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“It’s an unnecessary risk”: Jonas Vingegaard joins Patrick Lefevere in criticising gravel and cobbled stages in Tour de France… but fans (and Pogačar) think otherwise

The two-time Tour winner said he won’t have any gravel or cobbles if he were to design a Grand Tour, while Lefevere dismissed the stage 9 contested on white gravel — and widely enjoyed by fans — as “nonsense”

Chaos and drama in the dust — stage 9 of the Tour de France had loads of entertainment on offer for the fans as riders made their way through the dirt roads around Troyes in France. However even before the stage began, defending champion and two-time Tour winner Jonas Vingegaard did not shy away from expressing his discontent with the inclusion of gravel — a sentiment that was shared by Patrick Lefevere, the controversial boss of Soudal Quick-Step.

Today’s stage saw the peloton start and finish at Troyes, with 14 gravel sectors to negotiate, covering 32.2km. It was eventually won by Total Energies’ Anthony Turgis, with Ineos Grenadiers’ British rider Tom Pidcock coming in second.

While there were no changes in the top five of the general classification, despite some epic racing on display, the stage was touted to hold the possibility of bringing in big shakeups, and in the process, bringing some major concerns to some riders, with Vingegaard one of them.

The Visma-Lease a Bike rider shared his thoughts on the gravel stage before the race today, saying: “I have done a few [gravel] races in the past, it was quite some years ago… One time I was second in a gravel race! I also have bad memories from gravel races, so yeah I have a bit of both.”

When asked if he would have a gravel stage when designing the Tour, or whether the race organisers have gone too far, he replied: “I wouldn’t take gravel in, also the same with cobbles. I think it’s an unnecessary risk to take.”

Vingegaard was in fact faced with such a risk during the race, suffering a puncture and borrowing teammate Jan Tratnik’s bike to continue the race.

> "We're going to stick to road racing!": Matej Mohorič gets stuck in the mud at Unbound Gravel, suffers cracked rim and puncture

Meanwhile, the typically outspoken Patrick Lefevere, who called a fan “stupid” for creating an “unacceptable” situation that led to one of Quick-Step’s riders to crash and break three teeth before even the Tour began, declared himself as “anti-gravel”.

“I am happy to admit it: I am completely anti. I used to be against the Strade Bianche, but only an idiot never changes his mind. I can appreciate that race now. But gravel in the Tour? Nonsense, I think,” the Belgian boss wrote in weekly column for Het Nieuwsblad.

“Entertainment for the masses, bread and games. An image of Cadel Evans in the 2010 Giro is burned into my retina. He won the gravel stage then, but crossed the finish line with a caked-on gravel slurry that covered his entire face. Is that how we want to see the riders? The Tour rewards the most complete rider, but there are limits to that.”

He added: “For me: no gravel, no climb that is so steep that you need a mountain bike gear for it and no cobblestones either. I don't have to convince anyone that I am a big fan of Paris-Roubaix, but you shouldn't send a Tour peloton over that.

“I understand that ASO (the Tour organiser) is concerned about too many 'transition stages' and that the youth might find sprint stages a bit boring. But the remedy is not the funfair of a Tour peloton on gravel.”

> Patrick Lefevere furious with "unacceptable" Tour de France crash caused by "stupid" barrier-jumping fan that saw Soudal Quick-Step pro break three teeth before race had even begun

However, it wasn’t just Tadej Pogačar, the current leader of the general classification, who was at odds with this opinion, but to some extent Lefevere’s own rider and making his Tour debut, Remco Evenepoel as well.

The world time trial champion told the Belgian media: “I’m looking forward to the stage, but I'm also a bit nervous. I can’t wait to discover those gravel roads, and at the same time, I know that anything can happen. All of the GC riders have to be careful not to lose time.

“I know all the sectors. I’ve explored the most difficult ones, and, to be honest, I'm a fan of them. We'll see how it turns out. It will depend on the leading group and on whether there are really strong riders up front, or not.

“In any case, I have the impression that tomorrow's stage will be one of the most watched sporting events of the year.”

Pogačar also dismissed claims that gravel stages don’t deserve to be in the Tour, saying: “There are always these questions – ‘Is this stage right in or not in the Tour?’ I’m not the one to ask, I need to race it, whether it's there or not. It's just another obstacle in the Tour de France. Like every other stage, a lot of other things can happen. You have to be ready from start to finish. It can get complicated in the race.”

Meanwhile, fans were jubilant after the stage today, especially for the gravel sections which made a comeback after the fourth stage of the 2022 edition, once again providing spectacular racing.

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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18 comments

Avatar
Cayo | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

SPOILER OF THE MOST MINOR KIND FOLLOWS(winner etc not revealed):

Well, Lefevere should be happy today: an incredibly boring 'race' through the flattest of terrain with nothing happening until the last 6km, ending with one of those nice, safe sprint finishes. 😉

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Cayo | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

It may have been unintentional, but I still loved Turgis's celebration, living his bike up, probably realising he hadn't the energy to do it properly and then releasing it to fall to the ground. I guess that was a...

Bike drop  1

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hutchdaddy | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

Gravel and cobbles, that's fine. The only things that put me off entering the tour are:

a) It's not one long moderate downhill on a wide, well maintained road.

b) I wouldn't be allowed a 60 minute head start everyday

c) No decent pubs on the route

d) No record shop at the end with the best selection at decent prices.

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mdavidford | 2 weeks ago
4 likes
Patrick Lefevere wrote:

“For me: no gravel, no climb that is so steep that you need a mountain bike gear for it and no cobblestones either. I don't have to convince anyone that I am a big fan of Paris-Roubaix, but you shouldn't send a Tour peloton over that."

Absolutely. In fact, now that we have the likes of Zwift, we should be avoiding the unnecessary vagiaries of using actual roads altogether.

I mean, gravel's just not in the DNA of the Tour, is it?

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Laz replied to mdavidford | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

ahh so....how many riders do we see there ? 

and it's so easy to celebrate their hardship and risk from the comforts of your own armchair isnt it ? how would you like to breath in that gravel dust for a few hours on end ? or perhaps have a cornea scratched when it gets in your eyes ? we dont use asbestos insulation in homes anymore- do you know why? long term health consequences - keep rolling the dice here, we'll see what happens. poor suckers 

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wtjs replied to Laz | 2 weeks ago
1 like

It's a good point- but I think this doesn't compare with the risks of crashes -might be less risky on gravel owing to lower speeds- and the horrifying high speed sprints and descents. I didn't make a point of looking, but I expect they had eye protection, and those clouds of dust are probably less of a health risk than they appear, with large particles that don't get beyond the mouth/ nose and the major airways. Not as bad as those PM10s and PM 2.5s. Of course, I'm just guessing!

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Rendel Harris replied to Laz | 2 weeks ago
1 like
Laz wrote:

how would you like to breath in that gravel dust for a few hours on end ? or perhaps have a cornea scratched when it gets in your eyes ? we dont use asbestos insulation in homes anymore- do you know why? long term health consequences - keep rolling the dice here, we'll see what happens. poor suckers 

If memory serves there were 35 kms of gravel, so an hour or so of riding. One assumes you boycott the other 3460 kms when they're riding right behind car and motorbike exhausts? Rider welfare should definitely be taken more seriously but getting self righteous over an hour's gravel riding in the wider context of a three week GT is just silly. Oh and could you please provide evidence of any rider who has had their cornea scratched riding on gravel whilst wearing eye protection?

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mdavidford replied to Laz | 2 weeks ago
1 like
Laz wrote:

ahh so....how many riders do we see there ? 

Not really sure of the relevance of this.

Laz wrote:

and it's so easy to celebrate their hardship and risk

Or this - I never mentioned anything about hardship or risk.

Laz wrote:

how would you like to breath in that gravel dust for a few hours on end ? or perhaps have a cornea scratched when it gets in your eyes ? we dont use asbestos insulation in homes anymore- do you know why? long term health consequences - keep rolling the dice here, we'll see what happens. poor suckers 

This appears to be an argument* for banning gravel racing altogether - not anything to do with whether it has a place in the Tour de France.

[*if a slightly hyperbolic one]

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lawrencefalk | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

The whole point of why the gravel is awesome is you could lose it all!

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Cayo | 2 weeks ago
4 likes

They can complain all they like - without doubt, that was the most entertaining Grand Tour stage I can remember!

Yes, there have been any number of fantastic mountain top finishes, classic sprints to the line and dramatic solo rides to victory, but never has an entire stage gripped me like that.

I came back from a 3 hour ride, watched the F1 race and then settled down to watch le Tour 'as live'. I was intending watching it on fast forward with audio as it was already about 5:30pm by the time I'd watched the GP, but I simply couldn't resist watching all 5 hours coverage properly.

I'm actually surprised nobody seemed to have opted to use SPD pedals and shoes (or other off-road options), considering that steep chemin blanc sector which brought the tail of the field to a complete stop, forcing many to step off and run uphill. Amazing nobody appeared to have prepared for that possibility after their recons.

The way the groups yo-yo'd back and forth, with leads coming and going was little short of mesmerising.

Don't listen to the moaners, ASO, more of the same in future Tours please!

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Rendel Harris replied to Cayo | 2 weeks ago
1 like
Cayo wrote:

I'm actually surprised nobody seemed to have opted to use SPD pedals and shoes (or other off-road options), considering that steep chemin blanc sector which brought the tail of the field to a complete stop, forcing many to step off and run uphill.

I wondered that and was looking carefully to see if anyone had chosen a different pedal option but I guess if they did see the possibility in their reconnaissance it would've been rejected because firstly it would have been effectively preparing for a failure – let's wear different shoes in case we screw up our road positioning before that sector – and secondly because the advantage when running over that relatively short distance would surely have been outweighed by the improved power transfer of SPD-SL or equivalent over the whole course.

 

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Rendel Harris | 2 weeks ago
5 likes
Patrick Lefevre wrote:

Entertainment for the masses, bread and games.

Like it or not, Paddy old son, for all the nobility and skill and endeavour of the sport you are in the entertainment business, if you don't keep "the masses" entertained then no sponsors so no Soudal Quickstep and no job for you. It was a great stage where the GC contenders were forced to take matters into their own hands to a large extent instead of relying on their teams and where riding skill and nous, as opposed to pure power, were at a premium. Far more in keeping with the traditions of the Tour than watching the peleton cruise along a perfect road for 200km watching their power meters.

ETA with reference to Jonas's "unnecessary risk" there seemed actually to be a lot fewer crashes on the gravel sections than one usually sees on an all-tarmac stage, as a result of the slower speeds and single-line riding the gravel sections demanded.

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Mr Hoopdriver replied to Rendel Harris | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

I don't recall any complaints in previous years when they were on the cobbles which I think are much more challenging.

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Simon E replied to Rendel Harris | 2 weeks ago
7 likes

Patrick Lefevere and his attention-grabbing swipes at whoever and whatever is available.

Vingegaard's comments remind me faintly of Schleck's complaint about descents because he was a poor descender. The team should get him to do some 'cross races in the Autumn or give him an Aspero and a gravel riding schedule instead of camping out on a volcano for weeks on end.

That was a truly gripping stage, I could barely take my eyes off the live broadcast, which is something I wouldn't say very often (the finale of stage 1 was also edge-of-seat stuff). I agree with you Rendel. Skill & nous, reacting on the spot and not simply following a script. The fact that the main GC contenders still finished together after all the action - attacks, splits, dust clouds and bike swaps made it all the more thrilling.

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Velophaart_95 replied to Simon E | 2 weeks ago
4 likes

Yeah, a proper 'all round' cyclist can cope with all conditions, especially pave, or gravel. If they haven't got the skills, then get learning them.....

There's more to being a good cyclist than watts, w/kg, Vo2, etc There's a skill element, which some supposed top riders lack........

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dubwise | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

Why compete then Jonas Vingegaard?

Wasn't your serious crash earlier this year on the road or not?

As Remco says, grow a pair!!

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ErnieC replied to dubwise | 1 week ago
0 likes
dubwise wrote:

Why compete then Jonas Vingegaard? Wasn't your serious crash earlier this year on the road or not? As Remco says, grow a pair!!

Says the person on the sofa.

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don simon fbpe | 2 weeks ago
1 like

Didn't the biggest accident of the day happen on asphalt?

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