To say that Stage 16 might be a day for the breakaway was like saying Mitchelton-Scott team boss and professional Aussie Matt White might begin his next sentence with the words “ahhh, look…” and the winner of said breakaway might describe himself as “super-happy.”
So likely as to barely merit further consideration.
It was semi-mountainous in a pre-Alp-not-technically-the-Alps-but-pretty-damn-hilly kind of way. Stage 17, tomorrow, is a whopper. The main GC contenders would not be expending any more energy than absolutely necessary.
From the flag, we had a massive hour long bare-knuckle-fight. From there, a near-peloton’s worth of riders formed an escape and rode away up the road.
Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo Visma teammates then got busy.
Robert Gesink was spotted plumping the cushions and preparing the sedan chair, Wout van Aert was peeling grapes and popping them into his boss’s mouth while Tom Dumoulin wafted him seductively with a big palm leaf fan.
Time to chill and soak up the views.Embed from Getty Images
The break, meanwhile, eeked out a lead of more than fifteen minutes, all the while looking around and figuring out how they were going to approach the task of winning the damn thing.
Problem was, looking around revealed exalted company: Alaphilippe; Carapaz; Trentin; Kämna; Sivakov; Barguil; Roche…there were hundreds of them.
At the risk of belittling the nuance and considerable effort of the day’s racing I am going to reduce it to three key efforts.
On the biggest climb of the day, in the final thirty kilometres, to the wonderfully named Montée de Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte, Richard Carapaz was pushing on at pace.
Alaphilippe responded, sprightly, with a burst of energy. This was effort number one. It was big, but alas not long. It lasted around four seconds before the lights went out as suddenly as, well…some lights going out.
One minute he was a big threat, the next a footnote.Embed from Getty Images
Effort number two came from Carapaz himself. Seeing that King Julian had been deposed he unleashed aggression. Ripping a fresh bottle of drink from a roadside helper he looked for all the world like a man to whom some dude down the road had just uttered an insulting “yer mum” joke in relation to Mrs C, and he was off to sort him out.
Twenty-five K’s to go.
Surely our winning move.
German child Lennard Kämna followed, as did Sebastien Reichenbach, briefly, before fading. Carapaz and Kämna now clear.
Approaching the summit, the Ecuadorian peered back to the grimacing face of Kamna. Sufferering like a Dachshund, Carapaz knew he had him. But he didn’t have the benefit of our slo-mo replay. The moment Carapaz looked forward again Kämna’s grimacing face reset to the stone-cold glaze of a killer.
Oh my God, we realised, as one…he’s tricked him.
We all fell a little bit in love with him.
What a cheeky boy!
Carapaz emptied the tank to finish the job only for the not-quite-so-tired-after-all Kämna to launch past him, clear, to never be seen again. The third of our three efforts.Embed from Getty Images
He time-trialled the twenty K’s to the finish imperiously, and we must add Lennard Kämna to our growing list of implausibly baby-faced pro cyclists currently ripping up the sport in 2020.
Stage 17 features two gigantic climbs to altitude; firstly up the Col de la Madeleine, and then the Col de la Loze above Meribel. It’s the Queen stage. The race could be won, or lost, and could include anything in between.
If you only down tools and sneak away from work when no-one is looking once during this Tour de France, tomorrow would be the day.
(Top Image: By Nicola, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71971741)