And lo, the headlines were filled with puns, just as the road was filled with pointy things. It made for an altogether odd day as Mark Cavendish led the peloton up a climb, while Peter Sagan sprinted up a steep climb with a breakaway as the leaders all found themselves needing new wheels – and in some cases, new bikes. The upshot of it all was that what could have been a tough stage for Bradley Wiggins turned into another day when no-one except the breakaway gained any time on him and he became as the potential new patron of the Tour.
I was thinking last night that professional cycling is perhaps unique amongst sports in the amount of time rivals spend in each other’s company. There’s the hours on the road in the peloton each day, then everyone’s usually staying in the same place afterwards, possibly even the same hotel. While riders might not socialise with each other much outside of races, when they’re competing, they’re spending a lot of time together, and many of them will have spent years in the peloton together, even if they’ve never been on the same team. That sort of proximity, coupled with cycling’s long history, brings in a certain etiquette amongst competitors, notably yesterday that you don’t profit from someone else’s externally inflicted misfortune.
The status of patron is a nebulous one, but generally applies to a rider who carries a certain authority and inspires a certain amount of respect and fear amongst the peloton. Wiggins basically telling the peloton that they were going to neutralise the race while those affected by the tacks got back into the group was the action of a patron, laying down the law which just about everyone accepted. It’s a sign of the respect he’s gathered this year, and the respect that’s automatically given to the yellow jersey, that such requests are obeyed by the other riders. Except for Pierre Rolland, of course, though I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes if he suffers a problem in the last week.
And yes, we are into the last week and the chances to take the advantage back from Wiggins and Sky are slipping away, though the press are now trying to create drama by heating the embers of the supposed Wiggins/Froome internal feud. It probably stung more than anything attempted going uphill yesterday, anyway.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget that there was an interesting race at the front yesterday, and Luis Leon Sanchez found one way to beat Peter Sagan by starting the sprint a few kilometres before the line. It was very interesting to see Sagan’s relative ease on the climb yesterday – perhaps he finally worked out what the inner ring on his bike is for? – which suggests he could become a GC contender in years to come.
Interesting fact of the day: The only riders in the top ten to have taken time from Wiggins in a stage this year are Froome, Rolland and Pinot.
After entering the Pyrenees yesterday, the race heads out and comes back in again today. It looks like a flat stage, with only three categorised climbs, but there’s a lot of up and down before the run-in to Pau, and there’ll be a lot of teams without wins this year who’ll be wanting to get one. That could make for an interesting battle between whoever gets in the break and Orica-GreenEdge trying to pull them back to give Matt Goss another chance to come second in a sprint. Toss a coin – heads says the break stays away this time and someone gets his moment of glory, tails and it’s a sprint, with Greipel, Cavendish, Goss, Sagan et al battling to the line. My tip for the day is Cavendish – after his work yesterday, and with a rest day tomorrow, Sky will be doing more to help him and I think they’ll want to start rehearsing their sprint train for Paris next Sunday.