Stage 8. Wout Van Aert still has the coast

On the road to the Tour.

No pauses, no evasions. The day after the first wild climb on the slopes of the Planche des Belles Filles, the peloton traced due south-east, between Dole (town of Louis Pasteur, celebrated as it should be for the 200th anniversary of his birth) and Lausanne (186 .3km). A stage less “transitional” than it seemed, in truth. A « breaking leg » profile with its final awarded on the Olympic Stadium hill on the heights of Lake Geneva (3rd cat., 4.8 km at 4.6%), conducive, a priori, to the daring who no longer competed neither the general nor the glory, except that of a day. Thus they advanced, calculating, on their elastic world. Might as well admit it, the chronicoeur remained on the French side, for the sake of the finances of Humanity, taking a little lead towards the alpine massifs in anticipation of the future days. After all, not seeing Lausanne and, above all, fleeing Switzerland’s prohibitive hotel prices were in no way an obstacle to the spirit. At least we hope so.

The tour caught up by the Covid

In an improvised press room, far from the din of the caravan, everything began with a growing anxiety. This Saturday, the Tour was indeed overtaken by the first cases of Covid-19, with the consequence of the withdrawal of several riders, including one of the teammates of the Slovenian yellow jersey Tadej Pogacar. Norwegian Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE) left the race before the start, as did Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën), also positive for coronavirus. “Vegard tested negative yesterday morning during the internal team’s routine testing protocol. But he reported symptoms of a sore throat late last night”explained to the morning the doctor of the Emirati team, Dr. Adriano Rotunno. “The antigen test was positive and it was confirmed by a PCR test this morning. » A few minutes earlier, the Bouchard team had announced the departure of its climber, winner in the past of the mountain classification at the Giro and the Vuelta, but a neophyte on this Grande Boucle. Note that these two cases were the first concerning couriers, but the new wave of Covid has already caused departures in the management of several teams (staff and group management). The Quick-Step roster alone has had to bring in three new sporting directors from the start. Following the cascade of abandonments recorded at the Tour de Suisse in mid-June, the anti-Covid protocol was updated by the International Cycling Union (UCI). The tests are compulsory before the start and during the two rest days of the event, riders and team personnel included. In case of positivity, the protocol provides that “the decision on possible isolation will be taken collectively by the doctor of the team concerned, the Covid-19 doctor for the event and the medical director of the UCI”. Everyone has understood what is at stake: a kind of « lottery » is played every morning, no one is safe from chance and being ostracized…

While a point – less lyrical than sporting – was essential before entering the Alps (from this Sunday towards Châtel, 15.4 km at 6.1%), we were again disturbed by a huge fall, after ten battle terminals in order to constitute the « good breakaway ». Several leaders found themselves on the ground, including Romain Bardet and David Gaudu, fifth and sixth overall respectively, Peter Sagan, and even Ben O’Connor, who had been adrift for a week. Victim of the somersault, Kevin Vermaerke was even forced to give up. Up front, three brave men took advantage of the incident to get out (Cattaneo, Wright and Frison) and froze the circumstances for a long time. A boon. Like all the followers, we still had our heads in the Planche des Belles Filles, thinking back to Tadej Pogacar’s victory ahead of Jonas Vingegaard at the cost of a surreal effort. We thought above all of the performances of our two Frenchmen, Bardet and Gaudu, who were a little fair but present in the fight, which raised many hopes. The images were also striking and reflected the violence committed. Bardet, for example, had trouble getting off his machine before wallowing full length on a patch of grass, struggling to catch his breath at the top of the Vosges mountains. He repeated: “I shit, I shit… It’s a crap, huh, it’s weird such hard passes, I was no longer used to these efforts. » As for Gaudu, unable at the time to put one foot in front of the other, he told the team : “When Pogacar accelerated, I got into a dancer and it cost me a bit of strength, the path being more slippery than in 2019 and I did not expect that. I lost grip a bit. Afterwards, I preferred to manage, so as not to explode. » Both nevertheless harbored hopes. The first : “Until one kilometer from the finish, I was really good, so I’m happy. » The second : “Sixth among the favorites is good. » And to put it another way: a Frenchman on the podium in Paris is no longer necessarily a fantasy.

Who to threaten Pogacar?

Pogacar, he continues his flights, mental cast iron, increasing brick by brick the wall of his overpower as his desire to « take everything », Cannibal style. If he has not « killed » the Tour, many observers are counting on the Jumbo (Vingegaard and Roglic), but also on the Ineos, who have four representatives in the first ten (Thomas, Yates, Pidcock and Matinez ), to light fires and try to isolate the Slovenian prodigy, from the Alps. Geraint Thomas, 2018 winner, assured: “For sure, we can use this number in the next few days, but we will have to choose the right moments and not go there haphazardly. But we will have to try, we must. » Jumbo sporting director Grisha Niermann said: “We will continue to make life difficult for Pogacar, we will do everything we can, otherwise this Tour will be really boring. »

We weren’t there. Drunk with light and heat on this day of the healer, our Giants entered the canton of Vaux, in the middle of the afternoon, on fixed positions and a minimum gap with the breakaways, less than two minutes. The script, tasteless and boring, therefore seemed written in advance. Enough to feed the chronicle, however, we saw Thibaut Pinot go to the ground in turn, then take a musette in the face during a refueling. And when the bulk of the troop skirted the shores of Lake Geneva, we understood that we would witness a new « hill climb » in the final ramp of the Olympic Stadium flooded with spectators. Lausanne, the administrative capital of world sport which hosts the headquarters of some forty international federations, received Les Forçats for the sixth time in its history. The two surviving fugitives (first Cattaneo, then Wright) surrendered at the foot of the bump. And for the umpteenth time, the leaders, yellow jersey in mind, went into action in the exclusive use of explosive robustness. Dry and brutal selection. The best fronts (Pogacar, Roglic, Vingegaard, Bardet, Gaudu, Martin, etc.), the others in agony. We thought for a moment that Pogacar was going to do it again, but, unbeatable in the exercise of uphill false flat sprints, the ineffable Belgian Swiss army knife Wout Van Aert (Jumbo) came to pick up his second success from Denmark, consolidating his jersey green.

News from Froome

Always alive to passion, and because the memory on the roads of the Tour remains this invariant which padlocks our imperfections, the chronicler wished to conclude by satisfying a general request. “But where is Froome? », readers have been asking for several days. The most illustrious of the anonymous peloton is not doing so badly, know that. Ranked forty-first at La Planche, less than four minutes from Pogacar, the four-time winner of the event was in fiftieth place overall yesterday morning, nearly fifteen minutes from the yellow jersey. Admittedly, the Briton, knighted by the Queen in 2015, is light years away from his previous exploits, but, contrary to his recent habits, he has still not sunk into the abyss of total rout, even if it means ask the only valid question: “Why inflict these humiliations on me? »Philosophers would conclude that in this the bicycle is dialectical. Cyclists, whose velocipedic suffering has made them more humble in judgment and attitude. Froome, modest as hell now, will never win « his » Tour again. But the chronicoeur expects to see him slip into a breakaway, sooner or later, and why not give some meaning to his stubbornness. This one bears a cruel name: Stations of the Cross.


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