“These are the times that try men’s souls.”
The words of Thomas Paine, published in 1776 during the American revolution, were intended to inspire, to rally patriots seeking to wrench themselves free from the tyrannical grip of King George. Paine could as easily have been describing the spectatorial experience of the first week of the Tour de France.
The longest stage of the Tour de France was never going to be a thriller, and they’re called ‘transition days’ for a reason, so expectations were suitably managed. Still, it was hard not to find the sight of yet another Wanty–Groupe Gobert rider hoiking himself off the front of the peloton, the moment Christian Prudhomme’s car sped away, rather deflating.
We were granted a brief reprieve when Thomas Degand was chased down by a small group containing a few proper teams, the Belgian national champion Yves Lampaert amongst them, but that didn’t last long. Before we knew it, Yoann Offredo was back out front on his own, and it was déjà vu all over again. Offredo was reeled in at about the 90km mark and that was that.
On Friday the 13th, with all the requisite respect to Lawson Craddock, if anyone was unlucky today it was the guy obliged to find a needle-sized Top Banana in this 231-kilometre haystack of tedium. Less a bike race, “you could be forgiven for thinking this was a bike ride through northern France,” observed ITV’s Ned Boulting.
(Speaking of whom, chapeau to our colleagues in the commentary boxes for successfully staying awake at the mic.)
It wasn’t Wanty’s fault. We have admitted our fondness for the Belgian wildcards before, and they at least give it a go. We can’t blame the peloton -which arrived in Chartres almost 20 minutes behind the slowest schedule – for seizing the opportunity to take it easy, either.
No, ultimate responsibility lies with the race organisers. It’s time ASO did something – anything – to inspire an iota of interest in the (non-)events of stages like this one. More and bigger time bonuses, perhaps; a breakaway jersey has been mooted; maybe rig the riders up so we can hear them playing “I spy”.
But that’s for another year and we must return to consider today’s Top Banana. The rules say it can’t go to Greg Van Avermaet for stealing a few bonus seconds and extending his race lead, or Dylan Groenewegen, for breaking the Sagan-Gaviria sprint duopoly.
We have therefore taken the unprecedented decision to award today’s Top Banana to… an empty field.
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