With three stages done our Tour de France storyline is still not set. The fight for the Yellow Jersey giving little away. The first whispy strands of a narrative are there but we can’t yet knit them together into a Tour branded beanie hat and matching Covid face mask.
Ineos Grenadiers (purveyors of petro-chemicals and now, with this new branding, off-road 4×4 salesmen) have been largely anonymous thus far. Either sluggishly off the pace or carrying out some nefarious to-the-letter race plan hatched by Brailsford and his boffins designed to first infiltrate the minds, and then the legs, of fellow Alphas Jumbo Visma.
Current champ Egan Bernal has appeared serene.
Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, unselected, sit at home draining cans of Stella and chucking the crumpled remains at the TV. Probably. Either that or they are ‘training hard,’ ‘recalibrating objectives,’ and ‘assessing exciting new goals.’
Could go either way I s’pose.
Jumbo Visma, for their part, have placed themselves front and centre, yellow and black, each time the road has headed upwards. Bar the odd daft tumble (Tom Dumoulin here, George Bennett there) they are military in their attention.
Primoz Roglic, on parade, a mirror shine to his boots and a steely salute for the regiment, studiously avoiding mishap.
Thibaut Pinot, to the collective in-breath of the French nation, had a pile up with half his teammates on the sketchy run-in of Stage 1. Key lieutenant David Gaudu was left in survival mode, fighting to stay with the race, his recovery crucial to Thibaut’s Tour.
Bumped, bruised, and a touch emotional, all appears entirely normal (i.e. a bit wobbly and dramatic) chez Pinot. At some point in the next forty-eight hours the nation must surely exhale
And what of Alaphilippe?
Not here to challenge for Yellow, honest guv, I’m just a plucky stage-hunter, happy-go-lucky…oh, look at that Yellow Jersey resplendent across my back, how did that happen?Embed from Getty Images
Today, Stage 4, brought us an early ski-station summit finish, eighteen hundred metres of altitude at Orcieres-Merlette, and the promise of answers. Or at the very least some suggestions.
Not a full high-altitude test but a softener: seven kilometres at nearly seven percent. A tempo drag to sort genuine wheat from definite chaff. From the early ramps, from a still large peloton of seventy or eighty riders, the pace began to stiffen.
Slowly, surely, faster, and more strung out, the field was whittled like an inviting twig in the hands of a diligent boy scout. Pointy at one end, knobbly in the middle, and getting shorter by the kilometre.
By the final K we were rattling along at thirty kilometres an hour, Roglic’s teammate Sepp Kuss stern jawed and apparently breathing through his ears, and his Slovenian leader in granite faced control.
Alaphilippe, all twitchy and yellow, highly visible.
Bernal, Pinot, Yates, Lopez and Pogacar hovered.
Having watched his muscular teammates wring the breath from his rivals Roglic was compelled, poised, to pounce, only to watch Cofidis’ Guillame Martin, at the very moment when Kuss peeled off, do just that.Embed from Getty Images
I don’t know what “not so fast sunshine” is in Slovenian but Roglic bridged to the Frenchman, bringing the aforementioned cast of contenders with him, and outsprinted the lot of ‘em for the win.
A comic-book Batman punching and swiping a roomful of bad guys.
Not a time gain, but a psychological one. We’re the strongest team, I’m the best rider, and you lot will have to do better than that.
(Top Image: Petar Milošević / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0))