After last year’s experiment with the La Course finale and today’s nonchalant clip-in and amble off the painted gridwork, you wonder if the Tour de France organisers will bother again with trying to engineer what happens from the gun.
Still, one spectacular start we might talk about is Egan Bernal’s. This is the 21 year old’s debut Tour but he, again, rode today like a rider with years of experience and accumulated strength.
We all got a taste of how good he was after a string of results earlier in the season – his 2017 Tour de l’Avenir win and signing for Sky being early tasters. Amongst those were two stages and the overall in the Tour of California, and second place and a stage in the Tour de Romandie.
Some suggested this was enough to warrant him some kind of shared leadership role in the Tour. That was, of course, being silly.
At a team as stacked with as many wannabe leaders as Sky, not to mention a keenness for calm control, such a promotion would be both insanely risky and recklessly disruptive.
Even deciding to take him to France as his first Grand Tour was a bold move for a team with Sky’s depth of talent and expertise. Who knew how he’d go over three weeks? And in a squad with two real contenders and in a year when team sizes were reduced by one, Sky could easily have been forgiven for playing a safer bet and holding him back for a first Grand Tour outing with lower stakes at the Vuelta.
But, two and a half weeks in, Bernal has more than lived up to what might have been hoped from him. He’s learnt the Team Sky way of gaining a stranglehold on the Tour and, at the same time, become the team’s most reliable domestique at the pointy end of the mountains. It might even be argued that his presence freed up race leader Geraint Thomas from that role.
Today, as the 65km blast of a mountain stage approached its climax at the top of the Col du Portet, there was a moment which showed just how easily he has taken to being a super-domestique to who, at that point, were the two top riders in the race. On the front, controlling the pace, Bernal casually sat up slightly, adjusted his radio and gave his nose a little clear. The remaining contenders behind him were locked in serious stares.
Faithful to the role assigned to him, Bernal made no mistake in hearing his instructions on the radio. The order must have been to wait for Chris Froome. The moment Tom Dumoulin attacked, he kept his pace, looked back and, completely unflustered, tuned into a rhythm that would do as much as possible to help limit Froome’s losses.
There were echoes of Froome leading Wiggins up the Peyragudes -a climb they went over earlier in the stage – in 2012. Little looks back at him; maybe hints of perplexion that this guy – his superior, a four times Tour winner – couldn’t go as quick as him. When the pair reached the top where the road flattened out just a few metres ahead of the line, Bernal’s contained potential meant he just couldn’t help opening up a couple of lengths.
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: