The Tour de France is one of the greatest athletic tests in sport, consisting of 21-stages over a gruelling three-week period.
Packed with challenging climbs, it makes finding a rhythm tough for any rider, especially for those not at their consistent best.
As each rider knows, there are no trophies handed out in the first week, irrespective of any magic produced during the early stages.
Leading into the race, the battle for the yellow jersey was set to be a duel between defending champion Egan Bernal and favourite Primoz Roglic.
And five stages in, Roglic has already signalled his intent to his fellow Tour contenders with victory on a summit finish at stage four on Tuesday.
The Slovenian put paid to any speculation about his fitness coming into the race after he withdrew from the Criterium du Dauphine last month following a crash.
Showing no signs of weakness this week, his impressive Jumbo-Visma team demonstrated they are likely to threaten Bernal from securing back-to-back titles.
The Dutch side have dictated the pace, their elite group of equipiers gathering at the front to prevent fast attacks.
They set the pace on the final climb to Orcières-Merlette on Tuesday’s first mountain stage, before the 30-year-old left his rivals behind to clinch victory.
The question now is whether Bernal will be able to step up the pace.
It is still early days and there are tougher climbs to come, which the Colombian is likely to thrive on.
However, on the evidence of Tuesday’s showing and Bernal’s displays in the recent Tour de l’Ain and Criterium races, it may be a struggle.
A back injury sustained at the Criterium may still be curtailing the Zipaquira native’s progress. But in the two previous Tours, the final week has always been his best.
He did manage to finish with the front group on stage four, but he surely knows now where the main threat to a second triumph will come from.
The authority and certainty that fuelled so many Team Ineos wins down through the years had come from Jumbo-Visma.
Expertly drilled, Roglic had trusted lieutenants in Wout van Aert, who won Wednesday’s fifth stage to Privas, and Sepp Kuss to set the unrelenting pace.
Kuss, in particular, deserves special praise for leading the group into the final kilometre, shepherding his prized asset to within 250 metres of the line.
Martin attempted to burst forward, however, Roglic and UAE Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogacar reacted quickest.
⛰ First uphill finish today in Orcières-Merlette! After a 6-man breakaway, the leaders enjoyed a mountain sprint at the summit, where 🇸🇮 Primoz Roglic claimed a superb win!
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) September 1, 2020
Roglic surged ahead, leaving his rivals breathless in the final 200m to seal his third Tour de France stage win, adding to victories in 2017 and 2018.
The Trbovlje man will gain confidence from his success at Orcières-Merlette, his team producing a show of collective strength to place him in a winning position.
Jumbo-Visma know what they are up against to usurp the Ineos machine. It will be a tough task, irrespective of the poor recent form of Pavel Sivakov and Richard Carapaz.
There are six mountain stages to come, five of them more challenging than Tuesday’s finish. And as each day goes on, Bernal is likely to gather more strength and belief.
He is still only 10 seconds back on Roglic in fifth overall and with tougher climbs ahead, he should attain a level of dominance on Grand Colombier (Stage 15), Méribel Col de la Loze (Stage 17) and La Planche des Belles Filles (Stage 20).
Inwardly, Bernal will be happy at the expectation now pursed on Roglic’s shoulders, rather than the constant pressure of him having to excel daily as reigning champion.
With 16 stages to go before the Tour navigates into the French capital on September 20, the Colombian will have many chances to test his rival.
No trophies are handed out in the first week. However, Roglic looks on another level and has laid down a serious marker on the back of Tuesday’s victory.
A battle with Bernal for the coveted yellow jersey creates an exciting tussle over the next two weeks.
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