On this big, relentless day in the Massif Central, it started with a breakaway. Four riders; three of them being Niki Terpstra, Alessandro de Marchi, and Ben King, and the other being Thomas De Gendt.
Breakaway rider extraordinaire.
The breakaway rider’s breakaway rider.
Were the Tour de France a celebrity TV gameshow and you had to pick four riders to compete for you in the hilly breakaway round, these might well be your four (and, for the record, I would definitely watch that show!).
You’d fancy your chances for the big cash prize, the flat screen TV, and the selection of his and hers towels.
And of course, if you had to pick one, you’d pick De Gendt.
I have friends who’ve purchased Eurosport subscriptions solely to watch De Gendt ride all day in a breakaway. Once the DE GENDT IS IN A BREAK klaxon goes off across social media the viewing figures rocket for however long he lasts.
And he has that name: reminiscent of some noble figure from medieval times.
A notable Trappist monk, perhaps, renowned for his ascetic lifestyle and small batch beer production? An impressively aerodynamic cowl fashioned from Lycra. His monastery that patch of Tarmac two minutes forty-four seconds ahead of whatever race he’s riding in.
As Terpstra, King, and eventually De Marchi were ground down by the relentless terrain of stage eight, we were indeed left with just De Gendt. A ragged, frazzled peloton chasing him down. All variables up for grabs.Embed from Getty Images
Julian Alaphilippe had a plan. He needed a handful of seconds to snatch back the Yellow Jersey from Giulio Ciccone. Tomorrow, stage nine, is on Bastille Day.
You do the maths.
Approaching the final kilometres he engaged fellow Frenchman Thibaut Pinot; countrymen, not teammates, but with mutually beneficial goals. They leapt from the front of the race, created a small amount of fresh air, and then emptied their Gallic tanks in spine tingling fashion.
Alaphilippe, in his element across tough, punchy terrain, alternating with Pinot, the man upon whom France are pinning their hopes to win the whole shebang. Alaphilippe chasing seconds to dispatch Ciccone, Pinot to edge a gap between himself and Thomas, Bernal, Fuglsang, Yates, et al.
Each corner, and every crest of a climb, crowds cheered. Then, identifying the two French riders, roared, punched the air, and allez-allez-ed them on their way.
It was electric.Embed from Getty Images
For ten kilometres it was wide open. Anything could happen. De Gendt could win or be caught. Alaphilippe and Pinot could catch De Gendt or be caught by the peloton. The French nation could erupt with excitement.
How De Gendt kept the frenzy at bay was near miraculous. It was implausible. It was the very essence of De Gendt; winning, from the French, by six seconds, who in turn gained twenty over the main field.
Pinot gained his time.
Alaphilippe took his Yellow Jersey.
And that, it’s fair to say, was a bike race.
(Image: filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium [CC BY 2.0(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D)