Sunday was a brilliant opportunity lost for those vying for the top step of the Paris podium, laments Anthony Tan from Foix.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

"We've really tried to seek out new, challenging routes," Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France organiser, said of today's first Pyrenean stage from Limoux to Foix.

"Ones that are likely to tempt attacks. The gradient becomes so steep that, at one time or another, attacks will come and the big favourites will be involved."

Indeed, with the summit placement of the hardest climb 38.5 kilometres from the finish, the Ardennes Classics-sounding Mur de Péguère, at 9.3 kilometres long and boasting vertiginous sections of up to 18 per cent, appeared to cry out for an offensive from Vincenzo Nibali, Cadel Evans or Jurgen Van Den Broeck.

Because sometime before the penultimate stage next Saturday, in the time trial from Bonneval to Chartres, the aforementioned trio need to find a minimum four minutes if they're to challenge Bradley Wiggins (or, should he falter, his teammate Christopher Froome) for the top step of the Paris podium.

Behind the eight-man escape that amassed a stage-winning 15-minute-plus lead, though, we got nothing.


In their infinite inanity, some boneheaded buffoon, or bunch of buffoons, decided it was a good idea to scatter tacks on the Mur de Péguère. Punctures from a reported 30 riders became the consequence, requiring three wheel changes in 10 kilometres for the defending Tour champ and a change of bike for the maillot jaune.

At the behest of Wiggins an entente cordiale ensued so that Evans could latch back on, resulting in the leader board remaining unchanged for at least two more days. "No one wants to see something like that have an impact on the race. As a group the thing to do was to wait, the stage win was over. The climb was over. There was nothing left to contest, really," Wiggins said.

"If you can't gain times on the climbs, then you don't do it when someone's punctured – not even when it's an ordinary puncture. The climb was so narrow that the team cars were a long way back and waiting seemed the honourable thing to do."

However as far as I'm concerned, the Péguère climb itself was a missed opportunity for Nibali, Evans and VDB.

Only yesterday, following the stage to Cap d'Agde, BMC Racing Team president Jim Ochowicz said Evans had at least five stages to recoup the 3 minutes 19 seconds he trails Wiggins by. "We have to keep testing, otherwise we lose," he said.

"If we don't try sometimes, even through sometimes it might just not be the exact, perfect moment," reasoned Ochowicz, "you never know what can happen in these races. You just keep staying on the front, we keep making the race happen the way we want it to happen and we have to follow as well when other people have moments of glory."

As things turned out on the Mur de Péguère, Evans, Nibali or Van Den Broeck didn't even feign an attack.

Either the pace set by Team Sky's Froome and Richie Porte meant they weren't able to; or the accumulated toll of the past fortnight had caught up with them. Or maybe they're all saving themselves for Stage 16 to Bagnères-de-Luchon and/or the final mountaintop finish this Thursday to Peyragudes.

Whatever the case, a sucker punch to Wiggo's mid-section went begging.

The opportunity lost was augmented by the fact that Monday's stage is destined to end in a sprint before the second and final rest day in Pau. Meaning that had any (or all) of the trio behind Wiggins and Froome on GC launched an assault, essentially, they would have two days to recover from their efforts.

The five stages Ochowicz spoke of as opportunities to regain time has narrowed to four. Realistically, however, there remains just two chances left – Stages 16 and 17.

Two chances to recoup a minimum four minutes.

In my estimation, the only possibility of such an unlikely fall from grace is that one of this non-Sky trio launch a long-range attack and that Froome, ostensibly to mark the move, goes with them, leaving Wiggins isolated.



"If I have the feeling that we are losing the race, I will follow the best, whether that is Evans or Nibali," Froome said in an interview in Sunday's edition of L'Equipe, justifying his actions as one "to keep our chances intact".



Perhaps such a scenario is not so unlikely, after all.