Today, for the designers of the showpiece time trial in and around Pau, it was back slaps and congratulatory drinks and nibbles all round. Their genius came in the form of a one hundred metre ramp, with a seventeen percent gradient, in the final kilometre of the course.
The TT bar has been raised.
We’ve been reminded that TT’s can, in the right hands, resemble a workable form of entertainment.
Those entertainment levels were helped by having a home favourite (Julien Alaphilippe) wearing the yellow jersey (skinsuit) giving it the beans up said ramp. That King Julian is perfectly suited to such a short, punchy climb, was a piece of additional, tremendous good fortune.
When planning the TT the organisers would have had guys like Froome and Thomas, maybe Kruijswijk or Dennis in mind. Guys who are consummate against the clock and capable of climbing.
No one would have flicked through their pre-Tour glossy preview magazine, spotted the stage thirteen parcours, and thought: “hmm…tailor made for Alaphilippe that one.”
He has little in the way of history against the clock.
The question of the day was: “Can Alaphilippe limit his losses and hang on to yellow.”
The answer, from most, was: “Probably.”
Chasing down fast times from De Gendt, Kruijswik, and penultimate starter and dot up the road Geraint Thomas, Alaphilippe went off like, well…an over-excitable Frenchman leading the Tour de France.
He then got faster, and faster still, before fever pitch was reached. The stage in the balance, between he and Thomas. Roadside fans roared, commentators got excited, and Alaphilippe reached that ramp.
A sweeping left turn and he went at it like an Instagram influencer going at a bag of free swag. Frenzied. Arms and legs pumping, goatee bearded mouth agape, an extension of his race lead waiting at the summit.
Cacophonous is not a word to adequately describe the great reverberation created by the French public for their hero.
He crossed the line, a sweeping salute to the crowd, before a showboating rear end skid into the arms of his waiting team and a look of oh-my-god-did-you-SEE-that!
We did, and we can barely believe our eyes.
Tomorrow, the Tourmalet. Two thousand metres of altitude and yet more terrain fundamentally unsuited to our race leader. Is anybody still, seriously, attempting to make predictions?