Somewhere, today, in a parallel universe, Romain Bardet ascended to the status of a God.
The script was written. This Bastille Day stage, finishing in his home town of Brioude, would see him clad in yellow. A nice three-minute cushion over his rivals who could only watch in awe as the French public feted their hero.
The coronation in full swing.
After nine stages the rest are racing for the minor placings.
Bardet is too strong.
Vive la Republique. Vive la France. Vive la Bardet.
Bardet is off the pace. Disconcertingly so. On the TT bike, expectedly, but in the mountains too. Already three minutes down on the leaders, he cannot win the race. Thibaut Pinot, not (yet) in Yellow, and Julian Alaphilippe, resplendent in yellow, have leapfrogged their French pal in the pecking order.
And in another parallel universe still, Belgian powerhouse Tiesj Benoot has something resembling a sprint finish in his armoury and generous collection of wins to his name. A massive engine to set up a win and a sprightly turn of pace to finish things off.
Alas, in the actual, current reality, the one in which you’re sitting reading this and wondering how to pronounce ‘Tiesj,’ he is stuck with the massive engine alone. It worked once, gloriously, as he won Strade Bianche back in 2018, but never before or since.Embed from Getty Images
He survived in the break today, and proactively whittled it down to three; with Nico Roche and Darryl Impey keeping him company. Roche, the veteran, faded on the final climb where Impey scrambled up it to latch on to the Belgian’s wheel.
This was the defining moment.
Against Impey, a fast finisher, Benoot had no hope.
In this, or any other universe.
They barrelled into Bardet’s home town and hit the finishing straight. Benoot sitting on the South African’s wheel. In prime position. Perfectly placed. Teed up to perfection.
With one hundred metres to go Benoot unleashed his ‘sprint.’ With seventy-five to go he slumped, dejected, so obviously unable to compete with Impey at this game. It was cruel and demoralising. A top-class cyclist with a huge Achilles heel.
Somewhere back in the Benoot family genealogy all the fast twitch muscles were bred out. The slow twitch are of the very highest quality, but they alone they don’t win bike races.
Meanwhile the Yellow Jersey and the rest of the main contenders were ten minutes and more back down the road. Happy to have something of a day off and let the break have a scrap for the win.
The roads awash with fans. Alaphilippe smiling, unfurled a hitherto unseen regal wave, appropriate to Bastille Day and his lead of the Tour de France. Bardet launched a token attack on the final climb, more through politeness than anything else. All these people, after all, had come to see a show.
But today was Darryl Impey’s day.
It was meant to be Romain Bardet’s.
And, cruelly, it was never going to be Benoot’s.