I am a sucker for a downhill Pyrenean stage finish in the Tour de France. It’s my favourite genre of stage.
And so many mountain roads in these parts seem to have a picturesque town at the base, and a local mayor with a penchant for the reflected glory to be had from hosting the world’s biggest bike race. You also get some misty, muggy weather, which greases the road in the name of atmosphere.
It’s a heady brew.
Still, now, if I think about Thor Hushovd rattling into Lourdes like a runaway train back in 2011 I get giddy.
Dutch diesel Bauke Mollema, today’s winner, clearly feels the same. With forty kilometres to go he rode away from his breakaway companions, scuttled through the Gorges de Saint George, crested the final climb of the Col de Saint Louis, and plummeted into the town of Quillan for the win.
Drama-wise, not quite of the Hushovd 2011 vintage, but damn impressive from Mollema. When he made that long range move he seemed to have two factors in his favour.Embed from Getty Images
First, as noted by eventual second placed finisher Patrick Conrad, he chose a particularly sinuous stretch of road to make the move. Quickly hidden around bends the chasers were denied the kind of visual carrot that can make such a difference.
Out of sight, out of mind, quickly a minute down the road and the moment has gone.
Second, Mollema is Mollema. In the way that a Julian Alaphilippe or a Mathieu van der Poel looks quick, he does not. He looks one-paced. He lacks flair.
As he attacked, alarm bells didn’t go off. Perhaps the one-paced nature of the move evaded the radar of the others. Riders looked around, thinking well I’m not chasing, are you chasing? OK I guess we’re not chasing.
Maybe they felt he’d gone too soon, that they’d pull him back?
They didn’t see him again.
And Mon Dieu! For all his functional style he is an accomplished and consistently winning bike racer. Top ten finisher at all three Grand Tours. Stage wins at the Tour and the Vuelta Espana. Winner of Il Lombardia and the Classica San Sebastian.
THAT, cycling fans, is a career!
Into Quillan, his joy was a lovely thing. Well clear of the chasers he had time to soak up the applause, beam ear to ear, and generally give off his usual life-is-beautiful vibe.
Chasing, third group on the road, came Guillaume Martin.
The French climber, gaining several minutes on the yellow jersey group, took a great chomp out of the leaderboard and leapt up to second overall. Four minutes behind Pogacar but with the prestige of a podium position to now fight for.
As for the rest of the top ten: as you were.
Tomorrow, we have a big mountain stage into the principality of Andorra. Passports at the ready for the border crossing, favourable tax breaks to be had in the glittering shopping malls, and a rampaging downhill finish off the Col de Beixalis and into Andorre la Vielle.
(Top Image: filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)