The Col du Tourmalet is a whopper. A huge shoulder of Pyranean earth with a ribbon of asphalt snaking up. Today, on stage fourteen, the task was to ride up to the finish line atop it.
99.9% of competent weekend cyclists would find that a challenging day out at even a slow, amateurish pace. And of the remaining 0.1% at least 99.9% of them would find it impossible to ride at the pace of the leading Tour contenders.
This was a brutal whittling process. Willing teammates, bit part riders, and genuine Grand Tour contending riders were, kilometre by breathless kilometre, broken, leaving a select group to fight for the stage win and precious time gains.
The likes of Porte, Mas, Quintana and Martin lost two, three, four and five minutes. Adam Yates lost six. Romain Bardet lost twenty. Pinot, Kruijswijk, Bernal, Thomas, Buchmann and Landa rose above the carnage to contest the final kilometres.Embed from Getty Images
Oh, and Julian Alaphilippe, of course. The Frenchman in yellow, looking springy and sprightly, essentially man-marked race favourite Geraint Thomas. On the upper slopes of the Tourmalet. At the end of week two.
Back on Stage Ten Thomas and his Ineos henchmen had blown the race to pieces with a clinical display of crosswind riding. The likes of Thibaut Pinot, Rigoberto Uran, and Jakob Fuglsang had lost serious time and various sections of social media had got in a huff.
Well, that’s it then. Race over. Geraint Tomas and Egan Bernal can just do basically nothing now and win the race…
…was the gist of it.
The Tour de France 2019 obituaries were a little too hasty.Embed from Getty Images
Of that final group today Thibaut Pinot, his teammate David Gaudu having produced a frankly absurdly strong lieutenant’s job, darted clear in the final few hundred metres to win the stage and announce himself as the current form man in the high mountains.
Back in the game.
While that was happening Geraint Thomas was quietly, grindingly dropped, to lose time to a handful of others. Julian Alaphilippe, of course, being one of them.
Anyone who said they saw that coming a week ago is telling porky pies.
The Frenchman extended his race lead. Add that to compatriot Pinot’s stage win and it’s no surprise that President Macron was on hand to
extract some political capital celebrate these new national heroes.
The Tourmalet, our shoulder of earth, was majestic. Epic camera shots delivered the grandeur and tens of thousands of fans – baying, flag waving – lined the road. It was a proper, dramatic, telegenic, goose-bump inducing day on le Tour.
The Alaphilippe-o-meter has been given a substantial shove from of-course-he-can’t-win-the-Tour-you-fool, past the mid-point, to eek it’s way towards you-know-what-could-it-actually-happen and in the general direction of sacre-bleu-a-Frenchman-has-only-gone-and-done-it!
All predictions, still, a fools game.