This is the day (July 14, Bastille Day; I am posting a day late) when all the Tour’s French riders want to win the stage. And often the peloton is in a mood to let them. It generally falls between the highest of the mountain climbs in the Alps and the Pyrenees, so there has been some degree of sorting out of true contenders vs. pretenders. Further, the remaining contenders are saving their strength for the next range of mountains coming up in just a few days. So if a break forms with no riders in it who threaten the overall lead, they are often allowed to stay away. And if that group contains a Frenchman–as it easily could, because a serious French contender for overall victory is so unlikely these days–the riders in the break often respect his national holiday and let him cross the line first.
Thus today’s breakaway worked as it should. Almost. The tour was coming down out of the high Alps, though there were some tough climbs today, as well as the notorious descent where Beloki ended his career in a fall and Lance cyclocrossed. A six-man break was formed about 35 km into the race, and by the big climb of the day it had a 10 or 11 minute lead. This was especially good viewing for me, because one of the riders was a member of the Radio Shack team, US sponsored and owned in part by Lance Armstrong, also a rider on the team. Sergio Paulinho has won few races, but was Portugal’s national time trial champ a couple of years ago and the road race silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics. So on a day when the peloton held back he got to try riding a sort of time trial with the breakaway group.
Alas for liberty, equality, and fraternity, 15 km before the finish the Frenchman in the break (Maxime Boute of the AG2R team) couldn’t hold the pace and was tailed off. A couple of km after that, Paulinho attacked and only Vasili Kiryienka, former ace track racer, could go with him. So the two of them rode cooperatively to increase their lead, taking turns shielding each other from the wind, right down to the red kite (last km marker). Speculation was that Kiryienka would win the sprint because of his track riding, which calls for quick accelerations. But Paulinho used his greater experience to win the race. Right after the red kite he pulled in behind his foe, forcing him to lead out. Not only did he benefit from the drafting, but Kiryienka could not see him to gain any visual clues about when he would begin his sprint. He, on the other hand, could monitor his foe. All Kiryienka would have to go on was the change of sound that the tires make when the trailing rider accelerates suddenly, and that’s tricky to respond to instantly. Paulinho held off excruciatingly long before charging ahead with 150 m to go. His rival was caught flat-footed and could not respond quickly enough to get ahead again. So Radio Shack has something to feel good about, and Sergio Paulinho has the biggest victory of his career. Many fine riders never win a stage of the Tour de France.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.