Today’s penultimate mountain stage posed a little problem for my team this morning.
With three huge mountains to come in the last 60 kilometers of the stage, we didn’t know if the day would be suitable for a group of breakaways, or if the contenders for the general classification would fight for the stage victory in the Hors Col du Portet.
While my teammate Mike Woods started the day just eight points off the top of the mountain standings, we didn’t want any of his polka dot rivals to slip out on the road and take points on the climbs. .
When a six-man group opened an eight-minute gap earlier, my starter nation of Israel began to help race leader Tadej Pogacar’s United Arab Emirates team control the pursuit. which was a bit of a balancing act for us. None of the breakaways were a threat in the mountain ranking, so we wanted them to stay ahead long enough to mop up any mountain points available on the first two peaks; the Col du Peyresourde and the Col du Val Louron-Azet. But we didn’t want them to take such a lead that they would win the stage and take the points on the last climb.
We knew their lead would start to diminish once we hit the climbs, so the plan was for Mike to try and compete in the stage. While Pogacar was always going to be the favorite at the finish at the top, if Mike could get a top five he would regain the lead in the mountains and take back the polka dot jersey. That was the plan, anyway.
Plans don’t always work. The boys did a great job protecting us all day but I didn’t feel too good from the start this morning, maybe the fatigue accumulated from my efforts on the Giro in May is finally starting to catch up with me.
The last climb today has really done me good in the past. We climbed it on a stage that I won in 2013 and finished second there in 2018. Today, however, was a different story. I put Mike in a decent position on the penultimate climb but after that I was gone and couldn’t really do.
Mike is still feeling the effects of a few previous falls and after another hard day of racing his legs gave up on him on the last climb today.
While Pogacar took the stage victory and maximum points at the top, Mike fell to third place in the competition, 12 points behind leader Wout Poels.
My first experience of watching the Tour in France was when I was on vacation with my parents. We were halfway up the Louron-Azet. From there, we could see the race going down the Peyresourde before going up towards us. With around 30km to go today, it was a bit strange to find myself in the exact same spot as a runner rather than a spectator, but it brought back fond memories as I went up .
On arrival at the top, we were given a whistle to go back down the descent to the team buses. Coming down a winding mountain amid amateur cyclists and pedestrian enthusiasts, some of whom are drunk or just not paying attention, is possibly the most dangerous part of the race. I have heard many stories of runners run over by fans on the way to the buses.
Today a fan skidded into a corner, blocked his wheels and flew over the side of the mountain a few yards in front of a teammate, who had to alert the police to what had happened so that they may help him.
The descent was so crowded it took us 20 minutes to get back to the bus and we still have two hours to drive to our next hotel.
There is still one mountain stage tomorrow, the last chance for Mike and I to leave our mark on this Tour. On paper, it’s a scene that suits me. It is also a little shorter than today. Hope I will feel better tomorrow morning.