The crisp, crystal clarity of high altitude was replaced, on stage fifteen, with something murky. Tree-lined climbs under leaden, occasionally precipitous skies. Car headlights through the gloom. Useless shades propped in helmets.
You know the kind of thing.
Trench warfare to the sumptuous set-piece battle yesterday on the Tourmalet.
Getting on a war-footing the Movistar Team hatched a bold and daring plan; the team bosses, no doubt, having plotted late into the night, shifting tiny cyclist figurines around a topographical map in an attempt to wring a result from their cast of wonderfully inconsistent talents.
They sent Nairo Quintana up the road in the early break, and then launched the cavalry to join him in the form of Soler, Amador, and Landa. Valverde flitted betwixt and between. By the final climb they’d catapulted Landa up to Quintana. The Spaniard then promptly carried on riding hard and away from the ailing, confusing Colombian.
It was a delicately planned, beautifully executed waste of time. Like an artisanal piece of clockwork that dazzles with intricate complexity but gets the time wrong.
Because Yates, see, had kept it simple.Embed from Getty Images
Get in the break. Pick your moment to attack, solo, with devastating power. Win stage.
Landa tried all he could, but Yates was uncatchable for his second win of the race.
As for the man of the day?
Yesterday Thibaut Pinot was on presidential duties – glad handing Monsieur Macron as the crisp white-shirted French President sprinkled himself with magic Tour dust – which freed him up today to concentrate on racing his bike. Helped, too, by conditions; he famously enjoys riding in the mist and mizzle.
At the point when Yates was clearly our stage winner in waiting Thibaut Pinot attacked with that muscular dynamism we saw yesterday. Only Egan Bernal could follow. Clinging and clawing on the Frenchman’s wheel.
Forced, by his loss of time back on stage ten, to snipe and raid at the front of the field, Pinot now, after two big Pyrenean stages, has an aura.
Of the General Classification contenders he is, currently, the strongest. The man in form. He looks confident, in control, and happy. Attacking, today, six kilometres from the summit. In contrast reigning champ Geraint Thomas is steady, but lacking spark.
The Frenchman has now clawed back to within fifteen seconds of him.
Only Alaphilippe remains clear – a minute and half in yellow.Embed from Getty Images
And he, for the first time today, showed weakness. But it’s all relative. He lost just over half a minute to Thomas and Kruijswijk. Which, on any other day in his entire career, on a mountain stage in the Pyrenees, would be a damn good day.
Meanwhile Emanuel Buchmann, up the road with Bernal, and Lennard Kamna, in and around things, only add to the changing of the guard feel of this Tour de France. Youngsters, chancers, and nearly men on the up, passing familiar names on the way back down.
Patterns, predictions and certainties are being ripped up.
We know that Peter Sagan will continue to pop finish line wheelies, Dan Martin will plug away like a nodding dog, Mikel Landa will toil like a pack animal for little end result, and Nairo Quintana will passively, y’know…just be.
But who might win the race is anyone’s guess.
Tomorrow is a rest day and, from there…who knows?
(Top Image: Filip Bossuyt via Flickr CC)