Stage 5, sleepy day though it was, had a postscript. As is often the case with le Tour a rule, transgressed, had left the race commissaires scratching heads, stroking chins, and dishing out punishment.
Julian Alaphilippe, our Yellow Jersey, had taken a bottle from a roadside team helper within the final twenty kilometres (not allowed, for safety reasons), been docked twenty seconds, and tumbled out of the top ten.
Sacre, and indeed, bleu!
Adam “I’m only here for stage wins” Yates found himself the reluctant recipient.
Rules, as we know, are rules; the days of favours being dished out to Frenchman apparently gone.
For Stage 6, Mont Aigoual sat impassive on the horizon. A flat roll of a day leading to the climb of the tough, steep, Col de la Lusette, a brief downhill, a long false flat, and a summit finish on the Aigoual.
Our finishing peak, as you may be aware, being famous for two reasons: one, it is the subject of maybe the greatest ever cycling book (The Rider, by Tim Krabbe), and two, it’s the third most difficult word to pronounce in the French language behind yaourt (yoghurt) and écureuil (squirrel).
For the first time in this race it was a day for the breakaway. The main contenders, headed largely by Ineos on the climbs – in a gesture of, if not defiance at the current dominance of Jumbo Visma, then at least a goofy hi guys…remember us? – content to finish intact.
Powder, conspicuously dry.
In the break we had birthday boy Neilson Powless of EF pro cycling. Burning his matches quickly on the climb by attacking, then counter attacking his own attack. Essentially lighting one match, popping it (lit) back into the box, and watching with glee as the whole thing went up in a sulphuric blaze.
It was fun.
Greg van Avermaet, old goldie-bike, was a grim presence. Grinding, by no means a specialist climber, to a sturdy third place.
Unable to put a dent into second place Jesus Herrada, the Spaniard having panted and drooled his way, always just out of reach (thirty seconds or so) of the crisp, clean shaven winner, Kazakh Alexey Lutsenko of Astana.
Lutsenko, from the moment he had asserted himself on the Lusette, and despite never quite dispatching Herrada, had looked like the victor. It was a sinuous, calculated, impressive win.Embed from Getty Images
The summit of Mont Aigoual, meanwhile, was nothing more than a barren wasteland with some barriers thrown up and a finish line drawn across the road in chalk.
Better in the imagination, I’d say, than in reality.
A mountain of the mind.
A metaphor for life?
(Top Image: Mont Aigoual via http://www.pikrepo.com)