila sponsors THEMOVE. Thus, Patron of the Day.]
George: My Patron of the Day is Toms Skujiņš [the Latvian rider with Trek-Segafredo]. He had such a strong day: in the breakaways all day with only three other riders, and then he had the strength to drop them. It looked like he had a shot for a while. That’s a good indication of his form. And we’ll see a lot more of him in the breakaways to come.
I think I should explain how breakaways work some more. On flat days the breakaway goes, and it’s virtually guaranteed that they won’t make it stick to the finish. They’re hopeful, but a lot of those breaks are for gaining experience and getting TV time for the sponsor at the front of the race. Today though [which had a jagged “saw blade” course profile] you saw four very strong breakaway specialists get away. And there were hundreds of attacks in the first few hours of the race. You have to be powerful to make it into a break like today’s.
Who Was Quackin’ and Who Wasn’t: Lance: I never pick him on the days he wins, so this is my penance. Peter Sagan is my Patron of the Day. He was right there quackin’. I’ll explain that [word] in a minute. When he finally went he immediately had a full bike length. Man, that punch was impressive. Obviously they’d dropped some big sprinters already but he rode flawlessly to do that.
Quackin’ [comes from] a Flemish word, I believe. In the peloton anyway, a quacker is a real person. If you’re fighting for position and you lose it, you got quacked by a quacker. First-year pros don’t quack much but Sagan is allowed to quack.
George: He rode like that as a first-year pro too. Quacking means no brakes, leaning in, head butting [jockeying for position]. Sagan is a quacker. If you do it to win races it’s one thing. If you’re doing it for 20th place though, it’s frowned upon.
Lance: Team Sunweb was working all day at the front and chasing those early breaks to put their sprinter Michael Mathews into position with Sagan. And ultimately it was for nothing.
George: Mathews was left on his own at the end and he did not quack like Sagan did to get into position. If I was Sunweb I would have left two or three guys out of the wind today so they could have stayed fresh to help at the line.
Stupid Fan Trick Number 67: An Umbrella: Lance: I’ve seen a lot of things in bike races. Drunk fans trying to take selfies, stray dogs. But now we have umbrellas. The fact the we have to warn people to make sure their umbrellas don’t [fly] away is idiotic. Poor Tony Gallopin [AG2R]. He crashed yesterday, and today he had to dodge an umbrella. Imagine if he broke a collarbone and had to go home and tell his friends and family, “I hit an umbrella.”
George: I have seen a lot of weird stuff too, but the strangest was a horse in the middle of the road. Very scary.
A Shoutout to Lance’s Greatest Rival, Jan Ullrich: [In the wake of the public shaming that came along with doping positives for the biggest stars in the sport, the German rider Jan Ullrich fell into depression and substance abuse.]
Lance: The Tour went within 30 minutes of Ullrich’s home today. I just want to give a shoutout to him. I caught up with him recently. He’s doing great. Totally sober. Nine months now. He’s back on the bike. His health is very good. I don’t know how you can’t be a fan of Jan.
George: Lance was always concerned with Jan’s fitness. How’s he look? Is he fat, is he lean? They were the ultimate competitors. But Jan came to Lance’s final party and spoke.
Lance: Getting healthy is a long-term commitment.
JB: That’s what THEMOVE’s logo, a bent arrow, means. Forward, never straight.
That Time the Paparazzi Stepped on the Yellow Jersey’s Puppy: Lance: Sagan was mobbed by journalists within seconds of winning the stage. He’s still gasping for air. The Tour protects the riders better than any other Grand Tour. But it’s so claustrophobic. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Imagine a Formula 1 winner getting out of his car only to be mobbed by the press with microphones in his face and the town butcher slapping him on the back.
George: I didn't win as much as Sagan or Lance, but my take is different. The normal rider that wins a race is ecstatic. They don’t even notice the people. They’re too thrilled.
Lance: Cadel Evans [former yellow jersey winner] took a swing at a few reporters once when they stepped on his puppy. Who brings a puppy to the Tour?
George Eats Hater Tots: [Lance and George are training to race each other on the final day of the Tour. Yesterday, Lance employed some non-traditional tactics in the buildup to the big day.]
George: We’re sitting at lunch with the families towards the end of the ride. I’m eating handfuls of tater tots and half my kid’s hamburger. Lance is eating a gel-block. We leave the lunch spot and Lance takes me on a 45-minute singletrack climb with a 10 percent grade. I was trying not to throw up.
Lance: You sound like you ate Hater Tots. As I was leading the climb I was saying out loud that I’m feeling fitter. Mr. Momentum has changed his address.
Tomorrow Matters. Get Up Early. [Everyone has been talking about Stage 6. It’s highly unusual for a big mountain stage with 13,000 feet of climbing to show up before Stage 8 or 9. The twist meant that the pure climbers had to come into the race ready to climb. Tomorrow will reveal whether their training worked.]
George: The GC guys were hiding today, conserving energy for tomorrow. That’s smart. And the fact that Julian Alaphilippe [in yellow, Quick-Step] wasn’t hiding, he was contesting for the sprint, might indicate that he’s not going to try to defend yellow on a day like this trying to save energy for tomorrow.
Lance: Tomorrow is a hard day: 13,000 feet of climbing in a hundred miles.
George: With a 13 percent grade on dirt. [NBCSN Commentator and former World Tour racer] Christian Vande Velde rode it and said it was hard. I’m saying a maximum of three guys will hit the finish line together. And Quick-Step won’t control the race.
Lance: I agree. Team Ineos has to take control tomorrow. I don’t think Julian Alaphilippe will be able to retain yellow. I think it’s too hard for him. My pick for tomorrow is Egan Bernal.
George: Alaphilippe looked good on the bike today, but my pick for tomorrow is Alejandro Valverde. It’s a super steep climb, but if he can make it to the top with the favorites, nobody can match his sprint. After 13,000 feet of climbing, nobody will be fresh.
Is Mountain Biking Good Cross Training for Road Riding? [Lance and George answer this question from a listener.] George: I never ever used mountain biking to train as a pro, but the last two years I did the Cape Epic [mountain bike stage race in South Africa], I got so efficient from mountain biking that I would rethink that. In nasty weather, I could have stayed warm and ridden my bike in the woods all those years.
Lance: If you’re mountain biking something steep it’s closer to running than riding. And the Q-factor (the width of the cranks) is different in mountain biking. That affects how you ride on the road.
George: You also won’t have the power on the flats if all you do is mountain biking. But for efficiency [spinning] it’s a benefit.
Listen to the full Stage 5 recap podcast on THEMOVE here.
Listen to the Stage 6 preview podcast on THEMOVE here.
Stage 4: Viviani Makes it Look Easy (if Dull), the Yellow Jersey Delivers a Mad Leadout, and Tomorrow Is for the Breakaway Specialists
Snore. Sprint Finish. Snore. Lance: Congrats to Quick-Step’s Elia Viviani for his first stage win. It’s one of these days. You have to have these boring days in a three week bike race. Long break, brought back, sprint finish, boring.
George: It was boring for us, but not the racers. They were keeping it tight worried about crosswinds.
Patron of the Day and Quick-Step Dominance: Lance: I’m going with Julian Alaphilippe. Here’s a French guy in France in yellow and everyone says he can’t make it past stage 6, and he’s on the front pulling [his teammate] Viviani for the leadout. He could have sat back. He’s my Patron of the Day.
George: I’m going to give it to Viviani. After not winning a stage last year, he had a lot of pressure on him. There are a lot of sprinters on that team that they could have brought instead. What a year this team has had. Close to 50 wins.
Lance: Other teams have won five times. To win 10 times more than your peers—that’s incredible.
George: And they delivered a perfect leadout. Viviani only had to do what he does. Today he clearly had a better leadout than any of his competitors. You have to have that. Everything has to go right, which it did today.
Where’s the Teamwork, Jumbo-Visma? Lance: When you have riders [on your team] looking to win the entire Tour and you also see two riders in 5th and 6th in a sprint finish, you have to think that leads to some awkward tension in the bus. Somebody has to sacrifice something for your top guys. I think they were thinking about themselves.
Team Ineos Had It Right:Lance: That was a hairy and sketchy run in to the finish but Ineos was right up there keeping their top guys out of trouble. That’s how you do it. If you’re a GC guy you’re shitting bricks. But that’s the catbird seat. You’re safe.
George: Keep them in the front on technical finishes and back in 30th if it’s a straight shot.
Lance: The sprinters don’t want the GC guys around and the GC guys don’t want to be there. They should give them that time immunity a few kilometers sooner.
Tomorrow Is For the Breakaway Specialists: Lance: Tomorrow Is one of those days that I’m glad I’m watching. The topo profile looks like a saw blade. All sorts of turns. If you’re in the back, it’s death by a thousand cuts.
George: Good chance that more than a few riders will get in the breakaway. We’ll see how much Quick-Step wants to control it and go for the win.
Lance: If Alaphilippe goes for that I’d be surprised. That will take too much energy.
George: I think the break will stick tomorrow. Plenty of strong guys that aren’t a threat to the overall. [Teams with race leaders are more likely to let a break get up the road if there aren’t any GC contenders in it.] That said, it’s hard to make the perfect situation work.
Lance: I’m going to agree with you there. You can’t hand-pick who goes in the break but it will get sorted out after the first two hours.
George: Tomorrow’s stage is for real breakaway specialists.
Listen to the full recap of Stage 4 on THEMOVE here.
Listen to the preview of Stage 5 on THE MOVE here.
Stage 3: Alaphilippe’s Incredible Move, Valverde’s Secret Weapon, and Aspen’s Problem with Pot-Laced Poop
Lance: Cannabis is legal in Colorado, as most of you know. But I don’t think we factored this headline news from the Aspen Times into legalization. Here’s the headline from today’s paper: “Pot Laced Human Poop is Getting Canines High.” Okay, moving on.
Alaphilippe’s Mad Play Earns Him Lance’s Patron of the Day Award [Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphillipe attacked and got away on a punchy ramp with 15 kilometers left to race, and won. It was one of the more exciting stage endings in years.]
Lance: George, congrats, you were right. You picked Julian Alaphillipe. This shit is fun to watch. If the bike racing is like this there will be a lot of people watching. Now I know you picked Alaphillipe, but you picked him to win in a sprint—an uphill sprint, right? You did not think that he would win a such an incredibly impressive fashion, correct?
George: If we’re all being honest here, no I did not pick him to win in such a dramatic manner. A friend asked me why the rest of that lead group let him go. It's a great question, but Quick-Step had that finish planned for weeks. And overnight they knew they had a chance for the yellow jersey. Alaphillipe thought a few people would have gone with him. I think he hoped a few people would have gone with him, but in the end it was just an incredible move and he didn’t need anyone.
Lance: I don’t think anyone could have followed. He’s our Patron of the Day.
George: The GC guys were probably like, I don’t want to make that move right now.
Lance: The consensus must have been that he wasn’t a big enough threat to the overall to go after him.
George: They also probably thought that they would catch him with 15k left to go. But because there wasn’t clear organization behind, he just had to hold that level.
Lance: After the race [EF Education First climber] Michael Woods said, “I just watched him go. I had good legs but not that good. It was beautiful to watch.”
George: Alaphilippe put in a ten second advantage on the climb, but on the descent he put in 30 seconds. Thirty seconds, in the supertuck [in the drops, ass on the top tube], by himself.
Lance: He had reconned that finale. He was not hitting his brakes in those blind corners. If he’s not braking and the peloton is, then he was picking up two to three seconds on every corner. He’s a French guy in France. He’s going to hold on to that jersey for a bit here.
Geraint Thomas Was in a Bad Spot: [Because of the hard racing to limit Alaphilippe’s damage at the front, gaps formed in the GC group and last year’s winner Geraint Thomas was caught out.]
Lance: Ineos teammates Egan Bernal was 12th and Geraint Thomas was 13th today, but because the race official called time gaps [declared a time difference between Bernal’s group and Thomas’ chase group], Thomas technically finished in the next group back and lost five seconds to Bernal. You start to question: Was he a little off? Was he out of position? Five seconds is nothing but it’s a psychological thing.
George: You know their race director was screaming in their earpieces that they needed to stay up front because they would be calling gaps today. Thomas was just not in the right position.
Philippe Gilbert Should Have Been Here: [The 2019 Paris-Roubaix winner, and starter of the 2018 Tour de France, was left off the Tour squad by Quick-Step.]
Lance: Philippe Gilbert was left off. What do you think of that, given today’s stage?
George: Of course Cavendish [who was also not invited] is a buddy, and Gilbert is a buddy of mine, but here’s the current Paris-Roubaix winner sitting at home. I’m sure he was happy for his teammate but he should be there.
Valverde Is Leaner Than Ever—Watch Out: George:Our sources are telling us that [Movistar’s Alejandro] Valverde has lost six pounds. He wasn’t a big guys to begin with. If it’s true that he weighed 133 pounds last season then he’s down to 127 pounds now. If he kept that power—yikes.
George Feels a Bead of Sweat? [George and Lance are racing each other at the end of the month.]
George: I thought I felt a little bead of sweat when Lance went up a climb on a group ride the other day. But it turns out it was raining
Lance: I was projectile sweating.
#Winning: [THEMOVE is now the number one show on the iTunes Sports & Recreation channel, and it’s number 53 overall out of 700,000 podcasts.]
No Tucks Given:[Alaphilippe built his lead today by super-tucking on a very scary road full of holes and encroached upon by dirt. This prompted Lance to hold up a shirt that a fan sent in that read “No Tucks Given”]
Tomorrow’s Gonna Be a Fight: George: It’s going to be hard start with lots of teams trying to get in the breakaways. Most likely they won’t make it. Quick-Step will want to keep the yellow tomorrow. They won’t let anyone get away.
Lance: At the finish they’ll be fighting from five kilometers out and the turns look tricky.
George: Yesterday you said that if Sagan didn’t win today you wouldn't pick him again. So I’m going with Sagan for tomorrow.
Lance: I’m going with Dylan Groenewegen. Jumbo wants another stage.
George: At 15k to go there’s a climb that Sagan’s team will try to drop Groenewegen on. They’re going to drive the pace tomorrow.
Stage 2: Johan’s Crystal Ball, Return of the Panzerwagen, the UCI Is Measuring Socks and Fighting Crime, and Tomorrow it’s Peter Sagan Versus Julian Alaphilippe in a Steep Sprint to the Finish
Jumbo-Visma Dominates the TTT to Hold On to the Yellow Jersey: Lance: In the aftershow yesterday Johan [Bruyneel, former U.S. Postal director] described to a T that Ineos would have the best time early and then sit there all day, for two hours, and that Jumbo-Visma would beat them in the end. He has a crystal ball. The guy is a genius. And if you think about that difference of 20 seconds on stage 2, that’s huge. They put their competitors back 10 places and more.
George: It was clear domination. Team Movistar is now 45 seconds back.
Lance: I said this yesterday and I’ll say it again today. The time trial is real time. Romain Bardet has to make up that minute his team lost on his own. With tactics.
George: On the television coverage they were worried about Jumbo-Visma waiting on [yellow jersey winner, Dutchman Mike] Teunissen. But that didn’t happen.
Lance: It’s no joke. You actually do ride twice as strong in yellow.
George: It was also great to see my friend Tony Martin [Jumbo-Visma] back out there. He’s had a lot of injuries but he’s healthy again. In Germany they call him the Panzerwagen, the tank, and he looked like a tank today.
The Warm-up: [Due to some confusion, a few teams almost missed their starts. This prompted a conversation about how you warm up for a TTT.]
Lance: The rule of thumb is that the longer the effort the less intense the warm-up, and the shorter the effort, like today, the more intense the warm-up. You’re going from sitting on your ass to full gas.
George: People ask me if the team time trial is easier than a regular stage. It’s not. Logistically it’s even harder. It’s difficult to plan. You have to pre-ride the course. You have to do your warm-up. It’s an intense day even if the effort is only 27 km long. I would say it’s harder. You’re in Zone 5 or 6 the entire time. You aren’t sitting up talking to your teammates.
The UCI Was Out at the Start Measuring Bikes—and Sock Height: Lance: You can blame me for the sock height deal. We started playing around with compression socks. There was a runner that was winning marathons with the type of compression socks that people buy at drug stores.
George: Please don’t start showing up on group rides with compression socks. The cool factor is not there.
Lance: Anyway, we were testing them out one day—they worked—and I saw a cycling official. He asked me about the socks and then his eyes got really wide. Clearly he ratted me out and told the UCI that I was going to be wearing compression socks during the Tour. That’s when they came up with the sock height policy. Now compression socks are an entire industry. And the UCI is measuring socks and fighting crime.
Just How Big Are Those Chainrings?Lance: On today’s time trial, most people were riding with 60-tooth front chainrings. To put that in perspective, most bikes have 53-tooth rings. With a huge chainring like a 60, you keep the chain in the middle of the gears. You can really fine tune the gearing and not make the big jumps between gears. But trust me, nobody is pedaling a 60-11 gear ratio unless they’re going downhill with a tailwind.
George Breaks Down TTT Tactics: George: If you watched Team Movistar, they started lackadaisical. They probably lost 10 seconds in the start. Jumbo started fast and got into single file with the entire team on the aero drops quickly. When Lance and I raced, they only wanted the first three riders in the drops; everybody else was supposed to have their hands on the bullhorns. They did it for safety reasons. We all yard-saled in 2000. But you saw Jumbo and they were all in the drops. And they were executing the single rider pull-off perfectly. In most recreational settings, riders head up the left side of the group and pull off in a paceline style. With the single rider pull-off you stay in one line and peel off one at a time. It should be an aggressive pull-off so the rider behind you knows what your doing and you should pull far over so you aren’t mucking up the slipstream of the group. It’s critical that everyone stays in position so that when you drift back you know who the person in front of you is, so you can pull in and get back on his wheel. Communication is crucial. You can’t hear anything. All we had was an earpiece. No mic. One-way communication.
Tomorrow Is Mostly Flat, But a 12-Percent Ramp Could Hurt the Sprinters: Lance: It’s on the longer side—215 km. Flat all day but a tricky finish. The last 500 meters are about eight percent.
George: I’m going with Julian Alaphilippe [Quick Step]. He’s in good form. And Sagan will be right there. There is a climb of 12 percent with 15 km to go that they’ll try to drop some sprinters on.
Lance: I’m going with Sagan. If he doesn’t win tomorrow that’s the last prediction I’ll make.
Stage 1: Fuglsang Draws First Blood (His Own), and Sagan Gets Poached by an Unknown
Remembering Paul Sherwen: [Lance and George took a minute to remember the racer, team manager, and longtime race commentator who was there for George’s first race as a World Tour rider and was still on the scene 19 years later for his last.] Lance: I miss Paul. We were friends for a long time.
Another Nod to the Manx Missile: George: How can you leave him off the squad? It’s Mark Cavendish. He’s won 30 stages. He should be there.
Lance: I’m not trying to be critical about Mark. I love Mark. But he can’t finish within the time cut. You can’t go to the Tour de France if you can’t finish with the group. Mark Cavendish would not have been better than fourth place today.
Lance and George Make their Picks for the Overall Win: Lance: I basically said in the preview show that Jakob Fuglsang was my pick. But his Tour ended today with his crash. I believe that. [A bruised knee and a cut above his right eye sent the Astana captain to the doctor, but he finished without losing time.]
George: The crash should never have happened. Lance crashed once in seven and a half years. That’s hard work, not luck. For me to see Jakob in the middle of the group, that’s unacceptable.
Lance: You have to use the team to stay on the front. Crashes happen in the front, too. But the stats show they happen more in the middle and back. Now he has a big cut on his eye, lots of blood coming down. Everything is different after a crash. You sit different. You ride different. You think different. He’s done.
George: I have a dark horse pick, which is Vincenzo Nibali, if he has truly recovered from the Giro. We’re talking about one of the best bike handlers in the bunch. And Geraint Thomas crashed again today. I’m picking Nibali.
Lance: He’s one of these guys that as soon as you pin a number on his back he’s a favorite. He can ride a bike.
A Surprise Winner Takes the Yellow Jersey—By Inches: [Dutchman Mike Teunnisen from Team Jumbo-Visma beat Peter Sagan by a bike throw in today’s stage.]
Lance: His leader Dylan Groenewegen goes down and then it’s Peter Sagan in front… Nobody would have picked Teunissen. He’s the first Dutchman to put on the yellow jersey in 30 years. That’s too long for a country like Holland. But he’s not a complete unknown. He won the amateur Paris-Roubaix as a junior and has won some races this year. As he came to the line Sagan gave him a look like, Who the fuck are you? It was that tight of a finish.
George: I think Jumbo is going to keep winning at the Tour especially if Groenewegen recovers. But today it was Teunissen that said “see you in the douches” to Peter Sagan. That means see you in the showers.
As Predicted, Geraint Thomas Hits the Deck Again: Lance: My source at Team Ineos confirms that he’s fit and flying, but their biggest concern is how much he crashes. It’s not his fault. It just happens.
A Full Gas Stage: [The peloton averaged 44.5 kph according to George’s early calculation.] George: I would have guessed it would have been a little easier today. The team directors were probably saying last night to stay out of trouble and save something for the team time trial. But the last 70 km were fast.
Concussions in Cycling: [A crash in the final kilometer left a racer seemingly unconscious in the road. He was seen moving after the crash.]
Lance: If you take a big hit like that in most other sports there’s a protocol and they’ll pull the athlete off the field. Not so in cycling. This is not football or hockey. That guy hit the deck hard and didn't move. It’s time that cycling institute some concussion protocols.
Team Time Trial Tomorrow: Lance: This is the earliest I’ve ever seen a team time trial. I have to give a shout out to [Outside contributor] Joe Lindsey. He pointed out over a tweet that today’s crash is relevant for tomorrow. The teams start in reverse order tomorrow and Team Ineos was last because of the crash. That means they go first tomorrow without having the benefit of seeing the splits.
George: We used to get that message from [former U.S. Postal Director] Johan Bruyneel. “I need three of you to finish near the front so we get a good placement in the team time trial. That didn’t happen with Ineos today.
Shut Up Jens? [Lance takes a gentle dig at commentator and former pro Jens Voigt, who is enthusiastic but whose German is a bit tough to understand.]
Preview: Chris Froome's Momentary Lapse of Judgment. And What's Your Prediction for the Fight, Champ?
[Lance and Company’s first 2019 TDF podcast came to us live from Santa Fe, New Mexico, home to THEMOVE media partner Outside. Stage one begins this Saturday, July 6 in Brussels—home of the legendary Eddy Merckx. But first, in this preview episode, Lance, George, and JB talk about the road ahead.]
Doom and Gloom Without Froome and Dumoulin:[The two biggest general category stars are out of the 2019 Tour de France with Tom Dumoulin (knee injury) and Chris Froome (broken leg, ribs, and elbow) watching from home. Will this make for a dull TDF or will it mean more fireworks? Lance thinks it will bring the heat.]
Lance: Whenever you look at the TDF before the racing starts you look at the course and the athletes. On paper is the course is not overly exciting. But the athletes bring the drama. You can’t avoid the fact that Dumoulin and Froome are not here. But that almost makes it more exciting. It’s truly anyone’s race.
What Was Froome Thinking? Lance: What happened to Chris Froome? If we believe everything we read, he was out pre-riding one of the time trials on his aero bike. As the story goes, he had taken a hand off the bars to blow his nose. But in a video just before the crash he’s putting a raincoat on with no hands on the bar. The bike was shaking. And we know the ending. His teammate was telling him not to take risks, it’s a pre-ride. This is totally unacceptable, especially from a veteran rider like Chris Froome. He’s 35. That’s a potential career ender. I don’t see him coming back.
George: It was a momentary lapse of judgement. I tried to remember the times I took both my hands of the bars on a time trial bike and the answer was never. Those bikes are twitchy. I’d like to see him come back. I’m not going to count him out yet.
[The boys also bemoaned the absence of U.S. fan favorite Lawson Craddock (the guy that rode the entire Tour with a broken scapula last year) and sprinting superstar Mark Cavendish.]
Lance and George Handicap the Favorites
Last Year’s Winner, Geraint Thomas:George: I’m interested to see how he rides this year. Everything went perfect for him last year. But this year he has not had the same buildup.
Lance: I’ve heard that Thomas is riding really well right now. But I’m guessing he has less than 20 race days in his legs. We tried to get 40 days in before the Tour. That 20 extra days of riding in the group in a race setting can’t be discounted. Especially with somebody with less than perfect bike-handling skills like Thomas.
George: The hard crash he had at the Tour de Suisse will be in the back of his mind. I see that as a bit of an issue.
The Colombian Prodigy, Egan Bernal: Lance: I don’t know a lot about Bernal because he’s only 22 years old. But he’s had some incredible results this season. I find it hard to believe that a 22-year-old can win the Tour de France though. The one thing I was worried about earlier was that, as a skinny Colombian climber, he wouldn’t be able to handle himself and the bike. But in the Swiss Tour he came into a corner hot. Ninety-nine percent of the peloton would have crashed. But he pulled it out. Then I learned that he was top three in junior world championships on the mountain bike. You have to be a good rider to finish that well. He can handle the bike.
George: There are mental mistakes to be avoided too though. The chances of a more veteran rider having a bad day is less than a 22-year old.
Danish Pro Jakob Fugslang: George: He has to be one of the favorites. Very complete rider. Podium contender if not the winner.
Lance: If he wants to win, this is the year. He has the experience, the form, and the team. If somebody was going to force me to pick a favorite I might pick him.
The Yates Bros, British Siblings Adam (Team Leader) and Simon (Climbing Lieutenant): George: I like those guys. They’re super aggressive with a strong team [Mitchelton-Scott GreenEDGE] behind them.
Inconsistent French Star Thibaut Pinot: George: He’s a candidate for the podium in my opinion. We’ll see him up there.
Inconsistent Colombian Star Nairo Quintana: Lance: I’ll stop short of saying he’s a choker, but there’s always so much expectation that he doesn’t deliver on. The Colombian story in this year’s Tour will be Bernal. The Colombians want their first winner.
George: Quintana has won a Grand Tour before. He has the experience. I agree he hasn’t lived up to his potential. I won’t count him or Rigoberto Uran out. Between those three Colombians, one might be on the podium. They are all 1,000 percent committed to the sport. Living thousands of miles away from your home does that to you.
Lance: But Quintana is splitting team leadership with Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde, and Quintana. Hard to manage that situation.
A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to Romain Bardet: Lance: Lot of question marks about his form. But he could be playing possum. I think his team is better than they were. It’s not a bad team. And there aren’t any major time trials so he has a chance.
Lo Squalo dello Stretto (“The Shark”), Vincenzo Nibali: Lance: Never say never. He’s won the bike race before. He’s leading the team. He did the Tour of Italy. He’s a real bike racer.
Tough Season for Richie Porte: Lance: I believe he can win the Ironman one day. He grew up a swimmer.
George: He’s not living up to his potential this year.
Peter Sagan for the Green Jersey: Lance: I think he looks better. He’s my pick for the stage one yellow jersey. The finish is 4.5 to 5 percent uphill. That’s challenging enough that the others won’t be fast. He’ll wear the green jersey too.
George: He’s been altitude training in Utah. He’s in good form.
Why Just One Wimpy Time Trial? Lance: This pisses me off. It’s the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race on earth. And it only has 16 miles of individual time trialing. Now you bring all these other players that can’t time trial back into the fold. Including the French guys. It’s unacceptable. But maybe it will be more exciting because of it.
Who Takes the Stage 2 Team Time Trial? Lance: I like Michelton-Scott. It’s a complete team. The thing you have to look at is that it’s truly an eight-man team. It has to be as balanced as possible. I wouldn’t discount EF Education First either. And Quick-Step has won 46 bike races this year. Compare that to Trek—all the money they spend and they’ve only won six bike races.
George: I’m going with EF Education. Tejay [van Garderen], Simon Clarke, Michael Woods—they have a lot of strong rouleurs.
Where is the Yankee Stadium of Climbs?[The 2019 race is devoid of famous climbs.] Lance: The only one we can single out is the Tourmalet. Typically you’d have that and Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez. This year they go up the easy side of the Galibier. Where is the Yankee Stadium? We’re playing at the Little League field.
George: I think we won’t have a lack of hard finishes at this Tour—although we won’t have recognizable names.
Three More Americans to Root For (in Addition to Tejay)
Ben King Lance: If you want to root for an American this year, Ben King is a great story. From his site: “When I’m guttered out in some windy wet field, eating road dirt from the wheel in front of me and suffering like a pig far from home, it’s nice to know that people actually care about what we’re doing.”
Chad Haga George: He won a stage at the Giro. I was super excited to see him win that time trial. Maybe he’ll win the time trial here too.
Joey RosskopfGeorge: I’m excited to see him back. Really pulling for him.
Floyd Landis sits on a tired couch in a half-lit living room in a mining-era bungalow in Leadville, Colorado, the highest city in America (elevation 10,152 feet). Sprawled around the former professional cyclist and 2006 Tour de France winner—a title he held for four days until he tested positive for an illegal level of testosterone—are his business partners and management team. Everyone has a laptop open, the glow from the screens lighting their faces as they discuss new markets and distributors. Kids in diapers run around. Wives and girlfriends chat in the bright kitchen. Dogs chill on the back step. There is no pot smoke in the air, no bud on the coffee table.
Which is notable, because the bungalow is corporate headquarters for Floyd’s of Leadville, the successful marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD) company that Landis founded in 2016. It’s the hottest CBD provider in cycling, with thousands of bike shops moving the THC-free product to recreational riders in search of a solution to their aches, pains, and anxious lives. Floyd’s of Leadville also owns a dispensary in Leadville, as well as four shops in Portland, Oregon, that sell marijuana products, primarily to athletes.
In the years since Landis, now 43, lost the biggest bike race on earth and then wrote the famous 2010 letter exposing the systemized doping by his former U.S. Postal Service teammates (including onetime friend Lance Armstrong), he’s been seen as a whistle-blower and a pariah, a hero and a villain. His body has been wracked by the pain of a hip replacement, his mind tortured by the anguish of public shaming, hatred, and guilt. He’s survived depression, alcohol abuse, the breakup of his marriage, and the 2006 death of his father-in-law to suicide (a tragedy that Landis believes was connected to the scandal).
Last year the final chapter of that story finally came to a close with the settlement of a federal lawsuit that Landis filed in 2010. Armstrong paid out $5 million in settlements, $1.1 million of which went to Landis before taxes. (Landis’s legal team was compensated another $1.65 million in legal fees.) But Landis has also been repaying the plaintiffs in a separate criminal case successfully brought against him in 2012 by former donors to the defense fund he started in the wake of his 2006 positive test results.
For the sport, the entire saga has been about as therapeutic as a public hanging. The more the truth came out, the more it seemed that a handful of cyclists paid the price for many. That group included Armstrong and Landis but also their former teammate Tyler Hamilton and coach Johan Bruyneel, as well as their onetime rival, German star Jan Ullrich. Like Landis, most of these people were blacklisted and several suffered a twisted penance, battling depression, substance abuse, or both. Meanwhile, other riders who admitted to doping or were caught—and who later testified in exchange for what amounted to free passes—became commentators, coaches, and officials. Today many of these public figures act as if the sport is all better now that Landis and Armstrong have been excommunicated. It’s not. Last year the rosiest estimates that I got from informal discussions with pro-cycling insiders had the percentage of totally clean riders at just 50 to 60 percent of last year’s Tour de France riders.
For his part, though, Landis is doing better. Last summer I spent a day with him in Leadville, and he gave me a tour of the pot shop turned national brand he founded in 2016. The two of us got out for an hourlong spin on gravel bikes on the local bike path. My goal was to try to know him beyond the caricature of the rube Mennonite and gifted cyclist who couldn’t lie as well as Armstrong (disclosure: I also cover Armstrong’s podcast for Outside). Landis seemed a bit unnerved around me—I’ve interviewed former military people with PTSD, and his demeanor at times seemed similar, as if he had to steel himself to talk about his past. But he spoke with pride about his business, and he didn’t turn away from any questions I asked. What follows is a condensed, as-told-to version of his responses.
When I was first busted, I was angry. I knew the truth. I knew that the tests didn’t work,that I was the exception in getting caught. I knew the entire story. But if I told it, I knew I would be destroyed by the press and I’d never work again. It was a no-win situation.
I love cycling, but at the end of the day, I think you have shady management that runs from the top down, from the level of the International Olympic Committee [IOC]. And you have them pointing at me, saying I’m a cheater. It’s beyond the pale. I will never stop speaking out against the IOC, WADA [the World Anti-Doping Agency], and the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale, professional cycling’s governing body]. They destroyed my life. My father-in-law committed suicide. Where the fuck were they when I was 18? I will never stop my crusade against them.
Take the budget for WADA: it goes up every year, but they spend less on research than they did ten years ago. [In response, WADA spokesperson Maggie Durand told us via e-mail: “While the research budget has decreased, the special research fund of USD 11,678,510 received from Governments and the International Olympic Committee in 2014–2015 still enables us to conduct research at a proper level.” Durand also said that WADA expects to receive “budgetary increases” from 2018 to 2022, which will allow the organization to reallocate more money for research.]I don’t think they have any interest in trying to clean up cycling, because they know that doping controls don’t work. The drugs will only get more sophisticated. They will never fix it. They should accept it.
Just let them do it. Cyclists already dope at will. Legalizing it would stop a few people a year from dying by suicide, from public humiliation. That would be the only change.
You either quit racing your bike or you dope. The only people that walked away weren’t talented enough to do it in the first place. Let me clarify that: there’s never been a rider that was talented enough to win the Tour that didn’t win because they didn’t take drugs.
If you’re watching the Tour de France for moral lessons, you have real issues.
The first time I doped was in 2002. I was 27. It was my first year on the Postal Service team. I had been on Mercury, a Continental team, before that. If you were racing your bike and you were trying to win, you were doping. The first thing I used was testosterone. I got it directly from Lance.[Armstrong declined to comment on this claim.]I’m not slamming him. That’s not an unusual thing. Cyclists help each other out.
Today, middle-aged men probably take more testosterone than I took as a racer. It’s culturally accepted. That’s bizarre.
Younger racers are facing the same problems now. They work for ten years and they give them the choice: dope or go home. If you quit, your work was wasted, and they call you a fraud.
In hindsight, I don’t know if it was the right thing to do—to expose it all. Nothing was accomplished by it other than a few Americans paying a really dear price, including me. They took down Lance and they named some Americans, but the people from the European peloton are now team directors. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that’s working for the European teams or governing the sport that didn’t do the same thing we did. The Olympic Committee is worse than the Catholic Church at this point. I don’t think the IOC has the right to use the word “ethics.”
The money I received from the whistle-blowing case came with a bad association. The thing that people hung over my head was that I was in it for the money. “Floyd thinks he’s going to get $20 million.” That was never true. After taxes it was $600,000. Every dollar went to Floyd’s Cycling, a Canadian team I founded in 2018 that I’m the title sponsor of. I started Floyd’s of Leadville with my own money and the help of investors.
Lance? I hope he’s alright. I felt like my punishment was outsized compared to the way everyone else was treated. I’m sure he feels the same way. I don’t have any animosity toward him.
I watched an interview with Lance recently, and he said he would do it all again. That’s how I feel, too, but he was more or less crucified for saying it. I know what he meant. None of us started out trying to hurt anybody. You had to dope if you wanted to follow your dreams, and you had to defend yourself once you started. It’s too fucked up to address.
I hope we’re all better people now.
For my part, I drank a lot of alcohol to deal with the controversy. I’m not advocating that, but alcohol helped me get through those times. When you have that much negative press... I can’t put it into words. If you lived through it, you’d understand.
Time healed me. Now I go weeks without thinking about those years at all. I found new things to focus on—my family and my business. It’s a work in progress.
Initially, when I founded Floyd’s of Leadville in 2016, we just focused on marijuana. We have four marijuana dispensaries in Portland and one in Leadville. But it’s not just bud now. We’ve been selling hemp-derived products like CBD. That’s half of our business. We sell CBD to 800 bike shops directly and 2,000 through Quality Bike Parts and other distributors. We also sell to 3,000 convenience shops.
I still like the marijuana business. Even if socially you think legalizing marijuana isa bad thing, the alternative—putting people into jail—is worse.
I was raised a Mennonite in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but all the Mennonite and Amish farmers know each other. We now have 85 farmers with three to five acres each in Amish country, growing hemp. It’s good for them. Tobacco is not a cash crop for them anymore, which is good for public health but bad for the farmers. They’re excited that there’s a crop that they can get a decent profit from. They’re the right people to grow it, too. You can’t use industrial machinery because the oil in hemp jams up the works.
With CBD, there’s no oversight. There are good companies, and there are bad companies. The FDA isn’t involved yet. The future depends on what the FDA does and how limiting they are on what we can do with it. Validating what’s in the product would help.
CBD isn’t magic. It doesn’t help everyone.But for most people, it offers an increased quality of life. It can help people sleep by calming your thoughts. We don’t oversell that part, because it doesn’t make you tired, it just helps you focus and keeps your mind from wandering.
I’m not a very good salesperson. It goes along with not being a very good liar.
I like to ride my bike again. It took a long time. An hourlong ride feels good, and it’s good for my head—like when I was a kid.
I’m no wise old man. But when you’re 25, you feel desperate to make your dreams come true. Pace yourself. It’s a long life. It’s a long race.
Burn we must. One hundred–plus years of wildland fire suppression and an ever hotter planet make this an ineluctable truth in the American West. From the shrublands to the subalpine forests, fire—an integral part of any healthy landscape—is now acting as an adaptation catalyst that’s rapidly reshaping entire ecosystems.
That adaptation is essential. Thanks to climate change, we are seeing record high temperatures and record low moisture levels in vegetation. Add the increasingly popular dream of owning a home in the woods (the fastest-growing land-use type in the country is the so-called wildland-urban interface), plus infrastructure risk factors like balky power lines, and we’re looking at a dire future of frequent catastrophic megafires from New Mexico north to Alberta and west to the Pacific. Some of us can remember the great Yellowstone fires of 1988, which resulted from a record hot and dry spell. “By the end of the century, in Yellowstone every year or every other year will be hotter and drier than 1988,” says Philip Higuera, an associate professor of fire ecology at the University of Montana.
Scientists have been warning for decades that the West is due for purging wildfires. Now that the blazes are here, we’re beginning to grapple with a harsh reality. If you live in the West, you’ve heard plenty about the need for communities to adopt fire-resistant building codes, bury power lines, establish evacuation routes, and remove fuel through routine clearing and prescribed burns. Meanwhile, policymakers—though not politicians—are coming around to the idea that we should stop spending our national treasure and risking the lives of firefighters to battle remote blazes, even if a handful of homes are at stake. The age of wildland fire suppression has to end.
Over a period of decades, controlled burning and fire-wise construction should dramatically reduce the impact of blazes on settlements across the West. But those measures, along with natural changes like the conversion of some forests to grasslands, won’t do a damn thing to protect us in the near term from what may be the greatest hazard to human health in our new climate: smoke.
Wildfire smoke has been a natural part of life on earth for at least 400 million years. In North America, Native people lived with the air pollution from lightning-sparked wildfires as well as the burns they lit on purpose. But in general, those regular smaller fires were far less intense than the infernos we’re experiencing now. In the West today, wildfires aren’t just burning grasses on the floor of a ponderosa pine forest or wiping out high-elevation stands of lodgepole every 100 to 250 years—they’re burning forests from weeds to canopy and covering vast acreages. They’re also burning longer, persisting for as much as seven months of the year in most of the West (compared with the four-to-five-month fire season that was typical 50 years ago), and producing more smoke.
In addition to hazardous chemicals that are released when structures ignite, wildfire smoke commonly contains toxic ingredients. The chief threat, however, is prolonged exposure to the fine particulate matter suspended in smoke. When inhaled, these particles, which are as small as 2.5 micrometers in diameter (a grain of table salt is 100 micrometers), can have serious health effects. Research has shown that wildfire particulate is associated with increased risk of respiratory infection and death. One study estimated that some 1,700 fatalities per year in the U.S. are linked to particulate from wildfires, and that number could double by the end of the century.
“The smoke we’re experiencing now is causing us to reevaluate how we live our lives,” says Tony Ward, chair of the School of Public and Community Health Sciences at the University of Montana. Unfortunately, he adds, there’s been little funding for studies that focus on the issue. “Very large populations are being exposed. We need to devote more resources to protecting the public.”
Last fall, during the deadly Camp Fire near Paradise, California, San Francisco was in the national news when it was estimated that wildfire smoke made breathing the city’s air for a single day equivalent to smoking ten cigarettes. As bad as that was, a more revealing case study is Seeley Lake, Montana. In the summer of 2017, several nearby fires caused smoke levels to reach hazardous levels on 36 out of 50 days. How nasty was the air? By the EPA’s standards, things start to get unhealthy when the pollution-borne particulate levels reach 35 micrograms per cubic liter of air. In Seeley Lake, the particulate levels were routinely in excess of 300 micrograms per cubic liter. Twenty times that summer, the hourly levels measured 1,000 micrograms or higher, effectively maxing out the devices that measure particulates.
In a normal year, Seeley Lake is an outdoor adventurer’s dreamscape, known for its lakes, rivers, and mountain trails, but that summer the town became a laboratory in the nascent study of wildfire smoke’s effect on human health. Respiratory-related emergency-room visits doubled in Missoula and Powell Counties. A team of researchers from the University of Montana scrambled to measure the impact of smoke on the residents, while air-quality specialists from nearby Missoula helped secure home air-filtration units for the most at-risk citizens. The responders were trying to keep people healthy in the short term, but as Ward notes, nobody in government knew what the long-term effects would be. Eleven months after the smoke cleared, we got an unsettling clue. Instead of recovering, 29 residents studied experienced a decline in lung function in the ensuing clean-air period. The researchers don’t have an explanation for this.
The dearth of science is a common theme with wildfire smoke. Which is why, until very recently, the advice for dealing with smoke typically amounted to: don’t exercise if your eyes feel itchy, and stay inside—which, it turns out, doesn’t offer all that much protection. Particulates seep in, and without a filtration system the air indoors can be almost as unhealthy as what’s outdoors.
Going forward, our schools, offices, and homes will need to be outfitted with filtration systems capable of capturing fine particulate matter. The costs will be steep. Faced with the crisis in Seeley Lake, Sarah Coefield, an air-quality specialist with the Missoula County health department, tapped into state emergency-preparedness funds usually reserved for infectious-disease outbreaks to buy air purifiers for schools and health clinics. Now, thanks to some grants and a bit of ingenuity on Coefield’s part—she had everyone in her department with a Costco card buy five units during a sale—the county owns 123 purifiers that it can dole out in times of need.
That kind of problem-solving should be applauded, but we need a better approach to address a health crisis that could affect half the country. As we’ve learned the hard way, mountain towns aren’t the only places at risk. Last fall on the California coast, hundreds of miles from any blazes, surfers were coughing in the lineup. In Seattle, smoke drifting south from summer fires in British Columbia caused kids’ soccer tryouts to be canceled and forced other activities indoors.
Among smoke’s many economic impacts will be a hit to tourism. As with hurricane season in the Caribbean, travelers are wising up to fire season in the West. Yosemite and Glacier National Parks, as well as the communities whose economies depend on them, have sacrificed untold revenue either to active fires or to unhealthy smoke levels in recent years. Oregon lost an estimated $51 million in 2018, while Montana lost an estimated $240 million the year before. Anecdotally, bike shops in Missoula report dramatic downturns in business whenever smoke levels hit unhealthy levels. Last summer, Outsidepublished a story online recommending that eager backpackers should plan their trips in the West for no later than July, before smoke season amps up.
So far our collective response to all this has been to buy a lot of respirators—the models capable of filtering out smoke particulates routinely sold out last summer—and not much else. In January 2020, California will implement new air-filter guidelines for public buildings that include systems capable of eliminating wildfire particulates, but other states don’t appear to be following its lead. Meanwhile, we need to improve data models that predict where smoke will travel and launch digital platforms that warn downwind residents about unhealthy air conditions. In India, which has notoriously awful pollution, there’s an app that offers real-time updates on air quality and personalized recommendations regarding exposure. We need a similar tool, starting now.
Making meaningful progress will require investment in research. But as the scientists I interviewed were quick to point out, the federal government under its current leadership isn’t keen on funding studies tied to climate change. For the time being, our best tactic is to push policymakers to redirect resources away from fighting remote fires and toward securing buildings and homes from smoke.
In natural-history terms, as we learn to embrace fire—both wild and prescribed—losing many of the trees that defined the West is brutally disheartening. More selfishly, those of us who play outdoors are just going to have to get used to making a lot of painful compromises. In this new age of smoke, canceled runs, rides, and backcountry adventures are part of living on a hotter planet.
No, that headline isn’t just for clicks. Trail runners really are lazy parasites. Deadbeats, even.
Allow me to explain.
Nationally, nobody keeps a good tab on exactly who turns out on volunteer trail-work days to install water bars, build steps, reroute switchbacks, and replant vegetation. But here’s what we do know: trail running is booming—its number of participants more than doubled from 2007 to 2017. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2018 report, there are now more trail runners—nine million and counting—than there are off-road bikers. A million more. We also know that in Colorado, where a whopping 92 percent of residents recreate outdoors, as many as 40,000 hikers and runners can be found on the trails of the more popular fourteeners each month of the summer.
Based on this shear volume alone, trail advocates know that trail runners are having a major impact. Every time one steps around a puddle to keep their shoesies clean (mountain bikers tend to ride through puddles), they’re widening the trail. This happens a step at a time, multiplied by tens of thousands of steps, until it turns singletrack into a six-foot-wide sidewalk. With every edging action around a curve or skid on a steep descent, trail runners are moving dirt and extruding roots and rocks. Hell, every time they take a leak—again, when multiplied by thousands—they’re killing native plants. Solo trail runners—like solo cyclists, hikers, and even the occasional horse—are low impact. Nine million trail runners are a different story.
In other words, trail runners are now just like the rest of us. But anecdotally at least, when compared to mountain bikers and hikers, trail runners are the least likely to volunteer to build and maintain trails. Anna Zawisza, director of community relations and strategic partnership with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), the state’s oldest and largest organizer of trail crews, ranks trail-runner turnout right down there with public-trail-riding equestrians, which, to be fair to the horse people, constitute a niche group compared to the scrawny Forrest Gump set. Even in the few communities where trail runners are active with trail work, they routinely show up less than other groups. You can see this if you ever work on a trail. I’m no star volunteer, but in the half dozen or so times I’ve gotten out and swung a McLeod or a Pulaski, I haven’t met a single trail runner. But among the throngs of mountain bikers, I have met hikers, horse folk, dog walkers, and bird watchers on Colorado’s multi-use trails. Even the trail-running boosters I talked to bemoaned the lack of turnout of their own kind.
Part of the reason for this is that trail runners don’t have a national trail-advocacy group. There’s no equivalent of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) organizing chapters and funneling resources and bodies—700,000 volunteer hours in 2016—at projects. Well, to be precise, there was one. A mysterious outfit called Run Wild launched in 2017 with lofty goals, but now it’s a dead site and its Instagram page hasn’t been updated in two years. That’s too bad, because the trails need it. Though three out of four Coloradans identify as conservationists, only 1 percent of Coloradans volunteer with stewardship organizations (another study claims 3 percent, but that’s dubious). In a typical year, VOC counts 5,000 volunteer work days. That might sound like a lot, but even if that number portrayed 5,000 individuals (and it doesn’t; lots of folks volunteer for multiple days), it would represent less than a thousand people for every million Coloradans that recreate outdoors. It’s not enough. “We have 39,000 miles of trail in Colorado,” says Zawisza, “and we’re adding to that total every year. On a good year, VOC touches 30 miles.”
As a former Coloradan, I’m not picking on the state. Colorado’s volunteer turnout is likely better than the national average. Nor, despite my ribbing, am I hating on the blister-adverse trail-running crew, with its weird little utility belts and tank tops. I may have to revise my calculations after this column comes out, but I count a number of trail runners as friends. I’ll admit, though, that I am a bit mystified by trail runners. And I’m not alone. IMBA executive director Dave Wiens, who founded the nondenominational Gunnison Trails group long before taking the helm of the association, says that for mountain bikers, trail work “is a social experience that ends with brats and beers. But from what I can tell, trail runners aren’t into the beers-and-brats part.” It’s also true that one maniac trail runner allegedly attacked a mountain biker in Golden, Colorado, in 2017, and more recently, another choked out a mountain lion. But I won’t paint them all with the crazy brush.
To really understand why mountain bikers are gung ho volunteers and trail runners are lazy parasites, it helps to look at the origins of the two sports.
Mountain bikers came on the scene in force in the 1980s. Castigated and labeled as outlaws, they were banned from many existing trail networks. Only later did research prove that bike tires don’t destroy trails any more than shoes do (and that both shoes and tires are way less destructive than horse hooves). Still, it took decades of advocacy and trail work to change the public’s opinion and prove that mountain bikes belong on our public lands. This effort remains a work in progress.
If we’re speaking openly here, mountain bikers would be OK with fewer hikers, runners, and horses walking up the downhills, which is why mountain bikers want to build more trails—to spread out the crowds. For these reasons, and also bratwurst and beer, trail work is part of mountain-bike culture. Minus the beer, pretty much every high school mountain-bike race team in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) does trail work. Freeriders do it. Cross-country racers do it. Trail riders do it. Downhillers do it. Old guys that get fat in winter also throw down. “Trail work is part community outreach for us,” says Wiens. “It’s also true that the trail itself is essential to our experience. We say things like, ‘That was a good trail’ or ‘That was a bad trail.’”
Trail runners, on the other hand, don’t have much of a birth story. No counterculture kooks in Marin County, California, monkeying around with old Schwinns. No access problems, no vigilantes laying booby traps for them. People were running on trails long before trail shoes were a thing. Nobody told them they couldn’t do it then, and nobody is telling them they can’t do it now. And while, like mountain bikers, runners can inadvertently sneak up behind hikers and spook them, they rarely get the same dirty looks. Even the social dynamics of trail running are different than those of mountain biking. “Historically, ultrarunners and most trail runners were a little more self-sustained,” says Brett Sublett, owner of the Durango Running Company, in Colorado. “People got into that solo mindset and kind of assumed they were the only people out there running. And that’s still a big part of what attracts people initially. But with the popularity of trail running, that’s changing. We used to get ten people to a group run, now we get 30 to 40. There’s a much stronger trail-running community.”
Which gets us to today. Nine million trail runners and counting, yet a widely held belief—if an unproven one, as most trail crews don’t ask too many questions—that they have the lowest turnout among the core user groups when it comes to trail maintenance. But here’s some good news: that’s changing. The most storied ultrarunning events have long required that racers complete volunteer trail days. Today, dozens of smaller events are following that lead, with many offering more lottery-style entry chances to volunteers. In Colorado, VOC is actively trying to recruit such folk by posting flyers at the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race. Meanwhile, Nancy Hobbs, founder and executive director of the American Trail Running Association, is promoting trail work on her organization’s site and actively directing runners to volunteer opportunities. (The association also plugs an activity called “plogging,” which involves stopping to pick up trash from trails as you jog. Not sure why it needs a name.) Sublett, of the Durango Running Company, requires that the Fort Lewis College kids he helps coach perform at least one day of trail work a year. These types of initiatives, especially with the race entries, seem to be gaining traction.
Durango is also home to Trails 2000, a trail-maintenance nonprofit founded 30 years ago on the idea of engaging with all nonmotorized users. Its numbers suggest that it’s working. According to Mary Monroe Brown, the group’s executive director, Trail 2000’s volunteers break down as follows: 40 percent mountain bikers, 35 percent hikers, and 25 percent trail runners. “People who mountain bike here also trail run and dog walk,” says Monroe Brown. “And the Durango Running Club and the Durango Running Company have helped create a culture where there’s a direct correlation between running and trail work. People that are driven enough to live in Durango have an outdoor ethic and tend not to develop that protectionist attitude, that this is my trail and I need to protect my experience. We should be taking the high road and working together.”
Still more promising? Little Missoula, Montana, is home to what is (as near as I can tell) the nation’s only dedicated advocacy group organized to get trail runners out doing trail work. It’s called the Montana Trail Crew (MTC), and to date it has adopted trails, purchased land, moved trailheads, and performed all manner of maintenance with hundreds of volunteers, some of whom get out for at least three trail days each summer. Sometimes the MTC works on pedestrian-only trails. Sometimes it sends volunteers to MTB Missoula to help with multi-use paths. It doesn’t matter much to them. “A lot of people get into trail running from a fitness or a road-running background,” says MTC cofounder Jimmy Grant. “They don’t all have that mountain ethic. We wanted to serve as a model for other groups. You get more personally invested in your running and your town when you get your hands dirty.”
So there you have it. Signs of progress. But will trail runners outside of chill towns like Durango and Missoula get the message? Tough to say. They might not want to get their arms all swole doing manual labor. But I hope so, if only because, if that happens, then the trail-running and mountain-biking communities can shame the hikers into stepping up as well. Call me snitty, but there are 45 million of those lazy parasites.
Recently, an old friend of mine took an evening walk on a quiet road near his home in the Southwest. He was carrying a camping lantern. Near the end of his stroll, an outdoorsy couple we both know drove by, said a quick hello, then went on their way. The hazing came via e-mail a short time later. “Nice lantern, bro,” wrote the outdoorsy guy. The woman followed up, gearsplaining that “there are these things called headlamps.”
My annoyed friend later griped to me that hardcore outdoor folks, who are supposed to be above base fashion concerns, are in fact the world’s most merciless fashion critics. To which I say, No duh, Lantern Boy.
Sure, a lantern lights your way as effectively as a headlamp, but we have never judged gear purely by its performance. We care about performance and style—and carrying Ichabod Crane’s lantern is a style don’t.
Gear policing is also a time-honored tradition. Take those zip-off “convertible” pants that started gaining traction in the nineties. Damn they work well on spring days when the noonday sun warms up the tour bus. At least I’m guessing they do, because I’ve never actually donned a computer programmer’s hiking kit. Nor would I dare show up to a group mountain-bike ride in a spandex bib, since this would inevitably earn me a round of “Wait, are we racing today?” sarcasm from the crew in baggies. Nordic skiers—of all people—love to rank on road cyclists who are out cross-training on skinny skis in their team jackets. The jackets work fine, but they scream hack. And because the roadies ski in a manner that’s both upright and gangly, with their poles flailing in front of them, the nordorks call them pterodactyls.
While this type of frat-boy dragging might bug my old friend with his lantern, it’s mostly harmless. Plus, outfit tracking can also be a kind of public service. It was just a few years ago that people were wearing those ghastly FiveFingers shoes into coffee shops. That infraction has thankfully been shamed away, but lately there’s the plague of male trail runners who think it’s OK to wear wispy short shorts to the acai-bowl counter. Fear not, the gear police have been dispatched.
And while I’m at it: the number you still have Sharpied on your skin from last weekend’s sprint triathlon—just like that avalanche transceiver and climbing harness you wore to the bar last winter—doesn’t say, “I’m in the club.” It says, “I’m trying too hard.” We’re snickering at you from the chairlift because of your egregious gaper gap. (If you don’t know what that is, check out @jerryoftheday.) We’re laughing loudly as we bike past because your cycling helmet is on backward.
“Is this guy being a bit too harsh?” you might be asking yourself right about now. Maybe. But in these hyperpolitical times, I’m not here to tell the outdoor world to stop making jokes at the expense of unsavvy rubes. Besides, the merely awkward are not a protected class—yet.
Still, I will concede that the rampant hazing has led to an unfortunate new development that I’ll call the uniform era, in which the fashion police double as timorous fashion victims who are afraid not to look like everybody else.
The origins of this scourge can be traced to the adventure-chic movement that took off about 15 years ago, when urbanites and outdoor-apparel makers fell madly in love with each other. Soon everyone in the Whole Foods parking lot was outfitted like expedition climbers. This squashed the lingering counter-culture ethos that had once defined the outdoor world—think bearded raft guides in cutoff jeans or Yosemite dirtbag climbers in ratty sweaters.
Then came the great homogenizing force of social media. Suddenly, you didn’t have to ski or bike or fly-fish 120 days a year to look the part. Instead you read a story about climber-photographer and Oscar winner Jimmy Chin and think, What a badass, I’ll follow him on Instagram. And hey, this ad for a puffy in my feed looks like something Chin was wearing on Lhotse last week. Tap. Ship. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands and we have uniformity. A friend of mine who has been an outdoor photographer in Utah since the eighties got it just right when he said that everyone looks cool now. I see this heightened fashion sense constantly in my role as an outdoor writer. It’s needlessly stressful—because I should be above the fray, too—but my heart rate spikes and I get sweaty when I’m about to interact with representatives from Red Bull or really anyone from the SoCal action-sports culture. Ditto when I’m at the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver, where the exhibition floor is invaded by a battalion of flannel-clad dudes wearing short beards and flat-brim trucker hats. Like all true mountain folk, I don’t even speak SoCal. Instead of uptalking, I’m a natural downtalker. I must remind them of their late grandpa. I think I was once passed over for a job because of tribal differences.
Of course, when everyone appears to be part of a tribe, it’s difficult to know who really is. So it is that insecure mega bros have become hypersensitive to any inconsistencies in the dress and actions of the mere mortal bros—and they gear-police them like Donald Sutherland in the final scene of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Forgive them. They’re simply clinging to their perceived and fleeting elitism.
It’s gotten so bad that some folks are going to extremes to stand apart. Not long ago, I was in Alaska on a press junket with another outdoor journalist I’ll call Gordon. The folks hosting us set everyone up with top-of-the-line waterproof-breathable pants. I’m talking $550 pants. And yet Gordon coveted a guide’s ratty trousers. Torn at the cuffs, scuffed with dirt, drenched in diesel fuel, they screamed authentic. So, on the spot, he traded his brand-new pair of pants for ’em. Filth is actually an insider look now. Just visit Silverton Mountain in Colorado if you don’t believe me.
This story is sad, but even sadder is the fact that the current era of unrestrained gear policing has largely consumed the weirdos and iconoclasts who have always made the outdoor world rich and diverse. We lose a bit of our soul when we have no mono-skiers or rollerbladers or jorts wearers. Which is why I was psyched to see some ranch boys out on my local ski hill in Montana this winter ripping around—well, exploding around—in Carhartt overalls, hatless. And having recently moved away from Colorado, I actually miss the folks we labeled IBMers, in their floppy sun hats and khaki pantaloons. The best insult ever hurled at former vice president Dick Cheney was a bumper sticker out of Wyoming that said he skied in jeans. Now I long for the days when a politician could be both evil and soggy—how unique.
But all is not lost. Across a range of outdoor sports, an anti-uniform rebellion is taking root.
In the freeride mountain-biking hub of Whistler, British Columbia, pros are bucking the baggy paradigm to ride in jeans despite the rain. In terrain parks all over, slopestyle skiers are donning cotton sweatshirts despite the snow. Or maybe that’s just a new uniform, who knows? But I do find hope in my 17-year-old son, who takes a special kind of pleasure in thumbing his nose at the fly-fishing set with their mustaches and their Buffs pulled up over their oh-so-perfectly weathered snapback caps. To tweak ’em, he spin-casts with his shirt off.
Going forward, I won’t abandon my own gear-policing habits—sorry, Ichabod, it’s just too much fun—but I will be taking cues from my son, who could give a shit what he wears on the ski hill or anywhere else. Montana, which is still chockablock with anachronistic weirdos and the fashion oblivious, is good for that. Heck, now that it’s cycling season again, I might even wear my full spandex race kit on the next casual trail ride. It’s better performing anyway.
On second thought, scrap that. I can take the ridicule. But I’d rather not take the bullet for a fashion don’t.
If you followed the story that sent shivers through the finance and tech worlds, then you know that moving forward, environmentally and socially conscious Patagonia only wants to begin new co-branded vest business with firms that share its commitment to One Percent for the Planet or certified B Corporations that play by the same rules it does. As the brand has done in the past, Patagonia is putting its business mores above the bottom line. No longer—I take it, since Patagonia declined to comment—will it do business with capitalists who write $50 checks to the Sierra Club at home but invest $50 million in BP at the office.
Patagonia is moving on. Good on ’em. Eat it, shady elements of the fintech world. Story over, right?
No, actually. Because I can’t let this story go. Not the part about Patagonia refusing to share a bivy with bedfellows that sell out the Arctic or look the other way as bureaucrats purge EPA databases of science. (Who wants to eat dehydrated stroganoff and spoon with the likes of them?) That part should be applauded. My beef is with those who would contend that fleece vests are some sort of fashion play that emotes a core outdoorsy style. The New York Times (which once said that snowboarding would save the sport of skiing, so what does it know about this beat) even went so far as to say that fleece vests are “the basic garment of climber culture.”
Hold on a second, you fintech casual-friday urbanites and glamorous-if-indoorsy fashion-desk types. I just did an image search for Alex Honnold of Free Solo fame and in not one image is he wearing a goddamn fleece vest. Like every outdoorsy person who dodged the Baby Boom, the dude favors T-shirts—well one T-shirt apparently, plus midweights and puffies. The fact is, fleece vests haven’t been a legit outdoor look since 1998.
I know the date because it was imprinted on my brain in the winter of 1998–99, when I was running retail operations at Jay Peak ski area up in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. One day the crew in the rental shop was burning time talking about who they would and wouldn’t date, and a young woman said she wouldn’t date me because I tucked my shirt into my pants. I was already married, but on account of human nature, I was taken aback. Looking down at my outfit, my shirt was indeed tucked into my pants. And over the shirt I was wearing a fleece vest. The same kind I’d been wearing since the early nineties when every skier suddenly had one and every company handed them out as swag. That was the moment I realized mountain-town casualwear had left the fleece vest behind. The next day, I did something so out of character for me, that I remember it to this day. I changed my look. By untucking my shirt and ditching the fleece vest, I was keeping myself current as we prepared for a new millennium.
Not everyone made the transition. I once watched as a bunch of editors gave a writer friend of mine a makeover from wearing a fleece vest over a tucked shirt. That was in 2004. Now when I see a guy in a mountain town wearing a fleece vest, two questions come to mind. Was he once a bro who never kept up with the times? Or is he a traveling salesman for Purdue Pharmaceutical pushing oxycontin at the local walk-in clinic?
Today the only vests I own are breathable puffy units (not fleece) that I wear on shoulder-season bike rides, while skate-skiing in cold temperatures, and as a core layering piece on the ski hill. To be clear, I wear them under shells. And I would never wear them casually. I’d be ashamed to.
So, the answer is no, Wall Street and Silicon Valley, a fleece vest over an oxford doesn’t say you’re outdoorsy. And I doubt that even TheNew York Times would say it’s a good look. Please cease wearing them. I don’t care that you’re appropriating what was once outdoor culture. My only gripe is that by misappropriating outdoor culture you’re giving the impression that we of the outdoors still dress like it’s the nineties. My seventy-something parents wear fleece vests for cool-weather pole-walking excursions. They live in Florida. The rest of us don’t.
I also have to ask, what’s wrong with a nice suit? I haven’t owned one in 20 years, but they’re authentic to your culture and they look a lot sharper than whatever it is you’re trying for with the power vest. Own it.
And when you’re ready to divest yourself from soulless capitalism and build portfolios around companies that support conservation, sustainability, and the fight against climate change, maybe think about buying a T-shirt (one T-shirt) and making do with less. As Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard famously said: “The more you know, the less you need.” And you don’t need a power vest.
Back in March, I made the case that skiing could benefit from a handful of backcountry ski areas that don’t feature any lifts but offer gear rentals, educational opportunities, varied terrain, and—this was the controversial part—avalanche-mitigation work, including bombs. For those who actually read the piece as opposed to weighing in blindly on social (Russian bots), the conceit might have seemed pretty far out there, even for a mouthy and opinionated Masshole-bred blowhard like me.
Turns out it wasn’t that much of a stretch. A few days after that column went up, Erik Lambert and Jeff Woodward, the cofounders of a new company called Bluebird Backcountry, reached out to let me know that they were gearing up for their first of several prototype sessions testing a backcountry ski-area concept eerily similar to the one I proposed—minus the bombing as of yet, but that’s the dream scenario. A permanent home for the project has not been settled on, but over two March weekends on Mosquito Pass, Colorado, Bluebird took 100 skiers—it was all human powered—into the high country, where they tested everything from skin-track logistics (two parallel tracks make for easier instruction) to cost ($50 is the sweet spot for the amount of services rendered) to sustenance (they set up a skin-track bacon station and fried up ten pounds’ worth to distract newbies from the uphill suffering). For this prototype event, Bluebird hired Colorado Mountain School guides to lead the groups. It wasn’t a free-for-all.
Then, on April 10, Bluebird announced its next pop-up session, to be held April 27 and 28 on 200 acres at Colorado’s Winter Park ski area after the resort closes for the season. Winter Park will be another test of the “in-bounds backcountry” model Bluebird is proving has merit.
To be clear, the Mosquito Pass and Winter Park events are just test runs: Bluebird’s stated goal, though, is an “avalanche-controlled and ski-patrolled ski area that’s 100-percent human powered.” Lambert and Woodward, who have quietly been working on the endeavor for two and a half years, say their hope is to eventually offer backcountry skiing on multiple permanent sites throughout the U.S. “We believe the demand exists to have a number of locations across the country, and that U.S. ski culture will morph as a result,” Lambert says. “Backcountry skiing is a cultural shift.”
Mosquito Pass was a proof-of-concept exercise that also helped them refine their approach. “What we were doing there was incredibly detailed observation,” says Woodward, who has a background in the tech-startup world. “In addition to the guests, we had 25 volunteers taking notes on pain points and logistics. Of the 336 observations that we’re now analyzing, we made 44 adaptations from day one to day four. We were learning what people are looking for.”
Mosquito Pass was a natural choice for the prototyping session because of its terrain and proximity to Denver. But it might be primed to become a backcountry ski area for another reason: an existing, if long neglected, base structure. Beneath Mosquito Peak, an outfit dubbed North London Mill Preservation (NoLo) is currently restoring an old mill site on leased property, with the hopes of having a backcountry hut operational in the next two years. Before they got invested in the historic-preservation component of the site, which is now well underway, NoLo founders Jeff Crane and Kate McCoy had planned to run their own backcountry ski area, complete with avalanche control if it made sense. After collaborating with Bluebird, they’re seeing another potential path forward.
“They have an idea, and they were looking for a place to test it,” says Crane. “We have a place, but the idea of what it will become is changing. I think what we’ll do is work with a variety of guides including Bluebird, Colorado Mountain School, Backcountry Babes, and the like.”
NoLo and Bluebird—and, yeah, me—share a vision of opening up the sport of backcountry skiing and splitboarding to more users. Some of them might be newbies who don’t have a mentor to ease their entry into the sport, others might be seasoned tourers looking to take kids or family out in mitigated terrain far from ski-resort infrastructure, still more might be recruited from the ground swell of resort uphillers, and others yet might be experts looking for a place to ski during high-hazard avalanche conditions in the more exposed backcountry.
Bluebird’s Lambert draws an analogy to what indoor walls have done for climbing. “Until the gyms came along, there was no easy entry point for would-be climbers,” he says. “If you didn’t know somebody that climbed, you weren’t going. Climbing needed safe places to go, creature comforts like toilets, and instruction on a basic level. That’s where these backcountry ski areas come in. Backcountry skiing, though, is 30 years behind climbing.”
All this is in keeping with a third push by the town of Aspen, Colorado, to shift itself to a human-powered hub for resort uphillers, mountain bikers, trail runners, nordic skiers, and traditional backcountry skiers, too. (Advocates have been in touch with Bluebird Backcountry as well.) The town has even gone so far as to build the Aspen Uphill Economy Recreation Plan to make those goals more tangible. “There’s such a surge of folks that are interested in backcountry skiing now,” says Kent Sharp, president of the SE Group, which consults with and devises strategies for ski areas and towns in their dealings with public land managers. “Part of that trend is great, part of it’s terrifying. Nobody wants to see people in the backcountry who as of yet have no business there. It’s even scarier to think of them following a buddy who isn’t as experienced as he or she claimed. It’s not an irretrievable commitment of resources to build such a place and see how it goes for a few years. You can remove the infrastructure in a few days, and you’re right back to pristine national forest.”
Judging by the photos, Bluebird’s test of concept was a smashing success. An astounding 35 of the 100 guests were first-time backcountry skiers. And if the business model plays out as planned, with the possibility of including rentals and other services that nascent backcountry skiers might need, they believe the operation will be successful. “Our hope is not only to provide controlled places for this sport to grow,” says Lambert, “but to revolutionize the educational flow of backcountry skiing, help new users understand the human factors involved, and develop a mountain sense. There will be some people that love the safe experience and return just for that. Others will use it as a stepping stone to get into the true backcountry. We recognize that backcountry skiing isn’t for everyone, but it should be open to more people.”
And that (which you, dear reader, have long since gleaned, having actually read both of these stories) was exactly my point with that original column. But all this will be lost on the trolls that love to hate but hate to read.
If skiing in the backcountry interests you but, beyond taking your Avalanche 1 class, you don’t know where to start, head to Bluebird Backcountry and fill out its survey (2,000 respondents and counting).
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