Post-Stage 10, masked up and microphone in his face, Irishman Sam Bennett gave us a collective bit o’ something in the corner of our eye.
“I thought I’d be in floods of tears to be honest…I’m just in shock,” he said, having snaffled the first Tour de France stage win of his career by a quarter wheel from Caleb Ewan.
“Well you’ve won, I’m telling you you’ve won” replied our interviewer, before dangling his mic around in the silence and waiting. Page one, paragraph one, of the big book o’ sports journalism. Sub-section 3a: emotion.
Bennett welled up.
Feeling flooded his body like a squirt of lube onto a parched chain, escaping from his eyes as a salty liquid. Tears, some might call ’em. And why not.
He blubbed a few words, thanking his team, Team Boss Patrick Lefevere, and his wife (in that order…), and gave those of us who are entirely comfortable with the idea of a big ol’ man crying in public an extra reason to like him.
I like to think that somewhere, in a sweaty commentary box, countryman and hardest-man-in-the-world™ Sean Kelly was also wailing like a baby in need of a rusk.
Reports of this, at time of writing, are unconfirmed.Embed from Getty Images
Rewind to the start of the day and the riders were faced with a flatter than flat coastal route, a seaside jaunt between the twin Atlantic tourist traps of Ile d’Oleran and Il de Ré.
As we, the collective of generic European cycling fans, washed our morning cornflakes down with bottomless espresso and scanned the sports news for the pre-stage form we were all, as one, visited by the intimate clang of synchronised realisation: we might get (whisper it…) echelons.
The exposed coast, were the wind to blow, would see our standard sprint stage rent asunder. It could, we knew, get rather exciting extremely quickly. Teams and riders would take no chances, preferring to fight recklessly and with scant regard for the integrity of their own bodies for every inch of narrow coastal road.
Jonathan Vaughters, boss of EF Pro Cycling, had issues.
“Incredibly dangerous,” he said, clarifying that “It’d be fine if it were 1908 and the guys were all twenty minutes apart.”
It’s not.Embed from Getty Images
We got crashes, lots of them, and a peloton winding up the speed, increasing the tension with each town traversed. The wind blew, the race split, reformed, and then split, like the liquid metal shape shifting T-1000 in Terminator 2. It was nervous. Jittery. Atmospheric.
Into Il de Ré, and for those still upright and in the mood for it we got our sprint.
Bennett, led out by teammate Michael Morkov (pronounced, absurdly, Mer-koo), looked for all the world like delivering rival Caleb Ewan on a plate (as he arguably did on Stage 3) to slip past for the win. Ewan did a bike-throw for the line, Bennett “forgot to” (in his own words), but took it by the width of a pint of Guinness.
And from there, as we know, it all ended in tears.