Stage 19 and it was the penultimate day in the French Alps as the Tour made its way on the 146 km route from Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc.
Over in the Tour kitchen Gabs whipped up a blueberry mousse. Have you noticed he’s has gone a bit heavy on the desserts this year? Well, you’re not fooling me Gabs, I see what you’re doing - this is all a ruse to try and hide a Buttergate scandal isn’t it? You’re not fooling the peloton either and quicker than you can say “blueberry pie”, riders bemoaned the lack of butter in the recipe.
Out on the road and lots of tired bodies were hauling themselves up the climbs. Rain and thunder was forecast for the stage but so far no signs of it yet and none of the cows were seated.
Early in the race a 20 man breakaway made its escape with Asstana driving the peloton in pursuit. After three weeks of hard racing you couldn’t blame riders for getting a little tetchy, teammates included. In one example Asstana’s Diego Rosa appeared to have words with teammate Andriy Grivco to back off with the pacemaking. Grivco snapped back with a non-verbal, “no one tells Grivco what to do”.
Mattie was profiling the ever rising baby-faced star of French cycling, Romain Bardet. Apparently he landed a role in the communications department at ASM Clermont Auvergne rugby club to finish off his business degree. Sounds interesting but I didn’t know they take in 12 year olds as interns these days.
It seemed like everybody on two legs and four was out to cheer on the riders with a first confirmed sighting of goats, which happened to be seated indicating rain. Phil swears that seated cows can be counted upon to forecast rain but so far the cows had been standing. So who’s right, the cows or the goats?
Tom Dumoulin had a fall with Daniel Teklahaimanot. Dumoulin looked to be distressed holding his wrist, crying at the side of the road. He withdrew citing ‘severe wrist trauma’ which later turned out to be fractured radius, putting his trip to Rio in doubt. It was a sad end to an outstanding Tour for the Dutchman who picked up two stage victories.
The riders passed some very well behaved standing cows on a corner. They looked very contented having scored cowbells and bottles of Alpecin shampoo after the Tour caravan passed through.
Heavy skies over the mountains suggested a storm was brewing – and not just in the physical sense but figuratively as well over the forecasting accuracy of cows vs goats. Looks like the goats are more reliable after all.
Costa on his own
On the Col de Saisies ‘the man in black’ (as Phil calls him) Wout Poels appeared as if to say, “hello, I’m Woet Poels”.
On the descent of Col de Saises the rain started coming down and Pierre Rolland came down with it as his wheel washed out from under him on a corner and slid into mud, narrowly missing a photographer’s moto. Fortunately Rolland didn’t hit a hot engine on a moto, which wouldn’t have been fun and was soon back on the bike.
The now heavy rain made descending treacherous and soon riders were falling like tenpins. Richie Porte came down in a crash with Sebastien Reichenbach and had to get back up to the GC group. The red and black of Porte’s BMC kit got Kevin Sheedy swinging his jacket above his head at the roadside and lifted Porte’s spirits.
It wasn’t all beer and skittles in the GC group as Chris Froome crashed with Vincenzo Nibali in a heart-stopping moment. Fortunately for Froome he was okay, albeit with a ripped and bloody golden fleece. Teammate Geraint Thomas was on hand who gave him his bike. At least Froome didn’t have to run or ride an omnishambles of a neutral service spare this time.
Dani Navarro was the next to crash and had to abandon. So far the only riders that hadn’t crashed were Rui Costa and the 12 year old rugby club intern Romain Bardet.
Costa had been sitting pretty up front for some time on his own oblivious to the carnage behind him. Bardet joined Costa at around 7 km to go and pulled away at 3 km to solo across the line to win the stage and France collectively died in relief.
Back down the road and all eyes were on the GC. Romain Bardet looked as if he’d knocked Bauke Mollema off the perch to take second. Mollema was having a stinker of a day having crashed and then running out of gas trying to get back into the race. Paul could see he was in trouble and said of Mollema’s rocking style, “he’s pulling himself inside out now”.
Not even, in the words of Paul, “the big dog that looks after people in the mountains”, could save him and Mollema slipped back to tenth in the overall standings. With Dumoulin out and Mollema in tenth this was a bad day for Holland.
In contrast a banged up Chris Froome crossed the line and even on a ‘strange bike’ extended his lead to 04’ 11”. But anything can happen in cycling and just when we thought the Tour was over in stage 18, stage 19 proved the race is far from over and there's still stage 20 to come.