These are the long days of the Tour that follow the classic format: bit of activity in the beginning, a break gets away and stays out in front, is controlled by the big teams, and mathematically timed to be absorbed just before the finish. These attackers, known as the Baroudeurs – a sort of adventurous warrior – take their moment in the sun to gather up special sprint or mountain points, and hope, often against all reason, to make it to the finish in front. Sometimes it works – Taylor Phinney came so close a few days ago for example. The role of Baroudeur is generally the domain of the smaller teams as the big powerhouses have to keep their power dry to protect long-term interests, either winning on the day or a top place in Paris.
While the race to Troyes yesterday and to Nuits-Saint-Georges today look to follow a similar format, it could have very well been completely different had the wind, which is normally strong in the region, been present. A windy day on these wide-open roads with no tree protection, would have turned into a battle zone with the echelons (riders line up in a diagonal formation and rotate against the wind) which are the domain of the northern riders and the bane of climbers like Quintana. It’s easy to lose 10-minutes on a windy stage if you don’t know how to elbow and intimidate your way into the front echelon, where there’s room for 12 riders and 45 are trying to fit in, and many a Tour contender has seen their chances evaporate on the long flat roads of northern France.
The races build up to a crescendo, one wonders “will the break make it or not,” then the thrill of a professional field sprint. I love these days, watching the agricultural beauty of France float by, with excitement at the end. These races are not easy for the riders, please note! By the end of today the peloton will have covered 1230 kilometers in seven days and the fatigue is accumulating.
Sprint into Nuits-Saint-Georges today with the biggest sprint being that of the journalists vying for the best tables at this wine and gastronomic center of the world.
Yesterday’s finale into Troyes made it most clear that the hoped-for lesson on good behavior to the sprinters with the DQ of Sagan didn’t work so well. Remember, sprinters are crazy.
I want to see a real head-to-head with Kittel and Démare. The Frenchman lost speed as he head-butted Boasson-Hagen out of his way yesterday and there was nothing to do about the German locomotive roaring up the left side. And Bouhanni, the man who is taking up pro boxing when he retires from cycling, is in a state of rage. He’s never made it this far in the Tour before and wants to make his mark.
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.