It was Stage 18 of the Tour de France, in the high Alps, and heading for the thin air of the Col d’Izoard.
Many riders now have legs that feel like jelly when the road goes up, paté when the road goes down, and like they’ve been swapped for someone else’s as they lie in their hotel room at night.
Much of the peloton are in survival mode.
That didn’t stop 50-odd riders heading up the road early and forming a break; a group so big that I’m not even sure breakaway is a suitable term, usually referring, as it does, to 5 or 6 riders at most.
Should it be a drove? A quiver? A cast? A congress? A murder?
And why have I never properly considered the collective noun for such a group of cyclists?
You’ve got the peloton, the break, the chasers, the gruppetto – I hereby now name an unfeasibly large group of riders up the road from the main yellow jersey groups as: the ghetto.
No threat to the race overall.
An isolated and marginalised section of society.
I can just hear the commentary now: Chris Froome is safely in the peloton, a couple of his team-mates are out in the ghetto.
Once the ghetto formed, it goes without saying that Thomas de Gendt made it his personal mission to attack it from within. The Belgian, incapable of holding position for more than a few kilometres without doing something, thrashed around for a while before finally burning himself out.
On the slopes of the Col de Vars, in fact, the group collapsed.
The weak were shelled out the back, the strong pushed on from the front. On towards the Izoard, which was what this stage was all about.
At 2360 metres in height, the air up there is thin.
Warren Barguil, French, and in Polka Dots, jumped from the yellow jersey group. He set off to sweep up the race rider by rider, passing each one in turn until gasping, desperate, sweeping around the final bend for the win.
It was fitting.
You could make a case for Barguil as THE rider of this year’s Tour.
Chris Froome, with teammate Landa, attacked and counter-attacked with Bardet, as Uran clung limpet like 20 centimetres behind. The air got thinner, the grimaces grimmer, the faces pale, until the road could rise no more.
You think life is tough in the ghetto?
Try the slopes of the Izoard.
(Image: By Pline (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)