It wasn’t until inside the last kilometre at Peyragudes that the drama really unfolded; Bardet confirms, as does Aru, Froome cracks a little, Quintana cracks A LOT and much as it pains me; ‘one season too many, Bert!’
And Bennett and Martin impress, especially the latter who’s carrying injuries from that horrible crash with Porte on Sunday.
We were skeking the race on Spanish TV having watched the race ‘live’ on the Col de Mente, we chose that climb because of it’s history – it’s where Ocana crashed out of the 1971 Tour and because it’s a brute.
On average gradient steeper than the two HC climbs which followed if not quite as long.
We were at the digs in minutes off the climb and they’re sheer bliss – with a bar, TV to watch the race, restaurant and that which is Holy Grail to boys like us – good wi-fi.
Those pictures just flew off.
I wish I could say the same about Pau, last night – they told us that we were ‘no shows’ for the day prior, which we obviously we weren’t and charged us again for the room.
The wi-fi was grim and the staff attitude was horrible.
So no tears from us at leaving Pau, albeit we enjoyed working the Tour bus park and village, this morning.
Usually when I drive around Edinburgh it’s a dry rot treatment van I’m following or a bus with Maisie The Morningside Cat on the back – so nice to be following the AG2R convoy.
Perhaps a sign for what was to come.
Down at the bus park Tony Martin was putting the sticker for the day’s parcours on his stem.
Today wasn’t a day to suit the German time trial star, however.
Meanwhile, Movistar main man and mentor to the like of Indurain and Delgado, Eusebio Unzue was patiently explaining to a journo that perhaps the Giro/Tour Quintana double hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
He’ll have more explaining to do tomorrow after his boy’s performance today – he just looks empty.
Michael Matthews rode well today, nicking the points over the Col de Mente to keep them from going to rival riders to current polka dot incumbent, his team mate Warren Barguil.
In the bus park this morning his hair was giving him a little trouble though – there’s so much of it that it takes a bit of keeping control of.
He might follow Taylor Phinney’s lead, short at the sides but with ‘nesting bird’ look to top it off.
But really, guys from my generation shouldn’t be slagging riders’ hair – we had Henk Lubberding and Gert Jan Theunise, remember?
JumboNL’s Kiwi George Bennett has been impressing us in this race – and did so again today, putting in a big dig in the finale but being closed down by Landa.
On the subject of Sky riders; Froome’s boys are so strong but I guess that’s why Landa’s been on the Giro podium, Kiryienka’s been world time trial champion and Kwiatkowski has been world road race champion.
It strikes me though Landa rides best as second in command, put the pressure on and he can’t deal with it.
VeloVeritas used to have rating system for ‘hardest man in the peloton’ based on how we felt they would handle themselves in a chip shop in Bathgate.
It used to be Estonian Jan Kirsipuu but a healthy current candidate would be Nacer Bouhanni, he might not have the build but one look into those eyes tells you, ‘do not mess!’
We have levelled accusations of porkiness at the wee former Paris-Nice winner Carlos Batancur, but when you’re close to the man he looks in good shape, albeit he’s broad shouldered.
He was another man who’s had better days than today.
The Skymatons were in full charge over the Menté today with Luke Rowe leading over but right at the end of his tether and being allowed to join the gruppo.
A hard riding, big strong boy though – I remember him as a skinny lad winning the Gent Junior Six Day.
The little Columbian crossed the prime line in company with Spanish Champion Herrada; the man did not look comfortable at all and the end game today showed him up badly.
Former French Champion, Arthur Vichot didn’t look nearly as cool as usual as be battled over the col – we followed in the man in a Tour time trial once; you only think you can handle a bike until you follow a pro in a technical time trial.
Big Marcel’s usual job is to get Le Gorille to where he wants to be in the last K or two but today it was all about survival.
Weary arms reached for mussettes from soigneurs; but there were two HC climbs still to come – it’s daunting just to think about it.
Some were clearly wasted already but to our knowledge, no one missed the cut as far as we know – GB sprinter Dan McLay was last home at 37 minutes plus.
But he wasn’t last over the Mente with that honour belonging to a Lotto rider.
Here at VeloVeritas we’re in no way ‘anti-Sky’ but we are ‘anti-processional racing’ – that race technique blew up in their face today, we just hope Aru and Bardet continue to ride as they did today, all the way to Paris.
Pyrenees again tomorrow – and I might even get a good night’s sleep tonight…