For a cyclist, there is perhaps no more punishing enemy than the wind.
It plays games. It has the power to make or break your ride. A joyous and life affirming tailwind becomes a grim and grinding headwind. Your pleasure – or lack of it – is in the hands of meteorology.
And today, on stage sixteen, we discovered that there is another enemy to contend with. When this enemy combines with our foe, the wind, a whole peloton of the world finest athletes can be brought to not only a halt, but to literal tears.
We’re talking the likes of Froome, Thomas and Sagan, crying like babies at the roadside.
I’m referring, of course, to pepper spray.Embed from Getty Images
The fact that a group of French farmers flung some hay bales across the road and brought the race to a halt after around thirty kilometres is not news; French farmers have a history of protest, and few of us would begrudge them their traditional moment of belligerence.
Rumours that the target of their protest was those white shorts adorning the haunches of the Fortuneo-Samsic team are, at this point, unconfirmed.
What is news is that French Police cracked open the pepper spray to deal with this. And, they didn’t stop to consider the wind direction. Which was, they now realise, peloton bound.
Hence the world’s finest cyclists received a blast of pepper spray to the face.
And in the interests of fair and balanced reporting, we have to fully consider the motives of the Police. Rumours that the target of their pepper spray was those Fortuneo-Samsic riders in their white shorts are, at this point, unconfirmed.
I mean, it’s a “fashion crime,” no doubt about it. I’m just not really sure that pepper spray is the proportionate response.Embed from Getty Images
Thankfully, with plenty of cuddles and washing of eyes, the flow of tears was stemmed and the stage rambled on through the countryside, and over the mountains, towards Bagneres-de-Luchon.
The overall GC contenders, today, were content to conserve energy. The action happened up front, and largely on the slopes – both up and down – of the final climb: the Col du Portillon.
The pull to the summit was a study in contrasts.
There was Robert Gesink, swaying and swinging like a limp sunflower in the Pyrenean wind. Not pretty. There was Adam Yates, tiny, a pure climber, and on the escape off the front of the race.
And there was Julian Alaphilippe: French, polka dotted, and charismatic. Dancing on the pedals like Contador. Goatee bearded like Pantani. Gurning like Voeckler for the cameras. You’ve got a favourite cyclist? He’s got them covered.
His was the climb of a man in a purple patch; confident in his legs and picking his moments.Embed from Getty Images
Yates summitted first, Alaphilippe shortly after, and the chase began. Ten kilometres downhill into Bagneres-de-Luchon; and there’s something about a decent into a Pyrenean town that makes the hairs stand up on the back of the neck.
Remember Thor Hushovd, at Lourdes, in 2011?
Alaphilippe descends like the devil. Yates would’ve known the Frenchman was on his tail. Often hindsight is the post-stage blog writers best friend, but something was surely going to happen. I could feel in real time in my twitching left leg and white-knuckle grip on the settee.
Sure enough, Yates lost a front wheel on a hairpin. Alapahilippe caught, and swept past, then tried to wait empathetically, before bursting off down the road for a joyous win.
All smiles, salutes, and shakes of the head.
A proper French win.
The polka dots, deservedly, will surely be his.
(Devil: Gwenael Piaser via Flickr)