When the breakaway went clear after fifty of today’s whopping near two-hundred-and-fifty kilometre Stage 7 to Le Creusot, we blinked, rubbed our eyes, and patted around for our spectacles for comic effect.
Who’s in the break?
Yellow Jersey wearer Mathieu van der Poel, his Belgian nemesis and big beast of the pro cycling jungle Wout van Aert, Vincenzo (needs no introduction) Nibali. Waoh there, easy guys, this is not how it works. You are too famous (and frankly to dangerous) to be allowed clear in a break.
Simon Yates, Mark Cavendish, Kasper Asgreen. The list went on. It was what’s known in the business as a Royal Break.Embed from Getty Images
Richard Carapaz, Tadej Pogacar, and the rest of the General Classification contenders were left looking around, shrugging at teammates, and giving it full ‘what the fuck!?’ body language.
The break, meanwhile, made hay, to the tune of six minutes clear.
Not that the escapees, big names though they were, were considered a threat to win the actual Tour de France. But should one of them amass a sizeable chunk of time they could become a complication. An irritant. Another obstacle to be dealt with in what is already a rather difficult bike race to win.
All of which GC shuffling shenanigans ended with Van der Poel still in Yellow, followed by Van Aert, Asgreen, and Mohoric, and with reigning champ and race favourite Tadej Pogacar almost four minutes down in fifth.
Primoz Roglic, battling his Stage 3 injuries, shed a bucketful of time to slip nine minutes behind. A high-performance machine thus far in 2021, the Slovenian’s early race crash has dashed his hopes, and denied us a mano y mano with countryman Pogacar. Which is a shame.
I spoke before this race about my understanding that Mathieu van der Poel would abandon early to focus on the Olympic; a clinical decision that leaves me cold. I still think he will.
But I have to admit that the sight of him in Yellow and several minutes clear in the breakaway, locking horns with Van Aert and giving Tadej Pogacar the heebie-jeebies, was an awful lot of fun.
Our stage winner was Matej Mohoric, from the break, in impressive fashion. The Slovenian taking his first Tour stage win to give him the full career set: Tour, Giro, and Vuelta. He treated us to blubbing emotion and a tearful heart-sign celebration at the line.
Emotion, and the expression of it by male role models, being one of the themes of this year’s race. Which is all good, in my books. What Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly, and the other old-timers make of it I’m not too sure.
“Everyone will sleep well tonight,” observed Van der Poel, post-stage.
They will Mathieu. Due, in no small part, to you.
(Top Image: Lieven De Cock (Digital Clickx), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)