Sunday, Stage 15 and VeloVeritas’s last shift on Tour – so we headed for the biggest hill we could find to remind ourselves how special and beautiful France and this race really are.
Today we’re in the heartland, perhaps not deepest agricultural ‘France Profonde;’ the rural, simple, beautiful heart of the nation, not with the gorges and cols.
However, it’s quiet, lovely and some of the simple, striking images surprise as you drive the parcours.
The countryside is so varied with wheat fields giving way to raw rock which has forced it’s way up to the surface of the planet eons ago.
There are few things we associate more with France than the 2CV, Citroen’s low cost, reliable, simple transport for the masses with it’s high ground clearance and skinny tyre you can take one just about anywhere – and if you bash it, just unbolt the panel.
Pork sausage manufacturers Cochonou’s fleet of gingham 2CV cars and vans has been on the Tour ‘since grass’ – long may they continue.
First coureur to appear through the throng was Sunweb’s born again Warren Barguil – this Tour has been excellent for him, there was that epic day to lose by a whisker to Uran, he has the polka dot jersey, he’s won a stage and here he was again netting more points to ‘stay spotty.’
Could these performances boost the self belief to make the Breton the GC contender many have always thought he could be?
Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data & Belgium) always prepares well for Le Tour and whilst there might not be stage win, he’s always one to ‘show the jersey.’
Barguil and Pauwels along with a score and more of others were in the ‘break of the day’ which was now spread all over this Col de la Peyra Tailade, a first cat climb with a brutal 12% centre section.
Dashing – but lonely at the breakfast table with five FDJ team mates out – Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot was well to the fore when he passed us.
He opted for the Giro this year to duck the huge pressure the French favourites are subject to from the Media and Public so no GC hopes but a stage win would be ‘trés bon!’
Diego Ulissi (UAE & Italy) has never quite reached the level we expected him to; a good all rounder and ‘up there’ in the Italian semi-classics – despite those Giro stage wins of a year or two ago he’s never really broken through.
He was second on the day here behind big Dutchman Bauke Mollema who saved Trek’s Tour and who we contrived not to photograph – sorry!
Tony Gallopin is another classy Frenchman and a winner on is day but Lotto seem fated in this Tour and third was the best he could do behind Mollema.
Katusha’s Tony Martin was away on his own at the foot of this climb but he’s no ‘grimpeur’ and was sliding back through the race when he passed us.
Can the German time trial world champion defend against Dumoulin this year?
BMC’s Italian work horse Alessandro De Marchi is another who likes the breakaway but isn’t built for this kind of terrain.
We see his eyes here searching for that summit banner.
How does Sunweb’s Simon Geschke cope with the heat with that beard?
A key member of the Dutch squad he won his own Tour stage two years ago – but the genes are good, Dad Jurgen was one of the all conquering East German track squad back when I was a lad in the 70’s; he was World Sprint Champion and a demon tandem rider.
Big Dutchman Laurens Ten Dam goes for the same look as his team mate – maybe it’s aero?
A marginal gain?
Froomey with a beard?
Too horrible to contemplate.
Sunweb were well represented in the break with yesterday’s winner Michael Matthews in there too – largely to snaffle sprint points along the way and narrow the gap on QuickStep’s Colossus, Kittel.
The Aussie did just that and you have to admire his failure to give up the fight against the big German.
When I were lad, if you’d said there would be guys from Ethiopia riding the Tour in my lifetime, I’d have laughed – but there’s Tsgabu Grmay doing his best for Bahrain.
Thomas De Gendt was leading ‘baroudeur’ before the race with way over 500 kilometres ‘up the road’ – it’ll be over 600 now.
The equivalent of three stages – the man certainly ‘shows the jersey.’
Still there, still looking strong but oh!
That team – Astana are all hardy boys, it’s hard to figure why they’re giving their Sardinian ‘Capo’ so little support?
It’s good to see an Italian ‘in the mix’ but hard to see him usurping Froome and the Skymatons.