As mountain ranges go, the Pyrenees is a beauty, and it has a Tour de France party trick.
Here’s how it works: place a summit around ten or fifteen K’s from the finish, and then have the riders, exhausted from a long day on the ol’ push iron, white knuckle the descent into town and sprint for the finish line.
The combination of moisture laden Pyrenean atmosphere, a twisting turning tumble of Tarmac, and several dozen alpha males with money to win and girls to impress works every time.
The fact that every town and village in these parts appear to nestle conveniently at the base of a famous mountain is an added convenience.Embed from Getty Images
Our summit today was the Col de Marie Blanque; seven kilometres of ever steepening Tarmac, peaking at a painful fourteen percent. Our hero was Marc Hirschi. A Swiss rider who, this time last year, I was barely aware of. A Marc Hirschi could’ve been a fancy pair of high-end shoes or a Genevan bank for all I knew.
Turns out a Marc Herschi is a twenty-two (twenty-two…the bastard!) year old pro cyclist with a nice line in ninety-kilometre solo breakaways.
At the base of the Marie Blanque he had four minutes over the chasing group. By the summit he’d lost more than three of those and had Roglic, Pogacar, Bernal, and Landa in pursuit, with a ragged band of further GC contenders chasing on.
Hirschi, like a fighter pilot on manoeuvres, descended like a bullet. In control but teetering, at each hairpin, and every precipitous bend, on the verge of total disaster.
It was utterly, terrifyingly, compelling.
A twenty-two year old kid, barely known to me, and I’m leaping around in front of my telly giving it COME ON HIIIIIIRSCHI!
Aaargh!Embed from Getty Images
With one and a half measly kilometres to go he was tagged. The vice-like control of Roglic and co enough to catch our childlike hero. But Hirschi sealed the deal as far as being a new folk-hero of our favourite sport.
At the catch, he latched on to the back and settled in for a tow to the finish line. He shook the lactic from his legs. He tightened his shoes like a fighter checking his gumshield: boss move Hirschi, BOSS move!
OK, fine, he was saying, I’ll win it this way, instead of that other way.
Roglic, Pogacar, Bernal and Landa wanted the win and the bonus seconds. Hirschi hid behind them until a hundred metres to go, and then dug deep – to who knows where – to unfurl the sprint of a man in sight of a town sign on the way back from the café.
From fifth, to first…BOOM!
By now I’m on my knees
Go Hirschi, Go, GO!!
He’s got it…
Arrrggh, no. Pogacar, Roglic. Third!Embed from Getty Images
Justice not done, the universe fluffing its lines.
DAMN you 2020 with your commitment to continued human misery.
Well we’re having our hero, win or no win, for implausibly almost achieving the improbable at an age when most of us would’ve taken rising from bed before 11am as massive win.
Mr Hirschi, we look forward to a decade of this (no pressure).
And with that we have Primoz Roglic in Yellow (Adam Yates having shelled time while Hirschi was up the road) with Bernal, Martin, and Bardet thirty-ish seconds down.
The rest day, tomorrow, promises high tension; it’s Covid-19 tests all round and potential expulsions for positive teams and riders.
It’s cross-yer-fingers time.
(Top Image: Granada / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0))