Luke Rowe, road captain and beating heart of Team Ineos, has got a sixth sense. Rather like a snake assessing conditions and seeking prey with the flick of a forked tongue, Rowe has a highly developed instinct for danger.
When crosswinds blow in a bike race the peloton becomes vulnerable. When the roads are straight and the pace is high the bunch of riders becomes ragged. Gaps appear. Wheels are lost. Protective slipstreams disappear.
As the wind blew today on the roads to Albi nerves were a-jangle.
The threat of crosswinds caused teams to group and marshal resources at the front, waiting for their moment to ramp up the pressure. The old hands at this game are Ineos (often at the instigation of Rowe) and Deceuninck Quickstep (today, gloriously, at the instigation of King Julian Alaphilippe).
And if Quickstep and Ineos are getting busy that’s basically the CROSSWINDS AHOY! klaxon and you’d better be in position.
They ripped the Tour de France to pieces.Embed from Getty Images
Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, Steven Kruijswijk, Julian Alapahilippe, and others, were hammering away in peloton number one. Peloton number two contained Thibaut Pinot, Jakob Fuglsang, Richie Porte, Rigoberto Uran and a ragged, exhausted band of domestiques and team players. Peloton’s three and four trailed further down the road.
From placid pre-rest day to code red in moments.
General Classification contenders asunder.
Pinot, the weight of a nation having gradually, day by day, gathered across his great swarthy shoulders, lost a minute and three-quarters to those at the head of the field. Fuglsang, too, a pre-race player, now somewhat in tatters.
There are two weeks and whole mountain ranges to go, but the Ineos double act of Thomas and Bernal are in prime position.
All of which drama led us, eventually, to a sprint finish involving the usual sprinting suspects.
And left us with one, puzzling, unanswered question: what the hell is Wout van Aert?
I mean he’s a bike rider, a Belgian, a former cyclo-cross rider, and a human being, but is he also a time-trialler? A classics specialist? A domestique? A sprinter?
A super-hero?Embed from Getty Images
In what was a tough, uphill sprint, against sprinters with lead-out trains, he beat Viviani into second, Ewan into third, and Matthews into fourth. Asked to pass comment for the media he was stunned. Struggling for words. Slightly teary.
Almost a little, dare I say…guilty?
For beating these guys at their own game.
Tomorrow is a rest day. A chance for the riders to take stock and assess their Tours de France to date. And MON DIEU a lot has happened.
They might need two rest days.
Top Image: https://www.teamjumbovisma.com/team/)