One of the main talking points of the stage that finished atop the Col du Tourmalet is that the defending Tour de France champion, Geraint Thomas, slipped off the back of an elite group in the final few kilometres.
At the time this happened, there was a New Zealander tapping tempo at the front.
Actually, George Bennett was doing the ride of his life, as a domestique for his Dutch team-mate who is now ranked third overall. There was a little dialogue between Kruijswijk and Bennett and it highlights how well the 29-year-old from Nelson is riding.
“He told me to slow down,” Bennett explained once back at the Jumbo-Visma team bus, “but I couldn’t hear him. They were yelling something on the radio but there so many people, so I took my radio out because it was just noise.”
So George pushed on. Geraint dropped out of the group. And, inside the final 500 metres, Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphilippe darted up the road with a huge roar from the crowd and applause from the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron.
By the end of racing on the third Saturday of the Tour, one thing is clear: the race for the yellow jersey is far from over. The scene is set for a compelling final week, one in which – it would seem – the French riders who finished first and second at the Tourmalet, hold the aces.
But Jumbo-Visma is the team that’s trying to spoil the French party; Kruijswijk seems like the most likely challenger after 14 stages.
“We were getting a bit excited,” said Bennett of the effort that helped Kruijswijk gain time on key rivals but the Kiwi also explained that he had a few hurdles to overcome before making that final effort.
“I was struggling a bit, I have to say,” he said, laughing while cooling down at the team bus. As he spoke, Kruijswijk idled up beside him, stepped on his bike (affixed to a trainer) and also started pedalling while talking to the media.
“Obviously the old side-stitch was killing me,” said Bennett about the issue with his stomach that he’s still trying to solve. “But also, I swallowed some smoke at the base of the climb.
“Someone lit a flare off right at the bottom and I just got a full lung full of smoke. I had a bit of an asthmatic reaction actually. It’s getting better now but at the top I was in a bit of trouble with that.
“So, that was a bit weird.”
No quest for personal glory
In a scene like that when the team leader is yelling out for the domestique to slow down, some may assume that a little bit of selfishness may take over, that the worker might dare to dream of going on the attack and chasing some personal glory. But this is cycling and guys like Bennett know that their finish line comes earlier than the leader.
They ride their hearts out and make the race as hard as they can, but only to a point. Once their job is done, as Bennett put it, they “pull the parachute” and get to the finish in survival mode.
Meanwhile, the leader does what he’s paid to do: race full gas to the finish and try to gain time on rivals.
I did, however, wonder if there was ever a moment when Bennett thought, ‘Oh, I might have a crack here as well?’
“Yeah,” he grinned, before admitting the reality: “But I also know that tomorrow is hard, so that’s when I went as easy as possible to the finish line. It’s just one of those sacrifices you have to make.
“I think, for the future, people know that that’s what’s happening.
“You do your job and then you just have to say to the people at home, ‘This is what we’ve got to do.’
“It’s hard in New Zealand because people don’t understand… they want [me] to get a result and they see I’ve lost a minute and they go, ‘Oh, why did you lose a minute?’ But… the directors know I have to go easy and save it for tomorrow.
“That’s just being a domestique, you know? I’m happy to do it here and then at the Vuelta I’ll be doing my own thing.”
And with that, I followed up with the obvious next question: so, you’ll be designated leader at the Vuelta, is that what you’re saying?
“No. We’ll have three of those: three designated leaders at the Vuelta, but I won’t be going back for bottles!”
He’s doing the work in France. But looking forward to a different role in Spain come September.