“Now the real racing can begin,” said Chris Froome in a rest-day interview for ITV4 – he was referring to the impending 3 tough days in the Alps, which are certain to reshuffle the GC standings after the traditional 1st week of long flat stages and sprint finishes, rather than decrying the quirky mini Paris-Roubaix that was Sunday’s 9th stage. This stage, with more cobbled kilometres than ever before, had been feared by the teams, eagerly anticipated by the fans and built up by the media as the race’s first real showdown. In the end its significance was minimal, apart from the abandonment of Richie Porte, whose crash came well before the first secteur of pavé. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t a gripping spectacle, with more fallers than the Grand National, leading riders having to chase back after getting delayed in the mayhem, and Romain Bardet suffering more punctures than most riders get in a year. But the bad luck was pretty evenly distributed and, apart from Rigoberto Uran, who lost 1m28s, all the GC hopes finished within a few seconds of each other. It was a bit like a glorious 5 day Test match, with double-century scoring batsmen and hat-trick-taking bowlers, that ends in an honourable draw.
Degenkolb’s Emotional Return to the Podium
Once Greg van Avermaet, Yves Lampaert and John Degenkolb had built an unassailable lead in the closing 10kms the pressure was off. Van Avermaet stretched his overall advantage to 43 seconds, but he will surely lose all that, and more besides, as soon as the Alps are tackled. Credit must be given to Degenkolb – a previous winner of the Paris-Roubaix and long seen as Germany’s successor to Greipel and Kittel, this was his first win in a World Tour event since taking a stage of the 2015 Vuelta, and his career had looked finished after that horrendous training crash in Spain in Jan 2016 when a driver took out his whole team and he nearly lost a finger.
Should There be Cobbles at Le Tour?
The day was a terrific spectacle but is there really a place for cobbles in Le Tour? The potential for disaster is ever-present, putting not only the team leaders at risk, but also meaning that they could lose the services of key domestiques. When the peloton is stretched into a long line by the cobbles, team cars are delayed and the damage that could be done to a rider’s GC aspirations is potentially huge. In the Paris-Roubaix itself a rider who punctures and can’t get back to the front knows that his day is over, but that’s all it is – one day – whereas in a Grand Tour it’s all about limiting time loss. Luck plays its part in the Tour, as in all cycling and all sport, but it should not be the deciding factor.
Direct Energie’s Domination Continues
I am beginning to suspect that Direct Energie are targeting the Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate Sprints Competition – perhaps Jean-Rene Bernardeau is a follower of this blog. 3 of their riders infiltrated the 10 man break that stayed clear for about as long as expected and points scorers Lilian Calmejane and Damien Gaudin (separated by Sunweb’s Chad Haga) were the 4th & 5th members of the squad to notch up points. As the cameras switched back to the peloton where Moscon and Froome did synchronised falling and Van Avermaet demonstrated the cyclo-cross skills that all Belgians are born with, it was Gaudin who led the break off the cobbles at the end of secteur 8 (and then went on ahead with Janse van Rensburg).
Gaudin: A for Effort
Gaudin is a 31yo native of Maine-et-Loire who has spent most of his career at Direct Energie or its predecessors. He had attracted my attention, and gained my sympathy, when a luckless 3rd in Le Samyn, run in the horrendous weather two days before “the Beast from the East” swept in from Siberia. He was in a 3 man break, but his companions were Quick Step’s Gilbert and Terpstra, who took it in turns to attack and then sit on as he chased them down. It was like watching those old gangster movies where one baddie holds the good guy by his arms and the other one beats him up. Undaunted, Gaudin picked himself off the floor and a few weeks later headed off to Brittany to defend his title in the Tro Bro Leon, a race run over farm tracks. He was repeatedly dropped from the lead group but plugged on and set off in a valiant, but ultimately fruitless, pursuit of solo winner Christophe Laporte. He is clearly at home on the roster of Direct Energie. On 18 pts they lead Wanty Groupe-Goubert by 7 pts in the team standings, while Sylvain Chavanel retains the Chateau D’Ax jersey – it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see him (or Calmejane) going on a long-range offensive in the Alps to score more points.