Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Stage 16 Le Puy-en-Velay / Romans-sur-Isère - Ride Like the Bling

Stage 16 resumed after the second and final rest day in picturesque Le Puy-en-Velay as the Tour heads towards the Alps for two massive stages in the coming days.

Gabs bobbed up in the gorgeous Rhône Valley drinking the famous local waiyne with a bunch of Aussie tourists and you know if you’re drinking with Aussies things are about to get messy.

Earlier in the day Gabs visited the Valrhona Chocolate headquarters for all things chocolate. Gabs seems to have developed a sweet tooth this Tour, or maybe it’s because he has a cookbook to flog ‘So French So Sweet’?

The riders set off on a hot and windy flat stage that looked anything but flat for a fair bit of the way. Conditions made it difficult for a breakaway to properly form – that and Sunweb throwing down the hammer which made life difficult for Marcel Kittel with Sunweb sniffing an opportunity to get some more sprint points for Bling Matthews.

By the way, I’ve had the feeling there's been too many flat stages this Tour, if you can call stage 16 flat. So far I’ve really loved the punchy, hilly stages like Blagnac to Rodez, incidentally won by Matthews.

Back to the racing and Mattie and Robbie were curious about the whereabouts of George Bennett. He appeared to have popped off the back indicating some kind of trouble. The Kiwi abandoned with a “serious case of man flu” and we all know how devastating man flu is and we wish he gets well soon for a crack at the Vuelta.

With temperatures hovering at 35 degrees the heat was beginning to soften up the road.  Tyres can lose traction on a corner during a fast descent and Robbie warned you want to stick to the firmer, lighter tarmac whilst avoiding the dark bits. Come on Robbie, we know you really wanted to say ‘avoid the dark arsefault’. Then again, after more than two weeks of commentary we forgive Robbie for dropping the ball – NOT!

Troll DJ couldn’t help but drag out Christopher Cross’s ‘Ride Like the Wind’ for a wind montage (yes, you read right, even the wind gets a montage) although ‘Fly Like the Wind’ by the Meat Puppets would have worked equally well.

‘Country House’ was a no brainer for a chateaux montage which just whizzed by in a blur.

Podium prize for the stage win. Can we make this a thing?

At 34km to go Alberto Contador launched a surprise attack forcing Skybot Michal Kwiatkowski to drop his lunch as three musettes were discarded so he could chase Bertie and the hay-makers. The attack was short lived and whilst Kwiatkowski missed out on a feed of Bertie Beetles, Bertie blew his biscuits which cost him a spot at the table for the run in to Romans-sur-Isère.

Mattie and Robbie fell silent a number of times in the caravan of commentary. The couch peloton speculated if they taking nature breaks. Mattie returned to apologise for technical issues. Was the heat causing havoc? No, turns out Tommo kept tripping over the cord unplugging the audio equipment. French OH&S better have a look at that.

The peloton hit the flatter more open countryside as it approached the finish line. After battling cross and head winds that were almost, according to Mattie, ‘blowing the petals off the sunflowers’, the tail wind had the riders pick up the pace to a blistering 65 km/h.

Time for teams to get their best riders forward and Robbie explained the principle of ‘surfing the peloton’, or the art of smoothly navigating your way up to the front. However, if you’re surfing the peloton you’d better be on the lookout for Nibali...

With Kittel nowhere to be seen the final run to the line came down to a sprint with Aussie Michael Matthews across the line ahead of the wonderful Edvald Boasson Hagen and John Degenkolb.

Degenkolb's protest against Matthews was quickly dismissed and Bling collected his second stage win of the Tour.

A week ago Marcel Kittel looked to have an unassailable lead in the points competition. Bling has narrowed the margin to just 29 points. Could it be we’ll see an Aussie in green in Paris?

Chris Froome finished the day in yellow still only 18 seconds ahead of Fabio Aru. With Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran also within 30 seconds of Froome and some huge mountain stages ahead, the battle for yellow is very much alive.

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