That was great racing yesterday, drama and excitement from start to finish. I was watching the French feed when young Lilian Calmejane, struck with cramps, came to a virtual stop with five- kilometers to go, the French commentators went into complete meltdown. It was like the Hindenburg, “Oh the humanity…”. Laurent Jalabert, famed Tour rider now commentator was flat out coaching the young Direct Energie rider from the booth: “go supple, drop the gear, drop the gear…!” It worked out in the end and the French had a new young star to rally around. While they like sprinters well enough, yesterday’s mountainous stage is what the French really consider a race, and to have one of their own win in such a powerful manner was uplifting for them.
A big winner yesterday was the Direct Energie Director Jean-Rene Bernadeau who’d been villainized in the media for leaving their star sprinter Bryan Coquard off the Tour team. Direct Energie is the opposite of a hard, corporate entity like Sky: it’s an old school, familial team, and when Coquard made it known this spring that he was leaving, Bernadeau, wounded, lashed out at Coquard commanding him to win a big race or lose his Tour spot. While this move was portrayed by Coquard and the media as petulant, it was in fact normal French management. As my old French director Jean DeGribaldy would say, “team directors need to be vicious.” The flat, 70 kph+ sprints in this Tour are not really suited to a light rider like Coquard and Bernadeau clearly had his eye on the future, which meant Calmejane. Coquard’s presence would have meant that the team needed to work for him in the sprints instead of focusing on the classic Voekler-Chavanel racing style. Chapeau to Bernadeau for making the right call.
How strong is Team Sky? Yesterday’s long and high-speed chase of Serge Pauwels certainly put them to the test and today will be no different – it’s the peloton verses them. These mountainous weekend races require deep endurance, and with the difficulties of today coming at the end of nine days and 1,596.5 kilometers of racing, adding in the forecast of rain (and it’s not rained in a long time so the roads may be slippery – not good with all the descents of the day), the Brits will be put to one of the greatest tests of their careers.
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.