On the Saturday evening after watching Stage 8, I returned to the house to find the appero being served and the barbecue being readied for cotes de boeuf, saucisses and pork chops. Drink was taken and I hatched a last-minute plan to watch the TTT with the one true cycling fan amongst the group.
We set off at 10am from our location in central Brittany to drive the hour towards the TTT course. I felt it was a bit early and wasn’t relishing nursing my groggy head for several hours at the roadside before the race came past. My companion was right to leave so early though, as we got through a few back roads and pretty close to the course at just the right moment before the verges became clogged with parked cars. We’re on the penultimate climb, about 5km from the finish line, and have a good view down the drag of the teams heading our way.
It’s already jam packed with fans and we see several teams doing an easy recce, as well as Oleg Tinkoff riding the stage – nobody seemed to recognise the Tinkoff-Saxo team owner, despite Contador being hugely popular in France.
The madness of the publicity caravan whizzes through, and there are some ugly scenes. It’s another cliche that can ring true – grown adults debase themselves for a commercial freebie, but that’s for another blog post.
Several riders in white and red, publicising Mecenat Chirurgie Cardiaque – a heart surgery charity. There are several Tour luminaries including Roger Legeay, former DS of Gan / Credit Agricole, Jean-Francois Pescheux, former race director, Bernard Hinault and Bernard Thevenet.
To the racing, and the teams come through in descending order of the highest-placed rider on GC. Orica are just surviving, as I overheard Matt White explaining to a journalist the previous day. They had come to win the TTT, and since it’s now impossible, with 3 riders retired and 1 rolling wounded, they will be taking it easy.
My friend and I try to start a stopwatch – I’m no timekeeper, so I focus on the photos and note-taking, while he aims to clock which teams are ‘up’ or ‘down’.
Bretagne-Seche Environnement are next to the sound of a massive cheer. The Breton flags are out in force for the local team. Brice Feillu is dropped along with 2 other riders.
Next up are Lampre, fastest so far, followed by FDJ, Europcar, who look to be hurting, with several riders gritting their teeth, Bora-Argon 18 and Lotto Soudal. Jens Debusschere is dropped and is fighting his way up the gradient.
IAM Cycling are next and are the fastest so far, looking good with all 9 riders still together. They are bolstered by a big cheer for the ever-popular French veteran Sylvain Chavanel. It’s a good result for them at the end of the day, 6th fastest.
IAM are up, and there’s a palpable lull before MTN-Qhubeka come through. Many people’s story of the first week, the Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot is visible in the polka-dot jersey – mercifully it hasn’t gone ‘full clown’ and has red shorts. Although they are working hard they are third slowest on the day.
Lotto-NL Jumbo and Trek are next, followed by Astana, who we reckon are about 10 seconds faster than IAM. They’ve used up 2 of their team, with Gusev and Taaramae pushing on a couple of minutes behind.
The 7 Cannondale-Garmin riders look tight but the time check doesn’t suggest they’ll be troubling the podium, meanwhile the noticable gap to Cofidis is no surprise when we see their slightly ragged formation. Katusha are down to 5, which cannot bode well.
Next up are Movistar who are one of the favourites for this stage and we clock them as fastest so far. They appear all over the place though, with two riders dangling off the back, both wagging their fingers forwards at their teammates. I take this to mean ‘push on ahead, we’re cooked’, but I read afterwards that they seemed to lose the stage on this stretch of road. They finish 3rd.
The Breton flags are out again for Giant-Alpecin’s Warren Barguil, sporting the white jersey of second-best young rider (behind Sagan who wears the green). After that, another big roar for AG2R, the name of ‘Alexis’, the previous day’s stage winner, on the fans’ tongues. The TV helicopter above signifies that we are at the business end of proceedings.
Etixx are going all out for Rigoberto Uran, and we think they are about as fast as Astana, and soon after them, Tinkoff-Saxo, fastest so far, are obscured by the expectant crowd and I miss the shot of the head of their pace line.
The hotly tipped BMC are in tight formation and are faster still, living up to the pre-race hype.
Last up are Sky, with Froome in yellow skinsuit second in line. We have them at 1 second faster than BMC at this point.
As soon as Sky are past, we head back down towards the car, stopping by a large tented area that some group of fans have set up with TV and PA system. People crowd round the screen waiting to see the result, with one of the group passing a cap around demanding payment, only half joking. Sky lose the stage to BMC by 1 second, seemingly on the final gradient as Froome pushes a touch to hard and gaps his teammate Nicolas Roche. But Froome remains in yellow and it’s on to the high mountains after a rest day.