It was a day of variables. Tired legs; tough roads; teams without wins; riders with points to prove; and award-winning roast birds in the start town of Bourg-en-Bresse playing havoc with the finely calibrated calorie intake of several dozen hungry pro cyclists.
With only a time trial, and a final thrash down the streets of Paris to come, Stage 19 was the one where Peter Sagan might salvage his – because it is normally his – Green Jersey.
Sam Bennett, clear leader in the points competition, was well aware of that. Had he been subject to civilian riles in these pandemic-riven times he’d have been subject to one, long, continuous on-the-spot fine, spending four hours within no more than a coupe of feet of his Slovak opponent.
A persistent green shadow looming over any ambition Sagan may have had of clawing back points.
Fact is, not only has Sagan not won a stage in this race, he hasn’t won so much as an intermediate sprint. His team have attacked, and hustled, and bullied Bennett, to no avail. Without Sagan’s relegation on Stage 11 for bullish sprint tactics the competition would have been tighter, but right now Bennett is the clear, deserved winner.
Sagan will not win Green this year.Embed from Getty Images
Beyond that storyline, the aforementioned variables saw us with a cast of randoms and renegades out front, reeled in, then out front again. The likes of Luke Rowe and Tim Declerq, team players to their very core, given a free pass to go hunting.
Matteo Trentin, Greg van Avermaet and Remy Cavagna looked the more likely of the escape-aways to grab a win.
In the final thirty kilometres, with the GC contenders largely looking on in wry, nowt-to-do-with-us-mate amusement, it was about which move would stick, and by whom.
With sixteen kilometres to go Sunweb’s Stage 14 winner Soren Kragh Andersen sneaked out and around the vast torso of Tim Declerq and away. In the time it took us to recalibrate that part of our brain responsible for accepting that Kragh rhymes with ‘cow,’ he was twenty seconds gone.
Ok, you know how time works.
This was our winner, that much we could see. A guy who, after his first stage win admitted he wasn’t sure he was good enough, is now a double Tour de France stage winner.
He wasn’t sure for a while though. With a K and a half to go he wheeled across to the camera moto and shouted TIME?
As in “excuse me my good man and/or woman…pray tell how far behind me the other chaps on bicycles are?”Embed from Getty Images
For a team who’ve shown us a great line in genius level bike racing tactics, they seemed to be struggling to pass on the basic information that “Soren, me old mate, you’re well clear…enjoy yourself!”
Tomorrow, comes the time-trail up the rather brilliant Planche des Belles Filles, a picturesque summit in Pinot (Thibaut…not noir) country. In another dimension this was to be Thibaut’s coronation.
Instead, while it’s possible it will be Tadej Pogacar’s, it will probably be Primoz Roglic’s.