Austrian cyclist Michael Gogl left the Tour de France Friday morning with memories of racing hard in long-distance breakaways, making strong lead-out efforts…and losing his team leaders in the opening week. Gogl is typical of the majority of men who start the Tour de France, a team worker whose principal task is helping his team leaders—but that job suddenly ended when injuries put his NTT Pro Cycling team leaders, sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo and climber Domenico Pozzovivo, out of the Tour at the end of week 1.
By John Wilcockson | Images by Chris Auld
In six years as a professional Gogl has never won a bike race—other than a virtual stage victory in May’s lockdown Zwift Tour (ahead of no less than Greg Van Avermaet and Mathieu van der Poel!)—but he’s always been a valued teammate: first with Team Tinkoff, then Trek-Segafredo and now NTT. He’s been especially valued as a workhorse in the grand tours, having finished the Vuelta a España in 2016, the Tour de France in 2017 and 2018, and the Giro d’Italia last year. His best result in those grand tours came on stage 13 of the 2016 Vuelta, when he was part of a successful long-distance 12-man breakaway, placing fourth.
At this Tour de France, NTT had big hopes for stage wins with the on-form Nizzolo (coming off victories at the Italian nationals and European championships), in which Gogl would play an important lead-out role. So confident was the team’s co-owner Doug Ryder that he said before the Tour start in Nice: “Watch us on stages one, three, five and seven in the first week.” Those were the stages expected to end in mass sprints when Gogl had specific duties, giving him some freedom to go with attacks on the hillier stages in between.
One of those chances came on the mountainous stage 2 that went over two category 1 climbs in the opening 100 kilometers. “I had it in my mind to catch the break today,” Gogl said after the stage finish in Nice. “And [when] I saw a couple of really strong engines moving right from the start, I joined them at the last moment. I didn’t expect that some teams would control it like they did so the chances for the stage win were small, but then we fought for the mountain’s jersey. Unfortunately, I was third twice and that’s the sport, two guys were faster than me there. Overall, I’m happy with my form, and the Tour is long, so there will be a couple more opportunities to come.”
Those opportunities came after Nizzolo and Pozzovivo left the race before the first of the Tour’s two rest days. Stage 12, the longest of the Tour at 218 kilometers, saw the race split apart on the very hilly finale. Gogl showed his climbing strength by getting into a counterattack but couldn’t stay with it on the ultra-steep Suc au May, and he came home with the group of GC favorites, taking 16th place, fourth in the group sprint behind such luminaries Peter Sagan, Van Avermaet and Jasper Stuyven.
Then came stage 15, with three giant climbs in the final 75 kilometers. This time Gogl got into the early breakaway of eight riders in an ultrafast start to the stage. The eight had a 4:30 lead on reaching the first of those climbs, the Fromental, after 100 kilometers of racing. Only four were left by the summit of that opening climb where Gogl, after initially getting dropped, rejoined Pierre Roland, Simon Geschke and Jésus Herrada. The NTT man then impressively attacked on the 10-kilometer descent, gaining a minute before he tackled the shorter, but similarly steep Col de la Biche. Only Rolland could catch Gogl before the top and they sailed down the next long downhill to establish a two-minute lead over the 30-strong group of favorites, led by race leader Primož Roglič’s Jumbo-Visma team, before facing the finishing climb up the mighty Grand Colombier.
Inevitably, the GC leaders swallowed up Gogl on the early 12-percent slopes, and the Austrian rode his own solo to the summit finish, taking 33rd on the stage, 18:27 down. Speaking back at the NTT team bus, Gogl said, “I’ve had some time to recover but my legs are still hard as rocks, but it was a really nice day out front. Unfortunately, we never got enough time to really fight for the stage win—as we needed probably a few minutes more. But we tried everything. I tried everything. Honestly, I knew that Jumbo would control it at the back and the team they had there is so strong, so I was quite realistic about not likely being able to challenge for the stage win.”
Into the Alps, Gogl again displayed his amazingly good descending skills. Stage 17, which featured the insanely difficult finish climb to the Col de la Loze, first went up the above-category Col de la Madeleine on a steep and narrow, new-to-the-Tour ascent. Gogl had time to make up behind the favorites group of 30 riders and achieved his goal. Modestly, he later said, “I was a bit behind on the Madeleine, so I went pretty fast to get back to the group; I’ll check the speed later but perhaps it’s around 100 kph—so job done there.”
Gogl stuck to his task on the Loze, hanging on as far as he could, until soloing to the top like most of the field. “It’s just a crazy climb,” he said with a smile after taking 29th place, 19:00 back. “It’s a mental game just to arrive up here.” That was his last hurrah for this Tour, because on Thursday’s final alpine stage he rode most of the stage in the gruppetto with his five teammates.
“He was empty…and it was very difficult for him to finish the stage,” team manager Bjarne Riis said Friday morning. “He didn’t sleep well last night, really empty, so we had to take him out of the race.” Reflecting on his NTT colleagues and his Tour, Gogl said, “We want to show ourselves as fighters and I like that stuff. I like to fight in the front, and it was really easy to have that motivation. I hope everyone watching on television saw that as well.”