When the Tour de France races up to the airfield at Mende, in the region of Occitanie, as it did today, exciting things happen. We always get a great race.
That final climb – a few kilometres at 10% or so – makes sure of it.
Back in 2015 it was Steve Cummings, memorably for an African team on Africa day, who had us British cycling fans whooping, hollering, and doing a little jig in front of the telly (well, some of us, anyway) as he swept past the best that France had to offer (Bardet, and Pinot) thrillingly.
Today, the riders very kindly gave us two great races.
When a large breakaway eventually established itself after some early stage crosswind-related shenanigans, they built up a lead of more than twenty minutes over the Yellow Jersey group.
Clearly, the boffins at Sky, Sunweb, and Movistar had done their sums and concluded that no-one of any Tour de France winning consequence was in that leading group.
“Just ignore ’em Froomey,” I imagine Luke Rowe saying, heading off a fight in an early-hours post-club taxi-rank, “they’re not worth it.”
Rowe dragged Froome off.
The break went on it’s merry way.Embed from Getty Images
At the risk of killing the romance of the situation, I doubt any teams were having to do their sums. They have technology to do the figuring out for them. Some piece of software will have cross-tabbed the members of the break – identifiable by GPS signal – with their position on GC, and given the main contenders the all clear.
Wouldn’t it be great, though, if they’d get it wrong just once?
“We’re OK chaps, let them go, we’ve had it checked and all the main guys are here with us. Look…there’s Dumoulin and Bardet, Quintana is over there…I’ve seen Landa, he’s hanging around somewhere with Roglic…and Geraint Thomas is…erm…wait, lads, where’s G?”
“I think he’s up the road, boss. Like, twenty minutes up the road.”
“WHHHAAAAATTT! Up the road? How’s that happened? He’s in a bright yellow jersey for f***s sake!”
But we got our two races up the climb at Mende.
In race one, Alaphilippe, resplendent in Polka Dots, appeared to be in full control. David Millar on the ITV commentary was sure of it: “There’s Alaphilippe, he’s looking so in control. He’s leaving it so late…that tells you how confident he is.”
Too late, as it happened.
Too confident?Embed from Getty Images
Astana’s Spanish rider Omar Fraile held on for the win, and it wasn’t pretty.
Judging by the way he wrestled and wrangled his bike on the steep sections, pumping limbs like the poorly calibrated pistons of a steam engine, he may well be some distant relative of Fabio Aru; the Italian for whom riding a bike is like some frenzied form of violence.
Race two saw Thomas and Froome, and Dumoulin, cat and mouse a while before consolidating a time gain on Romain Bardet. Not working together, exactly, but accepting a shared goal.
Primoz Roglic was allowed to ride on and snatch a handful of seconds at the line.
Froome, throughout this, was predictably and disgracefully booed and abused. On at least one occasion he had a liquid of some description thrown across him. Fans got very close and almost physical.
He remains stoic and unbending in the face of this.
This pitchfork mob mentality does neither race nor French public any credit, whatever you think of Team Sky, and Froome. In post-race interviews the Sky rider refuses to engage with the subject, calmly batting away questions about his on-the-road treatment.
I do wonder whether he should talk about it. Whether he should call out the idiots who threaten him when he’s vulnerable, deep into huge physical effort, and in no position to defend himself.
Because if he doesn’t, how else does this stop?
(Top image: By Jaguar MENA – Chris Froome | The First Man to Cycle through the Eurotunnel, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37982072)