July 21st, 2024

Canadian rider Derek Gee finishes third on tough Tour de France stage on gravel roads

By The Associated Press on July 7, 2024.

TROYES, France (CP-AP) – Canadian Derek Gee, in his first Tour de France, finished third after a hard day of racing through the dust of gravel roads on the race’s ninth stage.

France’s Anthony Turgis won the 199-kilometre stage, which featured 32 kilometres of demanding gravel road, after a hectic day of racing marked by relentless attacks.

Behind the breakaway, race leader Tadej Pogacar tried to set the race on fire as the fight between the main contenders raged but could not gain time on his main rivals for the yellow jersey.

Gee was part of an initial 10-man breakaway and was among a group of six riders sprinting for the finish line.

“It was a real day out today,” the 26-year-old from Ottawa said. “Of course, I would have liked to finish a couple of places higher up, but we raced on the front foot all day and I think we can be happy with that. Hopefully, the win will come soon.”

Turgis, who rides for the Total Energies team, posted the biggest win of his career in a sprint, edging Tom Pidcock and Gee in the Champagne city of Troyes. It was the third stage win by a French rider since the race started last week.

“It’s incredible, it was a long time since I did not win,” said Turgis. “It was a long day, the team put its trust in me by giving me carte blanche today. I dedicate this win to all the people who trusted me.”

There was no major change in the overall standings, with Pogacar keeping his 33-second lead over Remco Evenepoel. Two-time defending champion Jonas Vingegaard remained in third place, 1:15 off the pace.

Gee, riding for the Israel-Premier Tech team, has now moved up to ninth place overall.

“I’m happy with how I have raced these first nine stages and I’m looking forward to the rest of the race. But I’m also really looking forward to the rest day (Monday),” he said.

Fellow Canadians Hugo Houle and Guillaume Boivin, also with Israel-Premier Tech stand 56th and 133rd, respectively.

The tough stage took riders through 14 sections of so-called white roads – including six in the stage finale – that have become a trademark of Italy’s Strade Bianche.

Pogacar loves riding on this difficult terrain, having won the Strade Bianche twice, and proved it with a series of sharp attacks that put his rivals on the back foot. Primoz Roglic suffered but managed to bridge gaps every time he got dropped and kept his fourth place overall, 1:36 behind Pogacar.

Vingegaard adopted a conservative strategy and did not collaborate with Pogacar and Evenepoel when they had the possibility to break away from other top contenders.

“For sure I will remember,” Pogacar said. “But everybody have their own race, I have nothing against it. I like to race with the heart and that was one of those days.”

Asked whether he thought Vingegaard and his team were afraid of him, Pogacar replied: “I think they are scared of me and they just follow me.”

Evenepoel was also critical of Vingegaard’s strategy.

“It’s a bit of a shame that Jonas did not take turns with us, because otherwise the race would have been over, we could have taken three or four minutes,” Evenepoel said.

The peloton will enjoy its first rest day Monday.

The Tour paid tribute to Norwegian rider Andre Drege, who died Saturday after crashing in a downhill at the Tour of Austria. To honour his memory, cyclists from the Norwegian team Uno-X Mobility arrived at the start line five minutes ahead of the start, with the rest of the peloton staying behind during a moment of applause.

There was a flurry of attacks from the start. A group of 10 riders including Turgis and Gee managed to escape before the first sector of gravel and were joined by a handful of counter-attackers.

Behind, a traffic jam of riders formed at the foot of a very steep segment of white roads, with many competitors forced to dismount and to run up the climb. Vingegaard and Pogacar avoided the jam but Roglic got dropped, lagging about 30 seconds behind at one point before he bridged the gap.

Vingegaard later suffered a mechanical problem and teammate Jan Tratnik gave his leader his bike. Pogacar then sped up the pace, followed by Evenepoel. The pair could not break away from the pack, though, and Vingegaard’s Visma Lease A Bike teammates moved to the front to add to the frenetic pace.

The battle between the main contenders intensified when Evenepoel attacked with 78 kilometres left in the Côte de Chacenay. Pogacar and Vingegaard did not panic and managed to chase him down. Roglic, however, could not follow. Still on his teammate’s bike, Vingegaard did not take his turn in the lead as the trio joined the main break.

With Vingegaard refusing to collaborate, they finally slowed down and Evenepoel looked dejected by his rival’s attitude.

“It’s their tactics, there is nothing we can do,” Evenepoel added.

Pogacar attacked again with about 20 kilometres left as Evenepoel and Roglic could not follow. Vingegaard, with the help of teammate Matteo Jorgenson, stayed in his wake. Again, Vingeaard did not take his turn and Pogacar stopped his effort.

Pogacar tried to go away one last time with eight kilometres left, but once again Vingegaard responded.

Gee is coming off a third-place finish in the Criterium du Dauphine, an eight-day stage race considered a key warm-up for the Tour. It marked his first WorldTour general classification podium.

Gee was promoted to Israel-Premier Tech’s WorldTour squad from its academy in May 2022. He signed a new long-term deal in June 2023 following his breakout performance at the Giro d’Italia.

Competing in his first Grand Tour race, Gee finished second four times and fourth twice in the 2023 Giro. He placed 22nd in the final general classification standings and was runner-up to Italy’s Jonathan Milan in the points race and France’s Thibaut Pinot in the King of the Mountains standings.

The Canadian was also honoured as the Giro’s “super combative rider.”

Sunday was a good day for Canadians on the Israel-Premier Tech team.

Canadian Riley Pickrell celebrated his his first professional victory, winning stage 2a of the Sibiu Tour in Romania .

The 22-year-old from Victoria outsprinted several rivals in the uphill, cobbled approach to the finish line. Riders competed in a 3.3-kilometre individual time trial later in the day.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2024.

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