When I think of the Vosges mountains, I think of lovely, tree-lined climbs with Germanic names, friendly locals, and solid food made from cheese and potatoes. I promise myself I’ll visit again and ride my bike up the Grand Ballon and La Planche des Belles Filles.
I also, unfortunately, think of Madonna. Circa 1990. Striking poses and namechecking Hollywood glamour. This is because I once made a mental connection between Vosges and ‘Vogue’ and now I can’t disconnect it.
‘Come on, Vosges’.
Stage five was the first of two in Vogue…sorry, the Vosges, a kind of prelude to a real leg cruncher on stage six. The profile roller coasted through the aforementioned Germanic locations, and the set-up was simple.
Any sprinters (or, at least, fast finishers) who could traverse these medium mountains in the company of the peloton would be favourites to win a sprint in the town of Colmar. Any dropped, clearly wouldn’t. That fate befell Groenewegen, Ewan, and Viviani, leaving Matthews, Sagan, and a sprinkling of others to duke it out.
Had this race been the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta Espana the stage profile would’ve been so obviously one for the breakaway that Thomas de Gendt, everyone’s favourite Belgian break specialist, would’ve been allowed a red carpet ride to the front of the race, to be waved off by his fellow competitors, happy to settle back and let de Gendt kill himself for TV.
But the Tour is too important.
Too many big-name riders had eyes on a sprint finish.
The break was given a short leash.
De Gendt was strictly forbidden.Embed from Getty Images
Tim Wellens was there, in polka dots, on a mission to mop up more mountain points, and so was Latvian Tom Skujins, the pronunciation of whose name amuses me more than it probably should in this globalised world.
Commentators on all channels deliver that surname with such commitment, and such confidence in their version of the truth; a truth let down only by the fact that they all have a subtle variation. Someone is right, and the others are wrong.
Skweench. Skunch. Skoins.
Take yer pick.
Anyway…the mountains were negotiated, the break was reeled in, and the race formed itself on a headwind battered run in to Colmar. The strongest teams with a rider to back – Sunweb (Matthews), Bora (Sagan), Jumbo-Visma (Van Aert) – burnt their lead out men one by one, fighting into the wind, leaving the fast finishers largely teammate free.
No-one surfs the wheels, freelance, like he does. Edging into position here, picking a wheel there, bumping and barging when required. Trentin, Van Aert, Van Avermaet and Colbrelli all threw their respective kitchen sinks but Sagan scorched clear, winning, with room to spare.
Post ride, ITV’s Matt Rendell asked him how he felt.
‘Exquisite’ came the reply.
(Top Image: Brendan Ryan at Flickr CC)