Last week, a group of intrepid rouleurs from Muswell Hill Peloton rode most of the gruelling stage up to Finhaut-Emosson dam. Their conclusion was unanimous, the final climb of 10.4 kms at 8.5% was a ripper.
Yesterday, alas, the honours belonged to Russian Ilnur Zakarin who won from a large group of breakaway riders. Alas…because in 2009 he received a two year ban for the use of anabolic steroids. Approaching the finish line, he barely had the strength to zip up his jersey in order to display the sponsor’s logo.
Some minutes behind in the main peloton, Team Sky, and especially Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Wout Poels, were setting a strong tempo in the service of yellow jersey wearer Christopher Froome.
Eventually, Valverde took over on the front, and The Wattmeister was forced to hide behind the cushions as he did a monster turn which decimated the fast moving group, ensuring that only the strongest dozen contestants remained in touch. It was an awesome show of strength but exposed the weakness of his team leader Nairo Quintana.
Of course, weakness is relative. Quintana has not been at his very best, but he still lies in fourth place.
However, the severity of this day’s effort was etched into the riders’ faces. No jubilation, just relief at having survived another tough day.