It was a mucky, wet, cold day in the Alps. Single figures temperatures. Grim. Given the choice you’d peel back the curtains, faff around for a bit, have a second cup of coffee, and then shelve any bike-related plans for the day. The riders of le Tour, of course, have no such luxury.
The stage featured a few Tour favourites like the Col du Pré and the Cormet de Roseland before a summit finish above the town of Tignes.
On such a day you could argue that the breakaway is the best place to be. Up at the front and grafting, giving yourself at least fighting chance of keeping warm. Julian Alaphilippe, Mike Woods, Sonny Colbrelli, Nairo Quintana, Sergio Higuita, Ben O’Connor, and more than a dozen others certainly thought so.Embed from Getty Images
In an ever-whittled peloton the UAE team of leader Tadej Pogacar crowded him like a VIP, menacing, granite-jawed in their black rain jackets. The break, meanwhile, extended out to nine minutes, even as riders frittered off the back like a trail of breadcrumbs in a scary forest.
Breadcrumb scatterer in chief was Ag2R Citroen rider and affable Aussie Ben O’Connor, eventually ridding himself of Nairo Quintana and Sergio Higuita at the base of the final twenty-kilometre climb to lead alone.
He knew his way from there, it seems.
O’Connor hails from Perth, Western Australia. Which is a hot old place. Average highs of 31.2 degrees in the summer, Wikipedia fans. It seems a little incongruous that he should go so well in these bone chilling conditions, but his near exit from the sport, in contract limbo late last year, has certainly made him a hungry boy.
Greedy, you might say.
On the final climb he established a whopping five-minute gap over the next closest riders: Mattia Cattaneo, Sonny Colbrelli (a sprinter who can, it turns out, REALLY climb), and French Philosopher and part-time bike rider Guillaume Martin.
A stunning career first Tour stage win, up to second (2nd!!) overall, two minutes behind Tadej Pogacar.
As for him, and his rivals, they saved their little skirmish for the final slopes. Ineos set things up, Carapaz attacked, Pogacar followed, briefly, shorn of teammates, before essentially saying ‘fuck this’ and audibly whooshing away up the road.
My God, this boy is on form right now.
Another thirty seconds gained on Carapaz, Mas, Uran, and the rest.
In other news, Primoz Roglic succumbed to his wounds and abandoned the race. Mathieu van der Poel, having lost Yellow yesterday, succumbed to his Olympic ambitions and abandoned the race. Chris Froome, footnote fans, lost a further thirty-two minutes and now sits almost an hour and three quarters back in one-hundred-and-fifty-third place.
And with that, we can breathe. Phew.
Nine stages gone, in which every permutation in pro cycling has happened. Take a day off, rest your eyeballs, and I’ll see you back here for a sprint friendly Stage 10 in preparation for the Stage 11 set-piece of a double-Ventoux.
It’s been emotional.
(Top Image: Ben O’Connor via Ag2R Citroen)