I’m not going to be that cushy armchair cycling fan who calls Stage 16 a day off for the main Yellow Jersey contenders. For a few dozen kilometres, through the Pyrenees, in the wet and cold, the race was ON!
But eventually, breakaway established, let’s be honest: Pogacar, Uran, Carapaz, and Vingegaard pulled out the metaphorical pipe and figurative slippers and had a snooze in front of the imaginary telly.
They have two big mountain days to come and took the chance to flick onto battery saving mode. Screens dimmed, apps dormant in the background, energy saved. They rolled to within five kilometres of the finish town of Saint-Gaudens, spread gently across the road, before Wout van Aert took it upon himself to lead them all out at breakneck pace.
He was clearly gagging to take part in a bike race – as ever – but this changed nothing. The GC remained exactly as it had been five hours earlier. It was dull. But in the context of a harem-scarem breakneck Tour thus far we should allow them that.
One man who could not have cared less about the entertainment on offer from Pogacar and his pals was Austrian champ Patrick Konrad. The Bora-Hansgrohe rider, freed up by Peter Sagan’s abandonment a few stages back, was one of the breakaway riders left trailing by Bauke Mollema’s masterclass back on Stage 14.
Every day is a learning day for Patrick.
Today it was he who launched long from the break, going solo on the Col de Portet d’Aspet, battering his way down the descent to take his first big World Tour win. From the ragged remnants of the day’s break Sonny Colbrelli and Michael Matthews, on a Green Jersey point hunt all day, came in second and third.
That two sprinting, fast-finishing all-rounders should round out the podium of a big (if not enormous, epic, brutal) mountain stage, sums up an odd day. There was plenty of stuff going on at times – and huge credit to Konrad for the win – but it concluded tension-free. As grey as the low, sopping cloud that flattened the light and killed the mood.
The riders have three more Pyrenees to negotiate tomorrow, on Stage 17, and then an absolute stone-cold classic from Pau to Luz-Ardiden, including the mighty Col du Tourmalet, the day after that.
Stick Van Aert on the front from the flag, teammate Vingegaard glued to his wheel, and tell him we’re racing. Really racing. That should get things moving a bit.
Top Image: courtesy of Flowizm via Flickr CC poly climb | Canadian Hugo Houle (AST) & Austrian Road Champ… | Flickr)