It’s not often you see Direct Energie’s main man, Jean-René Bernaudeau in tears – unless someone spills something nasty on those John Wayne cowboy boots he always wears.
But there were red, puffy and wet eyes for him yesterday as he hugged his big boy Lilian Calmejane at the Station Des Rousses high in the Jura mountains.
The big 24 year-old from Albi had just proved strongest and wiliest of the huge group of around 50 riders which went clear on Stage Eight after a ferocious start to the day which meant it took 80 kilometres for the ‘break of the day’ to get clear.
Once the group was clear it became a huge elimination race over the heavy parcours with riders looking good one minute then ‘popping’ spectacularly the next.
The predictability and inevitability of the ‘sprinter stages’ just a memory as the race ebbed and flowed – proper racing.
At least until the final climb when Sky’s ‘clockwork soldiers’ tapped out their rhythm of death and finality.
The young Frenchman saw off the likes of quality BMC duo Nico Roche (Ireland) and Olympic Champion Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) and his final ‘victim,’ lanky Dutchman, Robert Gesink (Lotto Jumbo) to win alone in the classic style.
Calmejane and Bernaudeau go way back; in 2009 Calmejane finished 105th in the ‘Bernaudeau Junior’ 1.1 a race run by the former pro who won the Midi-Libere four times, took a Giro stage and was a medallist in the Worlds during his fine 11 year professional career.
The ‘Bernaudeau Junior’ has seen some of the best pros on it’s podium; QuickStep stars Nicolas Maes, Gianni Meersman and Kristoff Vandewalle all included – when Calmejane made his debut, a certain Arnaud Demare was third.
A year later Lilian moved up to 76th in the Bernaudeau Junior with Bryan Coquard second.
Season 2013 saw him with the Occitane Cyclisme Formation where his main focus was cyclo-cross, racking up numerous wins including his regional championship.
The following season the Bernaudeau thread was picked up when he joined Vendee U, the ‘feeder’ team for the swarthy French sorcerer’s pro squads.
Calmejane’s cyclo-cross success continued but there was also a stage win in the tough U23 Ronde L’Isard and a further indication of his versatility with a win in the Chrono des Achard as well as a raft of solid road results.
His second season with Vendee U saw an overall win in the ‘pro shop window’ and very hard to win, Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux in Belgium, a stage win in the Tour de Bretagne plus numerous other road performances marking him as ‘one for the future.’
Last season saw him turn pro with Bernaudeau’s Direct Energie pro continental team – his results were strong from the start with third in the La Provence stage race, culminating with a win in Stage Four of the Vuelta.
This season he’s been ‘on fire,’ starting with third in the GP de la Ouverture Marseille then three stage race wins in succession with a stage win in each; the Etoile de Besseges, Coppi et Bartali and Circuit de la Sarthe – with a win in the king of the mountains competition in Paris-Nice in there for good measure.
The Tour stage is the icing on the cake and brands him as a star of the future if he can stay clear of the fast cars, even faster women, designer clothes shops and night clubs which so many talented young Frenchmen have succumbed to.
Here at VeloVeritas we think he’s the real deal; not just classy but strong and aggressive – his precocious success as a stage race rider reminds us of Stephen Roche, ‘back in the day.’
Second on the stage was Gesink, he’s not the bonniest to watch but the man is a game and makes races watchable – not processional, like some we could mention.
They’re just doing their job and they’re excellent at it but Sky’s controlling tactics don’t make for great to watch racing.
Froome has at his disposal a team which is so strong that they can afford to leave Dauphine stage winner Pete Kennaugh at home – enough said.
Former Six Day ace Graeme Gilmore said this to me about Stage Nine’s spiky profile when I popped it up on my FaceBook page today;
“Let’s hope the riders attack instead of just following Team Sky like lambs to the slaughter.
“The sooner they get rid of race radios the better and let them ride on their own initiative and not like robots.”
Perhaps he could have added power meters to race radios?
VeloVeritas soothsayer and pundit, Viktor is of the same opinion that Sky’s riding to the radio and power is stifling the racing and was telling me that our amigo Dave Meek, who spends a lot of time in France, reports that the French Press have a similar opinion – Sky are smothering the racing.
Or maybe we’re just old guys looking back to the ‘golden days’ of Thevenet, Ocana, Fignon, Roche, Chiappucci and longing for an aggressive, unpredictable Tour?
But Indurain and Armstrong employed exactly the same tactics; dominate the first time trial/mountain stage then close the race down – there are few stages in those eras we can look back on as ‘epics.’
Chiappucci’s Sestriere epic excluded, of course.
A ‘mega’ stage tomorrow; a second, two thirds and a fourth cat. then three HC climbs but a crazy fast descent off the last HC then a sticky run in – will we see panache or a procession?
We can but hope.