In the closing stages of a Grand Tour, the race plays out on a knife edge. One moment Simon Yates is serene, in pink, as he has been for a couple of weeks.
The next, Rob Hatch on Eurosport is declaring crisis.
In the final two kilometres Tom Dumoulin softened Yates up with one of his grinding accelerations. Then Froome attacked, Pozzovivo followed, and Dumoulin latched on to his wheel.
And in the two-metre gap that opened up between Dumoulin and Yates was the day’s truth: “He’s lost the wheel…oooohhhhh, and Yates is in crisis!”
Those two metres, in the context of the previous seventeen stages of dominant progress, were a chink in the armour. The other four best cyclists in the race saw their moment and went hard.
In the blink of an eye, from an impregnable position, Yates was into damage limitation. Just like that. Finally, a bad day on the bike.
By the time they hit the summit finish line at Prato Nevoso his overall race lead had halved; cut by 28 seconds, to 28 seconds over Dumoulin. On a climb that suited Dumoulin, perhaps, more than himself. And he’s still in pink.Embed from Getty Images
Probably still the favourite to win.
But it’s in the balance.
Tomorrow, you feel – a massive mountain stage with a summit finish at Bardonecchia – will answer every question.
As for the winner of the stage: German wunderkind Max Schachmann, from the day’s breakaway, finished ten minutes clear of the GC battle.
Very happy for Herr Schachmann, first Grand Tour stage win and all that, but I am now officially bored of Belgian team Quick Step Floors winning bike races this season.
As my four-year-old son would say: “I think they’ve won about infinity times, daddy…”