We’re in Le Puy-en-Velay, and thinking about his classic song, ‘Pink Houses’ in which John Mellencamp says;
‘And there’s winners, and there’s losers – but they ain’t no big deal.’
We’re not sure that Sunweb or QuickStep, the biggest winners and losers of the day would agree.
Sunweb first and stage winner, Michael Matthews had this to say:
“Today our plan was open and we were prepared for different scenarios, as it was difficult to predict how the stage would unfold.
“Once we heard that there were splits in the peloton we were all really motivated to push on and extend the gap.
“From then on it was an eight-man team time trial to the finish and I was able to finish off the job in the last 500 metres.
“I’m so grateful for these opportunities and to take the win after the guys worked incredibly hard today is really special.”
It wasn’t just a split; it was gaping gash, torn open by the Dutch squad’s blood lust when they smelled that current green jersey incumbent, Marcel Kittel (QuickStep) was wounded on the third category climb which reared from the start line – it was too much for the German’s big legs so early in the day.
Sunweb’s day was perfect; they isolated Kittel; took Matthews to the intermediate sprint win and then the stage win.
What had looked like a yawning gap between Matthews and Kittel in the battle for green is now just 29 points, guaranteeing us a battle for vert all the way to Paris.
QuickStep were the big losers:
Philippe Gilbert was forced to abandon due to a viral gastroenteritis whilst Kittel could only be philosophical about the events of the day.
“It is as it is.
“I can’t change any of the things that happened today.
“The stage suited Matthews better with that tough uphill start, where I lost contact.
“But I won’t think of the points I lost today, although I’m not happy with this, I’ll just focus on the next stages and take it day by day.”
But the Belgian team’s woes didn’t end there, their GC man, Dan Martin had what in the building industry is described as a ’mare!
Martin was among the riders caught on the wrong side of the crosswinds and a Sky-powered echelon which blasted the lead group in the finale.
The Irishman had conceded 51 seconds by the finish line, a loss which moved him down to seventh in the overall standings.
He had this to say about his loss:
“It was a really tough stage and we suffered out there.
“It was difficult without Matteo Trentin and Philippe Gilbert, who were forced to say goodbye to the race earlier.
“Their presence would have probably made the difference today.
“Can’t say it’s the best situation for us, but the team is upbeat and optimistic about our chances now that the race is heading into the Alps for two days.”
There were other losers too; UAE’s Louis Mentjies (RSA) was another caught out in the crosswinds, he retains eighth spot but is now at six minutes.
And Norway’s Edvald Boasson-Hagen let another chance at victory slip through his hands; the Dimension Data rider had by far the fastest terminal velocity but started his sprint form way too far back with the line coming just that instant too soon.
As one wag said to me; “he needs to get sprinting lessons fron Cav!
Today is Mandela Day so the win would have been all the more special for the South African squad.
If there were winners and losers there was also a saviour in the shape of Belgian Road Race Champion Oliver Naesen who saved his AG2R team leader, Romain Bardet today.
The skinny French climber who has the build for the cols but not cobbles and cross winds was at sea when Sky dumped the nitro and the echelon formed.
Naesen saved him almost single handedly; at one point the Frenchman was on the wrong side of the echelon and the Belgian, who comes from Ostend, where they know a thing or two about the wind, told Barde to get himself on the Belgian’s wheel.
After the finish Bardet shouted over to Naesen; “you had saved my life today !”
The Alps for the next two days with tomorrow cramming a 2e cat. a 1e cat. and two HC cols into 183 kilometres but with a 30 kilometre drop of the final summit, the mighty Galibier to the finish in Serre Chevalier.
Bardet and his AG2R banditos have pledged to attack – can’t wait!