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Operation Lose The Yellow Jersey
Stage 10, Bordeaux to Bayonne, undulating but mostly flat ahead of the Pyrenees stages
7 min read
Enter (and exit) Pierette Walkowiak Previous So, Charly Gaul, do you have it? Next

Chapters
Hard Men In The Rain
Bienvenue chez les Darrigade
No Fairytale in Bayonne
Classement

Soundtrack
L’Orage, Georges Brassens

Bordeaux to Bayonne

Hard Men In The Rain

201km to cover, and the weather has turned. Bordeaux is wet, and every rider bar one is wearing their transparent rain jackets. That rider is the Breton tricolore Francois Mahé. The man from Morbihan isn’t even wearing a cap, because – obviously – they make them tough in Brittany. Mahé, as if to prove the point, is the first to make the attempt to break away from the peloton, a peloton in which Roger Walkowiak is studiously integrating himself alongside the men he fears most in the mountains, Ockers and Brankart.

Gaul, naturally, tags along at the back. Charly Gaul has now lost nearly an hour on the front men. Is there really any point in him continuing?

Today is the last flat stage before the mountains. Tomorrow is one of the most feared stages of the Tour, Bayonne to Pau, followed the next day by Pau-Luchon. Those mountains are visible in the distance, as if to remind the sprinters that they have one more day to themselves before they have to focus on getting back before the cut-off time. Every day.

Up front, 9 men have made the first move, and they include André Darrigade and Fred Debruyne, the two men most likely to make the sprint finish, if indeed it comes to that. Those 9 men are quickly joined by others who find the pace of the peloton a little pedestrian, and the press favourite Nello Laurédi has found himself carried along with Dutch fan favourite Gerrit Voorting and Belgian rouleur Jan Adriaenssens.

And for a moment, as the rain stops and the sun pokes out from between the clouds, the breakaway of what is eventually 19 men starts to slow, while the peloton behind appears to be catching. This is perhaps all going too quickly for Roger Walkowiak whose mission today is to end up wearing the rather fetching violet jersey of the Nord-Est-Centre team while someone else carries the burden of yellow for a week or so. Don’t lose too much time, stay with the climbers.

Ah yes, but which ones, you might wonder? Brankart and Ockers, perhaps. Gaul? No, he’s not even bothered this year. Deledda reminds him to keep an eye on the blackboards and he’s employed Huyghes and Scodeller to relay between the group and the team cars. They’re putting the new radios to use, and Sauveur Ducazeaux is having it explained to him regularly by younger people. Press this button to speak, Sauveur. No, this button. And then speak. Oh, I’ll do it…

And almost by coincidence, the peloton slows to a crawl. This infuriates the Ouest rider Louis Caput who berates his colleagues for not putting in the effort but he is met by shrugs and a general non-committal grunt from members of other teams who simply don’t fancy chasing down their colleagues in the breakaway with any vim or vigour.

Bienvenue chez les Darrigade

At the front, the leaders are venturing further south and deeper into the Landes, home of André Darrigade. A foray into Dax, his home town, would usually be the opportunity to stop, hug friends and family, pose for a photograph with some local dignitary, maybe even have a drink, but not today. André Darrigade still scents yellow, as well he might, but he does ask his breakaway colleagues if he can lead them through Dax and at a few kilometres per hour less than usual, to which they give their assent, and the blond routier-sprinter takes them into his home town.

An enormous banner is visible to all, and perhaps even to all from the next town. It proclaims:

“Bravo! Darrigade”, and just below that, denoting the hierarchy of affections for local Daxois riders, a simple “Allez Dolhats!” in a somewhat smaller choice of letters, perhaps a little hurried. An afterthought. But a nice one nonetheless for the other rider from Dax, Albert Dolhats, who simply isn’t quite as good as the other one. The good one. The fast one.

As the journalists wind through behind the breakaway, they take a minute to admire the crowds, the noise, the fervour. They’ve come out for Darrigade here. There’s a band. Music playing. Fans hanging from windows, on rooftops. It’s a shame he couldn’t have been in yellow, murmurs Chassaignon. That would have made it truly special.

Bénac has his mouth around a local sausage, given free of charge by a roadside vendor, but he mutters his agreement, scattering baguette crumbs as he does so.

Two cars next year, thinks Chassaignon. That’s all I ask.

The yellow jersey gets a rapturous reception when he does pass through, roughly 15 minutes later, although not many could admit to being able to pronounce his name or in some cases, even knowing who he is. It’s the yellow jersey. That’s all, and he won’t be wearing it for long.

The real riders will take over soon.

No Fairytale in Bayonne

Bayonne arrives along with another storm, and the local boy enters the velodrome in 6th position. Debruyne has manoeuvred himself brilliantly with his teammates in support, and who does Darrigade have? Forestier, Bauvin and Mahé, all behind him and none of them particularly supportive.

So as Darrigade lashes furiously at the pedals, Debruyne is given the perfect flying sprint to the finish, and he takes another stage with absolute ease, while a general groan falls upon the velodrome as they learn that André Darrigade has not won the stage, and most likely will not end up in yellow this evening.

No fairytale in Bayonne.

As it happens, it’s Geerit Voorting who appears to be in yellow, with Nello Laurédi not far behind. These two have been hanging around the top positions for the last week without having come to prominence, but the Dutchman in yellow and the Franco-Italian in 3rd would now look towards the mountains where they are expected to ride well, while Darrigade in 2nd would have to convince everyone that he’s not just a sprinter-routier, he’s an all-rounder.

And Walkowiak? He finishes the day 9 minutes back behind Voorting. And he knows that the consensus will be that he has gone back to where he belongs. He was never going to carry the yellow jersey into the Pyrenees, he was never good enough, leave it to the big boys now, Roger Walkowhatsyourname.

Adolphe Deledda understands what’s going through his team leader’s mind as he watches Geerit Voorting pull on the prized jersey.

“You’re worried about what everyone else thinks, aren’t you?” he asks him, rhetorically.

“You make me laugh. It’s not losing that jersey that worries you, but it’s what your wife thinks, what your mother thinks, what your father and your friends think. You’re afraid they think you’re cooked. That’s your pride talking. Think about it Roger, think about what you’ve just done – it’s the perfect result for you. Now, instead of being the hunted, you’re the hunter. You’re in precisely the right place.

And if they think you’re no good, forget them. The Tour is like a war – you can’t always be on the front line. From time to time, you have to rest. Let Voorting and the rest take the blows for us. We’ll mark them and Sauveur will work it out.” 

Adolphe Deledda

Classement

Stage results

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General Classification

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caput Darrigade de bruyne deledda ducazeaux mahe walkowiak


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