Stage 19, a time trial from Saint-Etienne to Lyon over 73km
10 min read
The Crash, The Bandit, The Pursuit
Leave Me Here In Montluçon, My Dear
Chapters 30 Seconds’ Sleep Time Trials – Not For Everyone Bienvenue au But Wondering About Walko Classement
Soundtrack Le Jour Le Plus Long – Annie Cordy
30 Seconds’ Sleep
Sauveur knew that his rider had barely slept. He didn’t need to look at his pallid, drawn face, or the bloodshot eyes. He’d been asleep half the night listening to Walkowiak tossing and turning, huffing and puffing. And he understood why his rider was worried.
They had tried to keep the news from him, but a loud-mouthed reporter had gatecrashed the team dinner and blubbed all about it. So what about that 30-second penalty, he shouted, how are you going to deal with that? What 30-second penalty? Asked Walkowiak to his teammates. Ah yes, they thought, that 30-second penalty. We were told not to mention it.
They played it down. They even laughed about it.
Ducazeaux knows that none of this is good. In fact, it’s very bad. His rider’s lead has been reduced by 30 seconds, and he needs every spare second he has if he is going to keep the yellow jersey at the end of this time trial.
“Roger, go back to sleep. It’s a time trial so you’ll be starting last of all. So I’ll come and wake you up at 10, you can do 50km to warm up and then all will be fine. You’ll see.”
And, miraculously, that’s just what Roger does. When Ducazeaux checks in at 8am, Walko is snoring, and even has a smile on his face. Indeed, when Ducazeaux checks in at 10am, he sees Walko fast asleep, turns on his heels and tip-toes back out of the room. Another hour of sleep, he thinks… it won’t hurt, will it?
The balance to consider is that Walkowiak needs more time in the saddle to warm up compared to other riders. But Tours are won on good sleep, as Ferdy Kübler always said.
So at midday, Roger Walkowiak finally wakes, eats, gets a massage from his soigneur, and rides 10km. It’s not enough. Roger knows it’s not enough, Ducazeaux knows it’s not enough, but it will have to do.
Time Trials – Not For Everyone
Time trialling is a strange affair, for both audience and riders alike. It suits some men, it doesn’t suit others. A rider like Roger Hassenforder, for instance, is not made for two hours on his own. Even on his greatest breakaways, he has someone alongside him just for the conversation, or just to have someone to beat at the finish line. A two-hour ride on his own could bore him into a stupor.
Today’s time trial is a 73km, up-and-down affair that starts in the Stade Geoffroy-Guitard, an ash velodrome that requires skill to navigate. There are some Breton boys who just want to do loops of the velodrome. Forget the time trial.
The riders start alongside the stop-clock, take a full tour of the velodrome, before exiting and finding themselves encouraged by crowds of people lining the streets of the Saint-Etienne suburbs. Quickly, those crowds dissipate as the rider passes a filling station, and a few curves later, he is out in the middle of nowhere. On his own, save the team car and, if he’s of any importance, a motorbike.
For the spectator, the time trial offers – on the one hand – the opportunity to see every rider up close, at approximately three-minute gaps. A full day’s entertainment, free of charge. On the other hand, the tension and the excitement is all playing out on paper. Time gaps are almost impossible to call when you’re stood on a hill eating your sandwich, but those with a radio will be able to follow the action more closely.
To all intents and purposes, the day’s action goes like this:
Note down the name written on the front of the car following him
Encourage the cyclist by name
Wait a couple of minutes
Another cyclist approaches
The better riders will come later, of course. So it would pay not to wear yourself out over the likes of Chaussabel, lanterne rouge, and first man past the first checkpoint, if you can call it a checkpoint.
Bienvenue au But
The But d’Arpin is perhaps the best place to be a spectator, if you can find a spot. There, you’ll find mobile ice cream salesmen moving through the picnickers, sausage stalls (we are approaching Lyon, after all), sandwich sellers. You’ll find the litter from the caravane publicitaire, which passed through over an hour before Chaussabel kicked things off. The irony is that the lanterne rouge received perhaps his biggest cheer of the entire Tour. Something of a highlight for Chaussabel, but even he acknowledged that the excessive amounts of vin de table being consumed may have played a role.
It was close to the But d’Arpin that Malléjac, whose Tour has mostly taken place in anonymity, overtook Nolten the Dutchman and received a roar of approval, and a few turned heads from the bored children who had seen a few cyclists already and were beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about.
There’s a Spaniard, shouts one eager father to his picnicking family. He’s not meant to be here now. Oi, Diego, he shouts, que pasa? He laughs. A funny joke.
But it’s not funny for Miguel Bover, who has overtaken two already. Miguel Bover has spent this Tour attempting to serve Federico Bahamontes, but has fallen out of the peloton more times than can be counted. But Miguel loves a time trial, and he has already overtaken Camille Huyghe, he of Nord-est-Centre fame as well as Kemp from the Luxembourg team. Bover is steaming up the But d’Arpin with all the regularity of a locomotive, legs like pistons, eyes boring into the far distance. Bover is on his way to overtake even more riders and post what is set to be one of the best times of the day.
By mid-afternoon, every rider is out on the road, and that includes the two men most likely to win this Tour: Bauvin and Walkowiak. But there are rumours going around that Jan Adriaansens, Sterke Jan, is flying. Someone has a radio, and is shouting out time gaps to the picnicking crowd, some of whom are showing an interest. And here he is, sooner than he should have been.
Sterke Jan also quite likes a time trial. Who knew? The radio puts him at just a few seconds behind Bover, who has already posted 1:46:57. Sylvère Maes, Belgian Team Director, is standing upright through the sunroof of the 203, hollering encouragement. “You’re just seconds behind, Jan. Stay strong, stay sterke. You can do it, boy, you can do it!”
Theassembled crowds know that beyond Adriaanssens, there are only a handful of riders to go, and that includes Walko.
Bauvin rides through with minimal effort, dancing on his pedals and stopwatches are set. Where is Walko? It’ll be three minutes at most, someone shouts. Any more and he’s losing time. It’s eerily silent on the hill as parents send their children down as scouts. Wave when you see him.
The three minutes is up already – that’s the gap between the riders when they set off. A noise at the bottom alerts those at the top that Walko is on his way. There’s a crescendo of sound and encouragement all the way up the climb, which is stiff and stiffer than it should be for our yellow jersey. Already, Walko is a full 30 seconds behind as he hits the climb of the But d’Arpin, and a full minute behind as he reaches the top. He’s losing time – some say he’s losing the yellow jersey.
He doesn’t look right, he doesn’t look easy. Is he really going to win the Tour like this? Allez Walko, Allez. You’ll make it. Allez.
And with Walko gone, the police follow. More team cars, beeping their horns. Some of the police wave at the children, which makes their day. Picnics are wrapped up in their blankets and dropped unceremoniously back into baskets. Children are relieved that their ordeal is over and, not so secretly, so are the wives. The men are wondering about Walko.
Wondering About Walko
They’re right to wonder. It’s a struggle, and Walko is fighting to maintain any kind of regularity in his pedalling. He’s shifting from one side of the road to the other, even as the But d’Arpin levels out. Ducazeaux is shouting from behind, stay focused, stay in line. Remember everything I told you.
It is doubtful Roger can hear.
In Lyon, Jan Adriaenssens has crossed the line just 1 second slower than the Spaniard Bover. He doesn’t care, because he has realised what this means. He’s closer to Bauvin, and even closer to Roger Walkowiak than he had hoped to be at the start of the day. The baker boy has hopes.
When Roger Walkowiak crosses the line, he is two minutes down on Gilbert Bauvin, and his GC lead is cut to a miserable 85 seconds.
1’25” is all he has with two stages left to ride.
As he slumps to the railings, he looks back on a bad day. The last few kilometres were the worst, he thinks. The worst he’s ridden over the last 3 weeks. A succession of potholes he should have missed, a flurry of bends he could have taken better, if he’d been focused enough. But even if he’d got it right, even if he’d done it perfectly, it was all too late. The time had been lost long ago, back on the But d’Arpin in front of all of those fans Walko wanted to impress. Cast aside your doubts, he wanted to say, Walko is here.
When the crowds of the But d’Arpin got home that evening, the mood in the Walkowiak camp had turned from disappointment into a strange form of resilience. It’s funny how a team’s morale can switch, perhaps with a few choice words from Ducazeaux, perhaps with a few barbed comments from rival teams. We’ve still got this, they say. We’ve still got the Tour in our hands. Two flat stages, one ceremonial… all Roger has to do is stay on his bike and hold off the attacks, and when he reaches the next finish town, he’ll have won the Tour.
Did anyone mention that the next finish town is Roger Walkowiak’s home town of Montluçon?