The Lacets du Grand Colombier are laid out, a stretch of picture-perfect Tarmac, across the great shoulder of the Grand Colombier. We are in the Jura mountains, and I have a sneaky feeling the people in these parts long since became sick of the Alps getting all the attention.
Look at you, with your Alpe d’Huez and your Col du Galibier…pah! We will show you!
On this brute of a climb these delicate strands of asphalt were laid, thirteen kilometres from the summit, at a point where the road emerges from the forest and the views open out.
It captures the riders in a perfect picture frame. Or perhaps TV screen. And today, Stage 15, everything aligned.
The Stage had already skirted this great lump of earth upon two of its four roads (the Montee de la Selle de Fromental and the Col de la Biche), leaving us with a final, painful pull up the seventeen kilometres (average 7.1%) of the Colombier.
At the base, the Jumbo Visma team of leader Primoz Roglic was still six strong. Other teams already reduced to leaders only, perhaps one or two teammates here or there. Mentally, you either see that as a train on which you need to hitch a ride or an impossible outnumbering.
Or, I suppose, both.
Remember Team Sky from a few years back?
The drama came, as those foresighted Juran roadbuilders knew it one day would, with thirteen K’s to go. The Lacets. This moment, on the 13th September 2020 around 3.45 pm UK time, was payback time.
In yer face, Alps!Embed from Getty Images
The helicopter pulled back for the money shot, the lead group perched and winding ever higher, great views over their shoulders. A sense of altitude and atmosphere revealed. And with that, at the centre of that absurdly, brutally pretty scene, Egan Bernal cracked.
The reigning champ in crisis.
Slightly grey of pallor, sweat beading along that great roman-esque nose, we could see, even as the Juran geography showed us each party-trick in its possession, that he was done.
Not just flagging, but done.
He’ll lose five minutes, poor sod, we thought, even as the backdrop ran its fingers through our hair and seduced us with it’s come hither eyes. Pleasure and pain in perfect union.
The timing, and the ability of this incredible race to deliver, faultless as ever.
Jumbo Visma, as you might imagine, did not relent. Peeling off one by one to leave super-duper-ultra-mega-deluxe-domestique Tom Dumoulin to suck the last drops of energy from each rival.
Three-hundred metres to go and Richie Porte attacked, gamely, and with no desire to die wondering. Child-star Tadej Pogacar came around him, Primoz Roglic latched on, and they capped proceedings with a high-altitude arm wrestle for the stage win and the bonus seconds.
Pogacar took the win.Embed from Getty Images
Twenty-one years old, a mere forty seconds behind our continued Yellow Jersey Primoz Roglic, and leaving us all very nearly impressed enough to forgive him the white shorts (yuck!).
(And also, wow…what a bike racer!)
At time of writing, no word on what caused Egan Bernal to ship seven minutes and relinquish this year’s race. Surely illness, or injury?
Whatever: our Juran friends and their Lacets can now sit back, satisfied, a glass of vin jaune to hand…your move, Alps!