Tour de France 2018 Stage 16: Descending like the devil

Didi devil

For a cyclist, there is perhaps no more punishing enemy than the wind.

It plays games. It has the power to make or break your ride. A joyous and life affirming tailwind becomes a grim and grinding headwind. Your pleasure – or lack of it – is in the hands of meteorology.

And today, on stage sixteen, we discovered that there is another enemy to contend with. When this enemy combines with our foe, the wind, a whole peloton of the world finest athletes can be brought to not only a halt, but to literal tears.

We’re talking the likes of Froome, Thomas and Sagan, crying like babies at the roadside.

I’m referring, of course, to pepper spray.

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The fact that a group of French farmers flung some hay bales across the road and brought the race to a halt after around thirty kilometres is not news; French farmers have a history of protest, and few of us would begrudge them their traditional moment of belligerence.

Rumours that the target of their protest was those white shorts adorning the haunches of the Fortuneo-Samsic team are, at this point, unconfirmed.

What is news is that French Police cracked open the pepper spray to deal with this. And, they didn’t stop to consider the wind direction. Which was, they now realise, peloton bound.

Hence the world’s finest cyclists received a blast of pepper spray to the face.

And in the interests of fair and balanced reporting, we have to fully consider the motives of the Police. Rumours that the target of their pepper spray was those Fortuneo-Samsic riders in their white shorts are, at this point, unconfirmed.

I mean, it’s a “fashion crime,” no doubt about it. I’m just not really sure that pepper spray is the proportionate response.

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Thankfully, with plenty of cuddles and washing of eyes, the flow of tears was stemmed and the stage rambled on through the countryside, and over the mountains, towards Bagneres-de-Luchon.

The overall GC contenders, today, were content to conserve energy. The action happened up front, and largely on the slopes – both up and down – of the final climb: the Col du Portillon.

The pull to the summit was a study in contrasts.

There was Robert Gesink, swaying and swinging like a limp sunflower in the Pyrenean wind. Not pretty. There was Adam Yates, tiny, a pure climber, and on the escape off the front of the race.

And there was Julian Alaphilippe: French, polka dotted, and charismatic. Dancing on the pedals like Contador. Goatee bearded like Pantani. Gurning like Voeckler for the cameras. You’ve got a favourite cyclist? He’s got them covered.

His was the climb of a man in a purple patch; confident in his legs and picking his moments.

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Yates summitted first, Alaphilippe shortly after, and the chase began. Ten kilometres downhill into Bagneres-de-Luchon; and there’s something about a decent into a Pyrenean town that makes the hairs stand up on the back of the neck.

Remember Thor Hushovd, at Lourdes, in 2011?

Alaphilippe descends like the devil. Yates would’ve known the Frenchman was on his tail. Often hindsight is the post-stage blog writers best friend, but something was surely going to happen. I could feel in real time in my twitching left leg and white-knuckle grip on the settee.

Sure enough, Yates lost a front wheel on a hairpin. Alapahilippe caught, and swept past, then tried to wait empathetically, before bursting off down the road for a joyous win.

All smiles, salutes, and shakes of the head.

A proper French win.

The polka dots, deservedly, will surely be his.


(Devil: Gwenael Piaser via Flickr)

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9 comments

  1. Watched the Tour pass at my nearest point to home – Mas d’Azil – with, bizarrely enough, a group of Welsh fans equipped with paper daffodil headresses and dragon flags. I had to translate and explain all that to surrounding French fans. Glad to see no anti-Sky feeling and, contrary to a slightly bizarre piece by Jeremy Whittle in this morning’s Guardian, no sense that the Tour has competely lost it’s popular roots – virtually all the people around us were French and local and had come for the occasion. Delighted with Alaphilippe’s effort as I’ve been telling French friends for the last couple of years that he’s overall better than Bardet …

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    • Brilliant. Very much enjoying the way the Welsh have decided cycling is their new favourite sport!

      Alaphilippe has been the star of the show. Such a charismatic and entertaining rider . What’s the French view on Bardet now he’s dropped away from contention?

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      • Just been watching the FR2 Vélo-Club programme. Yesterday, before the stage a FR2 journalist suggested to Romain Bardet that a short very “climby” stage was the place for a one’man attack. Bardet replied that this wasn’t modern cycling; To his credit, Jalabert commented that that was exactly what Froome had done on his own in the Giro over a rather longer distance … This evening on Vélo-Club they were suggesting that it was the sort of stage tommorow for Bardet to stage some sort of come-back attack. At the moment, Alaphilippe and Pierre Latour are the obvious media favourites with Bardet on the backburner … unless he were to win tomorrow of course …

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  2. I “would begrudge them their traditional moment of belligerence.” What a bunch of whiny punks. Nobody can have any fun ’cause they’re upset… I’d have championed something a little more damaging than pepper spray. Try those bean bag shotguns. Light ’em up!

    Liked by 1 person

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