The Tour de France, for the riders, is death by a thousand cuts. The drip-drip of hourly, daily, weekly suffering leaves us, in the end, with one bloke who’s less broken than all the others.
And it makes for great telly.
Stage eleven, though, was less death by a thousand cuts and more whack round the back of the head with a shovel. A short, sharp, blunt instrument, if such a thing could exist. One hundred and eight kilometres, four summits, and raced at full tilt.
As Grand Tour stages go that’s as short as they come.
And also great telly.
The road from Albertville to La Rosiere was sure to give us our first “proper” Yellow Jersey of the 2018 Tour; by which I mean a race leader who can climb and defend a lead in the mountains. A rider with GC ambitions. A team leader. Someone a bit less Belgian, and a bit more British, Spanish, or Italian.
Team Sky have got two of those (Thomas and Froome), while Movistar decided to bring three (Quintana, Landa and Valverde). It was time for powder, previously kept dry, to be, erm…made wet?
Cards were to be shown.
Cats let out of bags.
On the final climb to La Rosiere, the pack of leaders was well and truly shuffled. For Movistar, Valverde blew, Landa cracked, and Quintana “did a Quintana”; he sat in the wheels, neither attacking nor defending, just being.
Because, for Team Sky, La Rosiere was the scene of yet another show of utter dominance.
From the foot of the climb, with at least five riders on the front, they drove the pace. Once the main bunch had been given a thorough whittling Geraint Thomas burst clear, leaving team-mate Froome to cat and mouse a while with Nibali, Roglic, Bardet, and Quintana.
Thomas bridged across to a Tom Dumoulin with fire in his belly; “the Big Dutchman™” was busy time-trialling up the mountain (and the General Classification). Thomas sat on his wheel and borrowed his slipstream.
Meanwhile, Froome left his little group of pals and bridged across, leaving Thomas to burst clear again, sweep past a flagging Mikel Nieve, and win the stage.
He now wears the Yellow Jersey, and Froome lies second.
It was like a beautifully choreographed set-piece of controlled violence. Not so much dominating the race as crushing it with a Castelli branded sledgehammer. If they weren’t on bikes wearing Lycra it could be construed as bullying.
Movistar and their three prongs were left in bits.
The same applies to everyone else.
Pick a leader from any other team and, bar Dumoulin, they lost time. For Bardet, Nibali, Quintana and Roglic, it was tens of seconds. For Yates, Valverde, Landa, Jungels, and other unfortunates, it was minutes.
The spoils belong to Sky, with a considerable mention for Dumoulin, and the General Classification has been bludgeoned into some kind of recognisable form.
And that form is Sky-shaped.