Stage 17 of the Tour de France was a whopper.
It culminated with the ascent of the Col du Telegraphe, a brief downhill, and then the massive climb of the Col du Galibier; up and up, to altitude, and the roof of this year’s race at 2642 metres in height.
The Telegraphe/Galibier double is enough to give even a pro-cyclist one or two nerves. Not because they wouldn’t be able to do it – of course they would – but because it’s going to really hurt.
I myself have ridden that same road, and felt those same nerves, for that same reason.
I should add that I rode it a tad slower, and in front of a slightly smaller audience. There was an old couple at a viewing point half way up, who seemed to notice me, but apart from that the crowds were thin.
I was nervous because I was afraid of suffering a massive energy crash half way up, and the subsequent tearful grovel that might follow.
‘Tearful Grovel’ has never been the image that I’m after.
If I remember rightly – in fact my riding partner that day often remembers for me – I lost my marbles briefly pre-ride. My brain and mouth conspired to produce a ravenous verbal tick:
“I need to eat one more pastry…not had enough carbs…just a pain au chocolat…is that shop open?…because I’m not sure I’ve eaten enough…this is serious you know…”
I needn’t have worried; there was no energy crash, no grovelling, and no tears.
It hurt, but it’s supposed to.
(And yes, my demands for a pre-ride pain au chocolat do make me sound like a middle-class prima-donna. But we were in France.)
Still, tears were evident at the Tour de France, from the eyes of Marcel Kittel.
The wearer of the Green Jersey had a crash early in the stage and, despite persevering, the prospect of crossing all those mountains with a painful shoulder was too much to bear.
The grovelling came from Fabio Aru.
As the race whittled itself down on the Galibier we were left with a wild-card Slovenien former ski-jumper (yes, really) clear in the lead, and the main group of race favourites a couple of minutes behind.
The pace eventually broke Aru, who wrestled with his bike like a doomed octopus fighting a strong tide.
He lost touch with the group, and the podium.
The winner, Primoz Roglic, clearly had no worries whatsoever on the pain au chocolat front – such was his strength, in fact, I can only assume he’d sneaked a bonus pain au raisin from the breakfast table too.
His attack on the Galibier was relentless, and from there the win was never threatened. Froome, Bardet, and Uran crossed the line next, together, over a minute later.
Aru finished slack jawed, slumped, and in need of a friend.
Kittel is sitting at a bar somewhere with a beer, five stage wins, and barely a hair out of place on his carefully groomed head.
(Galibier Image: http://www.ragtimecyclist.com)