The breakaway started to break up with 60 kilometers still left to go on Stage 9 of the Tour de France. The group of 16 riders was over 10 minutes ahead of the main bunch, which tooled along at a holiday pace on the French national day. The top-placed rider among the break was Nicolas Roche, who started the day over 23 minutes behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe, so there was no one there to threaten the overall classification. Beside which, the stage lacked the kind of decisive mountainous terrain where an overall contender could distinguish himself.
Little question, then, that the breakaway would stay away, and the stage would be won by someone from among their ranks. But who was really there to work, who was just hanging on for the ride, and how did they all stack up?
Up next was Lukas Pöstlberger, who attacked with around 40 kilometers to go, descending off the back of the penultimate climb and opening a gap of 10 seconds, then 20, then 30 as he hit the flats. But as he reached the slopes of the ultimate climb – the third-category Côte de Saint-Just – a splinter group from the breakaway caught up with him, and he imploded from his efforts.
On the final climb, it was Roche and Benoot, with Tranik bobbing off the back. Now here was an interesting formula. Benoot has a steady diesel engine. Roche is probably faster, but maybe lacks stamina. Each man might have liked his odds against the other.
But the odds would flip for Benoot in the next kilometers, the moment Roche faded and was replaced by South African national champion Daryl Impey. What must Benoot have been thinking when he looked over to see that this would be his companion for the final kilometers?
Cycling is a sport of comparison, combination, chemistry. All professional cyclists are strong, all are fast, all can ride for long distances, all can get over mountains. But victory and success come down to relative strengths and weaknesses. Sprinters win stages because their training and body types allow them to ride just that little bit faster on flat roads. Climbers win on top of mountains because they can go harder uphill than the sprinters. And riders like Benoot win stages because their strength and mental fortitude allow them to wear down and outlast riders who lack those particiular qualities.
The problem for Benoot, though, was that not only does Impey also possess those qualities, but he also possesses the high-speed kick of a sprinter. Not enough to beat the best sprinters, but certainly enough to beat a rider like Benoot. So for Benoot, the race was all but over with five kilometers to go, with Impey on his wheel and Roche almost 20 seconds behind. It was just the wrong combination.
In the final kilometer to the line, it was clear he understood that. He stayed tucked behind Impey for as long as he could, knowing his only chance was to save a bit of energy and try to surrpise the South African at the right moment.
He didn’t. Benoot came out of Impey’s slipstream with about 200 meters to go, but it was a paltry effort, of only a few seconds. Impey followed calmly and then, at the right moment, came around easily. Benoot was only a few meters behind but it might as well have been a mile. Obviously defeated, he hung his head and simply coasted to the line.
The scattered bits of the breakway would filter in over the next 14 minutes, followed by the peloton, who had all but taken the day off. Romain Bardet had launched a brief attack on the final climb – the stage finished in his hometown – and he was followed by Richie Porte and George Bennett, but they were quickly run down by Team Ineos, who were obviously unmoved by Bardet’s hometown pride.
One more stage before the first rest day. Stage 10 covers 218 kilometers and four minor categorized climbs from Saint-Flour to Albi, in the south of France. It’s another good day for a breakaway. But who will discover the winning formula tomorrow?
|7||Marc Soler Gimenez||+00:00:21|
|8||Ivan Garcia Cortina||+00:01:50|
|6||Egan Arley Bernal Gomez||+00:01:16|
|8||Rigoberto Uran Uran||+00:01:38|