We’ve been covering the Tour de France for many years, and like most people who love cycle racing, it’s one of the highlights of the year for us. Bastille Day at Le Tour is special, and the pressure on the French riders to perform is intense – we were lucky to be on the race when Warren Barguil took a fantastic win ahead of Nairo Quintana and Bert Contador.
Fantastic weather, great racing, a change to catch up with old pals Adam Hansen and Jack Bauer, meant July 14th was a memorable day for both of us and is our pick for a highlight for 2017.
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VeloVeritas soothsayer, Viktor and I have long been critics of Warren Barguil (Sunweb & France) as a ‘one hit wonder,’ with his two stage wins in the Vuelta in 2013 then very little else; but in this Tour he’s certainly been reborn.
He was so close to Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale & Colombia) last Sunday after being the hero of the day and today, on Bastille Day he scored the biggest and most beautiful win of his career with a historic stage victory.
And whilst he seems to have been around for a long time, he’s only 25 years-old.
We were parked up on the Mur de Peguere climb which is actually a ramp stuck on top of another col, the Col de Cauognous; the latter isn’t too severe – the former is a swine with ramps of 16 and 18 percent ramps.
With the road so steep and narrow the road was closed to all but race traffic; perhaps just as well because the ‘Crazies’ were out in force.
The shape of the race was well established when they passed us with Mikel Landa (Sky and Basque) and Alberto Contador (Trek & Spain) clear.
We may have branded Contador’s Tour as ‘one too many’ but whilst the man’s legs may not be as they were, his heart is still the same size.
Landa looks better by the day and Sky’s move in putting him up the road means that they have two cards to play, taking a lot of pressure off Froome.
Chasing the two Iberian riders were the hero of the day, Barguil in company with Nairo Quintana (Movistar & Colombia) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky & Poland) who was riding shotgun for Sky.
Maillot jaune Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy) looked very comfortable but was isolated in a group which was surprising in that UAE were driving for Louis Mentjies (RSA) – but he still goes in our ‘Difficult to Drop’ file.
Some are saying that Fabio will be in UAE colours for 2018 so maybe…
Sky team leader, Froome was watching Aru like a hawk and Aru will have to be on his guard with Sky so strong and Astana so lacking.
Men were suffering on that hill but some still look good, take Fortuneo’s Frenchman Brice Feillu – dropped but still cool.
Sky’s Luke Rowe wasn’t too distressed today, The Welshman taking it easy in the gruppo, not like yesterday when we saw him giving everything on the Col de Mente.
Dan McLay (Fortuneo & GB) was second last on the road today; that laddie suffers but always seem to make it to the gruppetto, thankfully.
Barguil’s day then but not Jakob Fuglsang’s (Astana & Denmark) out with his injuries or George Bennett’s (LottoNL & New Zealand) losing four minutes.
But back to start of the day; we were sad to leave our great Spanish digs and head for Saint Girons, en route we passed the memorial to fallen Olympic Champion Fabio Casartelli who crashed and died here in 1992 – rest in peace, Fabio.
We were maybe a wee bit later than we’d ideally have liked arriving at the start but there’s an Einsteinian thing happens with time on the Tour – it accelerates on you with an hour seeming like five minutes.
Consecutive Grand Tour rides ‘recordman,’ on 18 now, Adam Hansen (Lotto & Australia) pedalled past us with a nod on the way back from the sign on – we make this somewhere around 400 times he’s made that trip in recent years.
PowerBar have a ‘help yourself’ stall for their products at the start and riders stock up before the off, Yukiya Arashiro (Bahrain & Land of Rising Sun) was taking no chances today and filling his pockets.
His team mate in the cosmo Bahrain squad Tsbagu Grmay (Ethiopia – but if you’re a Rastaman then that’s actually ‘Babylon’) has settled into the World Tour scene well; so different to the old ‘Euro guys only’ days.
And the team of the race so far?
Well, they have the stage wins, that’s true but the team which has really enlivened the race has to be Wanty – Groupe Gobert.
They still have a full squad in the race and they’ve been in just about every break with Frederik Backaert topping the ‘baroudeurs’ ratings on 566 kilometres ‘up the road.’
Saint Girons seemed as good a place as any to catch up with their Belgian DS, former pro and Six Day man, Steven De Neef.
We kicked off by asking him about their climber Guillaume Martin’s GC ambitions, the Frenchman currently sits 21st @ 19:27.
“No, we’re not interested in the difference between 19th and 21st on GC, we’d rather save our energies and go for stage results” [at the end of this day Martin was 19th into Foix and moved to 19th on GC, ed.].
“He was third at Station des Rousses and that’s the kind of result we’re more interested in – we accept that it’ll be very difficult for us to win here against the big World Tour teams but the goal of the team is to get noticed.
“That said, we’ve been close with some of our breakaway efforts, like Offredo’s and Pieter Vanspeybrouck has had two 12th, an 11th and an eighth place in the bunch finishes which shows we’re not just about the breakaways.
“Even though we have Frederik Backaert as the number one ‘baroudeur’ in the race with 566 kilometres in the breakaway.
“We have to repay ASO for letting us ride, show the team maillot, respect the organisers and their race.”
We asked Steven how he’s settling into the team car driver’s seat after all those years holding the handlebars;
“This is my first Grand Tour and it’s a whole new level; I’ve done all the big Northern races like Flanders and Roubaix and stage races like the Tour of Romandie but this is so different with the sheer number of public roadside you have to be so careful.
“I almost hit a child the other day, she dived into the road for a bidon – crazy!”
We left Steven to tend to his riders and headed for the car, time to roll…
Aru still leads, Sky get smart, Barguil the hero of France – not a bad day at all, this has turned into a great race.
Stage 14 today, one for the Baroudeurs – but in this race one never knows…