Stage 9. Pinot rises to the peaks and narrowly fails

Châtel (Haute-Savoie), special envoy.

The soul of the Grande Boucle lives in storytelling and tragedy; and its narrative, in all the potentialities imagined in the crucible of reality. Welcome to paraphrenia. Repeated each time, entry into the Alps generally offers the favors of the world to men without flesh attracted to higher elevations. Their loneliness suddenly became dizzying, between Aigle and Châtel Les Portes du Soleil (192.9 km), over a loop in Switzerland and an arrival on the French side, after the ascent of the Pas de Morgins (1D cat., 15.4 km at 6.1%), climbed in the continuity of the Col de la Croix (1D cat., 8.1 km at 7.6%). Terrifying prospect, which introduced us in a grandiose universe of weaknesses and bravery, of uncertainties too, on the eve of a day of rest.

The Covid on the heels, everything is played out like a lottery

At peak height, with the horizon torn apart by the majestic crests of Mont Blanc, the chronicœur had to admit, first of all, that the preoccupations of the race had taken on a random inclination. The Covid on the heels, the Tour had just left one of its heroes of July on the sidelines of the road, the French Guillaume Martin, who was pointing to the 14e general’s position. Declared « positive » for the virus, the leader of Cofidis was forced to give up, after the Norwegian Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE) and the Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R-Citroën), put on hold on Saturday. Rather grotesque atmosphere in the caravan, subjected every morning to “tests”, where everything is played out like a lottery, knowing that no one is now safe from chance and bad luck that could ruin sporting ambitions. Many frightened sports directors are calling for the return of the “health bubble” of the past two years. “The gangrene is already there, we are not going to stop it by snapping our fingers”, professed the boss of the FDJ, Marc Madiot. Would the narrative mode lose its dreamlike quality?

We were there, in the middle of an afternoon, when we realized that we had to wait more than 40 kilometers of epic battle within the peloton for the “good breakaway” to finally form. A huge group of twenty-one « hefty », including Van Aert, Pinot, Latour, Barguil, Castroviejo, Stuyven, Uran, Geschke, Bonnamour, Cosnefroy, etc., enough to enhance the ardor of a scenario less decipherable than previously. Calculators but combative, thus they progressed on their elastic world, discovering around the grandiose spectacle of bare mountains whose shadow crushed them. Guaranteed effect of less spectral than rocky beauty under the glare of a pre-scorching sun. Ordinarily, the art of climbing awakens bodies like organic writing. Out of habit, we therefore did not lightly grasp what was hidden from light and obviousness, granting interest to the thin clandestine gaps.

Ordinarily, the art of climbing awakens bodies like organic writing.

So, what was in store for us on the first serious ascent of the Tour, the Col de la Croix, at least in terms of its altitude (1,778 m), where oxygen suddenly became scarce and reached organisms not yet acclimatized? In the peloton, three UAE of Tadej Pogacar took the lead, the skimming began from behind, and the runaways’ advance never exceeded four minutes. In the secrecy of our thoughts, we hoped that the seesaw factory would operate its ruthless blade. We even blithely thought that the Jumbos (Vingegaard and Roglic) and the Ineos, who had four representatives in the top ten (Thomas, Yates, Pidcock and Martinez), would light as many fires as possible in an attempt to isolate the Slovenian, the push to its limits, to the point of brutalizing its cannibalistic desire to « take everything ». For UAE with obvious cracks, the delicate configuration was however in place: the management of a provided breakaway, where some good climbers slipped, before the possible assaults of the favorites.

Meanwhile, Pogacar had his small business under control

We waited, but no major maneuvers occurred. In the lead, the astonishing Luxembourger Bob Jungels (AG2R-Citroën) isolated himself from his escape companions in an elegiac raid which seemed doomed to failure. The appearance of the Pas de Morgins will not enlighten us – alas – until after long kilometres. Jungels continued his wild ride and seemed to reverse the predictions, but Thibaut Pinot, intercalated, launched into a flamboyant pursuit, as in his best lost hours. Most of the other survivors of the morning were swallowed up – except Verona and Castroviejo – by the bulk of the troops, reduced to about forty units. Meanwhile, Pogacar mastered his small business without being threatened. The ace.

The important thing was tied up there, in this duel between Jungels and Pinot, the latter forgetting the calculations and unbuttoning his reserve by indulging in rediscovered oaths. A panting suspense settled towards Châtel, but the Luxembourger resisted, hard, brave as hell despite sixty terminals alone, and won a prestigious victory after three years of galleys. The Frenchman, finally seen again in the final by Verona and Castroviejo, dropped the matter. The chronicœur, subject to the mythical necessity of the ordeal, thought he glimpsed through the resurrection of Pinot the traces of these slow concretions of the positive virtues of champions, the real ones. Pinot embodied them, showing the raw material of his reality. Otherwise all its truth.


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