Marseille is the most fascinating city of France, different than anywhere else in the country in the manner that Miami, aka “capital of South America” is different than the rest of America. Keith Richards’ delightful description of Marseille in his book “Life” that detailed the beyond-debauched period at Villa Nellcôte that produced “Exile on Main Street”, called Marseilles the “Capital of Northern Africa.” From Bouillabaisse to Tajin’s to crime movies like French Connection and Borsalino to infamous real-life gangsters as The Blond and The Belgian, the place remains rich in beauty, culture, intrigue and mystery.
Does great Marseille have the power to create any mystery in this Tour? Is it only the fight for second place that we are looking for? The Points, Team, Mountains and probably Young Rider classifications are all set. But, we do have three riders for the final Yellow Jersey all within :29” – which is only a flat tire of a difference.
Today is when Jonathon Vaughter’s low budgets may very well come back to hurt him. His team’s Cannondale TT bikes are lacking, far inferior to the heavily researched Pinarello and Factor machines of Froome and Bardet. Cannondale has apparently been unwilling to put the needed expensive development into their TT machines and if Uran has a great day, that lack of focus may become quite costly in the end.
It’s also a big test for Wawa Barguil as agents flock around him with team leadership offers. Is he indeed, as Greg LeMond thinks, a true Yellow Jersey contender? A sparkling ride today will up his value considerably and he’s got to race this TT as if it has a seven-figure prize list.
No Tour winner has gone without winning a stage since Oscar Periero in 2006 (don’t get me started on that debacle) but really since Greg LeMond’s 1990 victory. But Froome has made it clear that he’s taking no chances on this twisting racecourse, and that his is going to be a defensive approach. However, champions love to win, so we must see how seriously to take his, often deflecting, pre-race statements.
Be sure to watch Primos Roglic, the Slovenian on a meteoric rise to stardom. He’s going to fly today.
Quick bit of history: in 1971 Luis Ocaña had taken the Yellow Jersey from Eddy Merckx by a whopping nine-minutes. On the next day’s 250K stage to Marseille, Eddy and his entire team went on the attack, spilt the field with Ocaña on the wrong side of things, and a race-long chase that hovered between one and two-minute gaps, ensued. They averaged 45.351 kph for the 250k (!!) and took time out of the Spaniard, who crashed himself out in the Pyrenees a few days later. The race was so fast that it was a full hour ahead of schedule as the enraged Mayor discovered when he showed up at the finish for the awards ceremonies and found nothing but crews loading fencing. Marseille banned the Tour for the next 30-years.
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.