After the formulaic racing of the past few days, the Tour de France got messy on Stage 8, in the Jura mountains.
Once the green jersey contenders had skirmished early to mop up the intermediate sprint points, the road headed upwards and the climbers jumped clear in search of a stage win.
One man was more active than all the others; Warren Barguil, of Sunweb, had clearly decided this was a day for a French win.
He looked strong, he rode aggressively, and he burnt match after match to whittle a large breakaway group down to single figures. With the group of main contenders on a watching brief – albeit an alarmingly quick one – the stage winner was coming from this group.
On the lower slopes of the final climb the Frenchman set a furious pace, so strong he dispensed with bluff or mind games. He was out of the saddle and dishing out pain, his decisive moment clearly imminent.
And so it proved.
As Calmejane, Roche, Gesink, and a small handful of others maintained their poise, Barguil slipped backwards, cooked. Like a naïve neo-pro he’d shown his hand, played it, and was now being quietly ushered out of contention.
The boldness of his approach not matched by his physical condition.
The TV camera lingered as he settled in for a sheepish spin to the finish. The look on his face was rueful; no tongue hanging out, or comic throat-slit gesture, just a half-shrug and a look in the eye which said: “I know…I’m disappointed too.”
But still, though it wasn’t Barguil’s day, the French got their win in the form of rising start Lilian Calmejane.
He survived a spirited chase from veteran Robert Gesink, a late bout of cramp that had him all but climbing off the bike for a stretch, and twelve kilometres of rolling terrain to the finish line at Station des Rousess – one of those ski-resort finishes whose winter infrastructure takes the shine off the pretty scenery you’ve been watching all day.
The general classification contenders, powder remaining largely dry in readiness for the mammoth climb fest of Stage 9, came home in a large, slightly frazzled, but single group.
Could Calmejane, the new wearer of the polka dot jersey, be the next ‘maybe…’ off the French production line?
(Image: French flag by think0.deviantart.com)