“There’s a time and place for cobbles in pro cycling,” said rent-a-quote and Mitchelton-Scott boss Matt White after Sunday’s incident strewn road to Roubaix, “…and that’s in April.”
Stage nine had provided just too much excitement for some people.
For the first eight stages the contrary consensus of opinion had been growing. Sure, we had sprint finishes, a team time trial, and Bernard Hinault’s furrowed Breton brow, but we also had long kilometres of not very much.
Not enough excitement was the general feeling.
And so, on the basis that we appear to be witnessing the “Goldilocks” Tour this year, todays first foray into the Alps was poised to deliver levels of excitement that were just right.
Marc Madiot, team boss of Groupama-FDJ, had likened Tour Director Christian Prudhomme’s job to that of a movie director – piecing together a storyline using scenes from a menu of options. The cobbles of stage nine were clearly the set-piece special-effect laden action sequence.
The script for stage ten, between Annecy and le Grand Bornand, was clear. It was to be the day when Greg van Avermaet – one-day classics specialist and current wearer of the Yellow Jersey – would be sent tumbling down the General Classification by the climbers.
The big man* had other ideas.
In an early plot twist, GVA managed to infiltrate the day’s breakaway – along with twenty-one other riders. From there, he fought, and battled, and clung, and…well, extended his lead. Consolidated his Yellow Jersey. Cyclists today, eh? They can’t just learn their lines and play their part, can they?
But to focus on Van Avermaet is to ignore one of his breakaway companions and the star of the day: French rider Julian Alaphilippe.Embed from Getty Images
The record books suggest that his win today was the first Tour de France victory of his career which, frankly, I’m not sure I believe. If you’d asked any cycling fan, pre-stage, if Alaphilippe has ever won a Tour stage they’d have made the puzzled eyebrows: “yeah…course he has. Pfffhhh!”
Pushed on the detail, they’d have fussed and blustered (“well, erm…there was that time, err…”) but wouldn’t have backed down. He’s made for Tour stage wins. If I close my eyes and think really hard I get a mental image of at least three of them.
And yet the record keepers, somehow, managed to miss them.
No wonder he looked super-motivated to set the record straight and claim his first Tour stage win since (accurate) records began. And, to cap it off, it was an absolute beauty.Embed from Getty Images
From that early break he was out in front from the start. As the group whittled away around him he looked perky and light, and with 30k’s to go he attacked solo; devouring Alps like a hungry child going at an airport Toblerone.
And he wasn’t sharing.
By the summit of the final climb – the Col de la Colombiere, around fifteen kilometres from the finish – he was well clear and one swooping descent away from the win. It was never in doubt.
I’m even prepared to forgive him the goatee beard.
*Big man, that is, for a pro cyclist. Were he stood next to me, an average man, he would look tiny.