Kruijswijk gets close at Alpe d’Huez…but not close enough

Today’s dramatic stage that finished atop Alpe d’Huez saw a fantastic win for Britain’s Geraint Thomas, the first rider to win this stage in the maillot jaune. He extended his overall lead and left the question as to who is really leading Team Sky unanswered. It may not be answered until after next week’s stages in the Pyrenees and the time trial.

The iconic climb to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez, with its 21 hairpin bends, was first included in the Tour in 1952, when the stage was won by the legendary Fausto Coppi. The fastest (possibly chemically-enhanced) ascent of the climb was by Marco Pantani, who clocked 37m 35s in 1997.

 

 

Think of Coppi and Pantani and you think of Bianchi – the oldest bike brand in the world and, with their distinctive celeste frames, perhaps the most easily recognisable. Today Bianchi supply bikes to the Dutch-based Lotto N.L.-Jumbo team who scored two stage wins last week thanks to their sprint sensation Dylan van Groenewegen. He was forced to abandon the race after sustaining injuries in Sunday’s stage over the cobbles to Roubaix, his badly broken Bianchi a sorry sight to anyone with aesthetic sensibilities.

For much of today’s stage, it looked as if there would be another rider winning on the Italian brand, as Lotto’s team leader, Steven Kruisjwijk struck out from the original breakaway group with fully 60km to go. He took a 6 minute lead onto the Alpe – Kruijswijk is a proper climber, whose prowess in the mountains saw him leading the2016 Giro d’Italia until the final weekend, and for more than half the 15km climb it looked like it would be not only enough for him to win the stage, but also take the overall lead from Thomas. It was not to be. Kruijswijk began to tire as Bernal led Thomas and Froome back after attacks by Bardet and Quintana, and he was caught with just over 3 km to go. An honourable defeat and at least he had the honour of leading through “Dutch Corner”, the bend near the church where the Dutch fans congregate (rumours are that some of them arrive and start on the Heineken in April) to noisily greet their heroes, though it has been 29 years sinceĀ  a Dutch rider won at the Alpe.