A Beautiful Race

by John Eustice

Jasper Stuyen Trek Madone

I’ve been laid up for a couple of days, the family away, with enforced rest which meant that yesterday it was just the dogs and me, all luxuriating together on the couch in uninterrupted, blissful Tour de France coverage. And what a gift the riders gave us with a race that was beautiful in every way. The roadside fans were true French ones, respectful, applauding, “Allez les gars!”, in the best traditions of the Tour. There were two races in one, as Phil and Paul would say, both clear and fascinating to watch unfold, and each with its own exciting finish. The terrain was magnificent and the sidebar stories on the preservation of the ancient caves enhanced the coverage and showed yet again what a world treasure France in fact is.

In the boxing world the big post-fight question is often, “How did you perform?”, as opposed to simple win or loss. From that perspective, Belgium’s Jasper Stuyven, a true Flamande, was the best rider on the road to Mende. First off, he’s a fantastic stylist with a perfect position, riding high cadence on his Trek Madone giving that bicycle great exposure and making it look oh-so cool in the process. I wanted one after his ride….He showed great courage and power with that attack, threw it all down, and then, after the heart-stopping drama of the final climb still managed to rally and work with Alaphilippe to finish third. There’s much to hear from this rider in the future.

Sagan was fascinating to watch. I felt that he was really struggling the entire day, you could see him tightening up on the back of the group at the top of the climbs and just using every bit of body strength he could find, combined with a good dose of guile and craft to hold on. He’s a fighter that Peter is and he showed us yesterday the guts and tenacity that have made him a three-time World Champion.

Poor Phillipe Gilbert! The former World Champion has been slaving away for his team the entire Tour, and nothing ever goes his way. He’s not won a race this year – ok a Hammer series – and even yesterday, just like on the Mûr de Bretagne, Alaphilippe couldn’t close the deal on “his” finish that Gilbert had set up perfectly. On a side note, I’ve noticed that Gilbert is on a bigger frame with Specialized than he was on with BMC. He was too cramped on that old bike in my view which contributed to his sup-par performances with the Swiss (ok, American) team.

Then after a nice interval it was the GC battle. Seeing the three big men, Froome, Thomas and Dumoulin go for it was like watching a heavyweight bout. I thought that Quintana had a very good ride, short and brutal is really not the terrain for a traditional Colombian climber and feel it’s a sign that he’s coming good. Having Egan Bernal snapping at his heels must have inspired quite a bit.

The fast climbing cadence style, brought back from the 1970’s by Lance and continued into Froome, is working its way throughout the peloton. It was so interesting to count the strokes of the various riders, 90 counts seeming to be standard with Froome revving into the 120 range when things got nasty. Many riders are now using farther-forward saddle positions and not sitting too high in search of souplesse, a development that makes the racers efficient and aesthetically pleasing to watch. A good development for cycling.

Those races across the south are very much part of what give French racing its special characteristics. Many riders simply cannot handle them. The roads are slow as molasses, the legs always heavy and under pressure from the constantly undulating terrain, it’s very hot and windy. True, deep endurance racing, the kind the French love best. Today will be more of the same, the majority of the exhausted riders are now just trying to get to Paris, yet – they’ll go like hell again today. Vive le Tour!

John EusticeJohn 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.