When the sub-plot is better than the actual plot.
5. Adam Hansen
He crashed in the first week and dislocated his shoulder, famously declaring that the next two weeks would involve some serious pain, but “I eat pain for breakfast” (although in France, everyone eats pain for breakfast).
The bullet-proof Aussie hasn’t been as visible as usual, but he was back in the game today, attacking from the break. For a while it seemed that it might succeed, but he was caught.
Never mind, it shows that he’s feeling better, and we might see another attempt in the final few days.
4. Super G’s twisty descent
Geraint Thomas is the beating heart of Team Sky. He crashed badly on the descent into Gap, when Warren Barguil overcooked a hairpin and used Super G as a snooker player might, cannoning him into the corner pocket… which would have sent blood pressure surging in the team Jag.
Fortunately the hardest cyclist in Britain rode calmly to the finish and seemed relatively unharmed, but those moments of panic are a salient reminder that crazy things can happen quickly in bike racing.
What if Barguil had hit Froome?
3. Sky train sputtering?
Is Sky struggling? Peter Kennaugh is out of the race after falling ill, Richie Porte was dropped early today (is he also ill or was it a tactical move to save energy?) and Thomas’ crash may have significant ramifications after the rest day, if he does pull up sore after slamming into a telegraph pole on his way down a ravine (and who wouldn’t?).
Wout Poels was with Thomas at the finish, but was yoyo-ing on and off the elite group and didn’t look like he’s ready to smash everyone up Alpe d’Huez. Leopold König hasn’t look great either, backing up after a hard Giro.
Maybe just a hint of a wobble, then? Can any of the other teams take advantage, though? Does it matter, if Froome stays strong?
2. Nibbles has a chomp
Vincenzo Nibali hasn’t had a good Tour, but he does seem better this week than last.
Today he attacked near the final summit, took 13 seconds over the top, and extended his lead with his famous descending skills to finish 28″ ahead of the Big Boys.
It wasn’t significant in the GC battle, seeing as he’s still 7’49” behind Froome, but perhaps he’s not ready to fade away from this race just yet.
He could salvage something with a stage win in the Alps.
1. The Sagan show
Man, this ‘Sagan comes 2nd again’ sub-plot is so unrealistic.
Sagan, it has to be said, is riding like a monster. Today he was immense, shutting down attacks on the Col de Manse and hammering down the technical descent into Gap, in furious fruitless pursuit of Ruben Plaza, the one attacker he hadn’t marked.
He is so desperate for a win, you can see it twisting him. That’s why this is so compelling: Sagan is so strong, so ridiculously strong, yet can seemingly contrive a close defeat from almost any situation.
Who else could be there every day? He’s in the breaks, piling on the points in the maillot vert, fending for himself. He can smash much lighter riders over Cat 2 and 3 climbs, yet can hang with the big boys in the bunch sprints.
He would murder nearly every rider in the world, tête-à-tête, but he loses to so many different types of rider it’s comical.
The whole saga is so compelling. His running total in this Tour is:
That means Sagan has been in the top five in 11 out of 16 stages (including the TTT).
He only missed out in the Pyrenees, on the Stage 1 ITT (still a respectable 19th) and on the Mur de Huy.
To pile on the misery, he was in the top five on nine stages in last year’s Tour, also without a win.
It’s an amazing consistency, and yet…