Other riders came and rode alongside him, or rather tried to, but more often than not the teams turned alongside the Belgian as they competed to avoid trouble and maintain a view of the road. which allowed maximum security to their protected runners. The only constant in the ever-changing battle for position was Tim Declercq, who was still riding a guy from the side of the road. When he allowed, and I choose the word carefully, someone else to be in pole position, it would be a teammate like Kasper Asgreen, as fairly strong intruders were and both far away.
Drivers like Declercq are the unsung heroes of big teams who are rarely mentioned in the results, and yet they have the respect of everyone they drag mile after mile. Everything they do is won the hard way.
I used to hate days like stage 10, quite often it was in Bordeaux, flat all day, pulling big gear with tired legs from climbing mountains in the lead group. The tension would always increase more and more as the finish approached. I used to hurt more that day than on any other stage during the whole Tour.
The stage 10 route through Charente Maritime, from one holiday destination to another, was totally stressful. At any point, you could fall, get caught in a crosswind, or get caught behind someone else’s crash.
Sam Bennett completed a mega-work of Team Deceuninck, winning a strongman’s sprint made more difficult by a headwind that slowed things down once the peloton crossed the spectacular Ile de Ré bridge .
To give you an idea of the frantic pace leading up to the sprint, I timed from 20 km to 10 km. It took eleven minutes, including roundabouts and turns. The last 10 kilometers took another twelve, so the pace slowed down in a relative sense.
It was telling that the main protagonists of the GC had appointed guardians for this delicate stage. Of course Primoz Roglic had the whole Jumbo-Visma team at his disposal and in yellow he had a little more respect from the others. Even so, he would have found himself in the gutter every now and then. Like when Ineos attacked to advance the final selection to almost 20 km. They used Luke Rowe to start things off and then had runners, and especially Kwiatkowski, to deal with Egan Bernal while behind them there was widespread panic.
Eventually Jumbo and the few teams with the firepower to run at 65 km / h reorganized themselves, but the advantage that the former Polish world champion brings to Bernal cannot be underestimated. We have seen him ride up to speed in the Pyrenees and today he made sure his leader stayed safe until the 3km was passed.
However, the day really belonged to Tim Declercq. Surprisingly, he was still shooting in the last few miles, putting the guys in the lead who would guide Sam Bennett to victory in the perfect spot.
When the front group started the final phase, Declercq backed off, knowing his job was well done.
As he drifted through the group, he would have become visible again to climbers like Richie Porte and Romain Bardet. The little ones would have sworn all day. Both would have spent a stage nightmare fighting to stay at the GC on terrain that burned their legs and mental energy in equal measure. Secretly, they wished the guy who finished 43rd was part of their team.