Luke Rowe is 6 ft 3 of lanky muscle, a cobbles gobbler who lives for the chaos of the one-day Classics. He was lanterne rouge at the Tour de France last year. Guys like him belong in the gruppetto, counting down the kilometres of climbing and the mountain stages. Right?
Wrong. On stage 10 of the 2018 Tour de France, over four categorised Alpine climbs between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornand, Luke Rowe showed what a rouleur he is. He paced the Sky-led peloton to the top of the Plateau des Glières, the race’s first Hors-Catégorie climb, his pace dropping a fair few riders.
We had to rub our eyes to make sure it was him up front on the 10 per cent gradients. Maybe the thought of those few kilometres of gravel at the summit kept him motivated.
And then he kept going over another climb and along the valley. He was on the front for almost 100 kilometres, until the foot of the day’s penultimate climb, the Col de Romme. Froome and Thomas’ other footmen could put their cleats up in his significant slipstream.
As a rouleur – and we here at Rouleur like to think we know what we’re talking about – it doesn’t get much better than that. Rowe was in his element helping his leaders on the cobbles of northern France on Sunday, yet did the lion’s share in the Alps today too. Presumably, the man from Cardiff had an airdrop of Welsh cakes on the rest day. His stirring comeback continues apace after breaking his leg on a stag do last summer.
Rowe’s fine ride rather flew under the radar, with the yellow jersey up the road. It was another unusual sight: who would have thought Greg van Avermaet would increase his lead today?
One wonders why Team Sky’s various rivals did not raise the pace to tire out Rowe and force their other domestiques to work earlier. Well, the Tour is a marathon, not a sprint. But they ought to be worried: if Rowe can pull off that mountain ride, just how well are their climbing domestiques going?
The Rouleur Top Banana goes to an unsung hero of each stage of the Tour de France – not the winner, not the yellow jersey – but a rider whose efforts deserve recognition
Tour de France 2018, Rouleur Top Bananas: