Soundtrack Le Diner de Cons, Vladimir Cosma & Philippe Catherine
The Alps? Today?
The Belgians needed the rest day perhaps more than anyone else. It is spoken in the corridors of the team hotels that fish was most definitely not on the menu that night, and indeed the Belgians got a ‘bad batch’. Shaken by their performance the previous day, someone appeared to have called in supplies, and Jan Adriaenssens took it badly.
Looking at Fred De Bruyne on the start line at Aix-en-Provence, you may have thought that the ‘bad fish’ was causing a hangover of sorts. The Classics man is furiously tinkering with his bike after discovering that today is an Alpine stage and not a flat stage as he had thought.
Most riders will spend the evening reading the Tour roadbook, an essential guide to each stage detailing every twist and turn. Back in the day, Eugène Christophe, he of broken forks fame, used to note down every day’s itinerary as it was written in L’Auto so that he wouldn’t get caught out. But never did The Old Gaul discover on the start line that he was unexpectedly heading out into the mountains. Schoolboy error.
New wheels are called for, as De Bruyne fiddles with his saddle height for what is now, it seems, a tougher day than he bargained for.
9km outside of Aix-en-Provence, the now customary breakaway makes its break. As is now routine in this most erratic of Tours, the breakaway appears to make no tactical sense. Dotto and Lerda, two teammates of Nello Laurédi, have found themselves caught up in the action and have steamed off ahead with a group of others, much to the confusion of team leader Laurédi, whose yellow jersey ambitions had been growing by the day.
Laurédi pulls up alongside the team car and demands to know what his teammates are doing. He is met with shrugs and a general “just let it play itself out”, but Laurédi has been around long enough to know the risks of letting two teammates get so far ahead. One would be plenty.
With them are Van Genechten, one Belgian who appears to have read the racebook ahead of the day’s racing, as well as Forestier, Baffi, Nolten, Barbosa and Audaire. A high-quality breakaway yet one that poses absolutely no threat to the yellow jersey or any of its pretenders, a list that we can start to whittle down as we reach the Alps.
These are the men most likely:
Nello Laurédi – unusually circumspect, but consistent
Gilbert Bauvin – has the weight of the French team behind him
Wout Wagtmans – current yellow jersey holder, and he can climb
Federico Bahamontes – if he can claw back some time in the Alps, he is the world’s best climber after all
Roger Walkowiak – ever-present, although he would have to do it all alone
Gerrit Voorting – former yellow jersey, and known for his climbing ability
Jan Adriaenssens – Solid Jan had the ‘bad fish’ episode, but showed in the Pyrenees that he could match the climbers
The contenders all find themselves together in a pleasing entente. The time will come to attack, but today is all about getting to the Izoard in one piece. Time, then, to enjoy the lavender-coated foothills of the Alps, the gorges and the rocky precipices, the streaming rivers and the Marquis de Sade’s house, somewhere up in that barren hill over there. Would any of the riders have known that?
Unlikely, but old Gaston Bénac has marked his racebook down with that one.
The riders have passed through the Lubéron with its perched villages, lavender valleys and its Mistral, and are entering the foothills of the Alps.
Bahamontes Breaks Free
Those Alps, then. They’ve been rising into view all day. What started as bumps on the horizon has quickly transformed into rocky walls and the first ascents of the day.
We start with the Col du Pointu, which, as it turns out, is not very pointu, and the Col du Croix de l’Homme Mort, as it turns out, doesn’t have any dead men on it. Nor any crosses.
That said, Nello Laurédi is beginning to wonder whether he is the homme mort in question. He was powerless to respond to a break out of the peloton from number four in our list, Bahamontes, drafted in the slipstream of two of his colleagues, Lampre and Lorono. Whether Laurédi should have been alert to the break or not is hardly the question. Whether his teammates should have been around him to bring the break to heel or not – well, that’s a question we can’t ask of them, as two were in the breakaway.
Idiots, thinks Laurédi.
By the time the original break had reached the Col du Croix de l’Homme Mort, Bahamontes was alongside them.
Dotto and Lerda looked at each other, each one realising what they had done.
“Shit. He’s a player.”
What Bahamontes and his two compadres had done was nothing short of miraculous. He had bridged a gap of 8 minutes between peloton and breakaway, roughly in the space of 15km. As the group takes the descent of the second climb of the day, Bahamontes welcomes the opportunity to freewheel and take as much of a ride home as he possibly can. If he can keep his 8-minute gap over Laurédi and the others aiming for yellow, Bahamontes will climb the general classification significantly.
However, it’s Jean Forestier who is causing journalistic pens to scribble furiously. First over the not very pointy Pointu, Forestier took all of the mountain points of the Homme Mort as well, before taking on the col de la Sentinelle and taking all three available points there, too. Not that Forestier is any challenger to Valentin Huot, King of the Pyrenees at the very least, on 26 points – Forestier started the day on 3, and would end it on 12 points, but he would end the day very much with his reputation bolstered.
This is Forestier’s third Tour, and his third as a tricolore. Whereas most riders would start their careers working their way up through regional teams, Forestier earned selection for the French national team in just his third year as a pro, supporting Louison Bobet’s second Tour win in ’54. The young tricolore had underlined that early promise by winning Paris-Roubaix in ’55 and earlier this year, winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen ahead of Ockers and Van Steenbergen.
Today, Forestier is making a name for himself. This boy is one for the future.
Forestier’s immediate future is the descent into Gap, one taken at a furious pace as his breakaway companions Baffi and Barbosa appear the most likely to challenge for the sprint which will take place at the bottom of the Sentinelle.
As per the order of the day so far, it is indeed Forestier who wins the sprint – not that Baffi and Barbosa are much of a match for him, but it’s Bahamontes who keeps the keenest eye on the time. The boards have been consistently giving him an 8-minute lead over the peloton, and as Forestier washes, combs à la Koblet and takes his first interviews, Bahamontes is in deliberation with his breakaway colleagues about just how much he has eaten into the GC leaders’ advantage.
Dotto and Lerda are equally not so keen to see the arrival of the peloton, and the inevitable castigation they would receive from Laurédi. They know they’ve exposed their teammate today. They’ve given Bahamontes a target and have left Laurédi vulnerable.
With the Izoard on the menu for tomorrow, Dotto and Lerda have just made it harder for everyone.