For a time, we believed in the beautiful story. Imagine the victory of Chris Froome, Thursday, July 14, at the top of Alpe d’Huez in the 12th stage of the Tour de France. The script was almost too perfect. The former unloved acclaimed winner on the climb, where he had been booed and sprayed with beer four years earlier.
But, since his fall on the sidelines of the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2019, the quadruple winner of the Tour is no longer the same cyclist and the gaze of the public is more tender. The relentless champion has given way to a courageous 37-year-old runner who clings to the promise of better days, well helped in this by the generous contract of his formation, Israel Protech.
“My relationship with Alpe d’Huez has not been the best over the years. I have often suffered in [his] shoelaces. So I would like to try to change that, if possible,” slipped the Briton before the start.
But, during this last alpine stage, if he had the heart, Christopher Froome did not have the engine to put an end to his 1,509 days without a win. Perhaps the main thing is elsewhere. He managed to invite himself to the podium of a Grand Tour for the first time since 2018 (3rd at 2 min 6 sec) and proved that he was right to postpone the time of retirement even further.
It was his compatriot Tom Pidcock who experienced the intoxication of crossing the white line first at the end of the twenty-one bends in Isère, black with people. Absent from the first group which broke away early in the stage, the Englishman from the INEOS Grenadiers caught up after a descent lesson in the Col du Galibier. Then, the reigning Olympic mountain bike champion released his last four breakaway comrades uphill, on the first ramps of the Alpe.
Was Tom Pidcock presuming his still-nascent climbing skills? “I thought it was ideal that he was up front, I had him in my sights. Two, we would have played too much poker and it would have come back from behind. But I never managed to get back on him, ”regrets Louis Meintjes, 2nd and beaten for 48 seconds.
Once at the top, Tom Pidcock burst into tears: “It was one of my best experiences. It’s just amazing… Getting my first Tour de France victory in Alpe d’Huez! At 22, the young man is still calibrating on the big laps after a first, average participation in the Vuelta in 2021.
On French roads, it seems more to its advantage. “He was fantastic, praised his teammate, the Welshman Geraint Thomas, who won at the same place in 2018. He has been very good since the start of this Tour and it is a great reward. »
“This Tour is not over. He will never give up.”
The day after Jonas Vingegaard took power at the Col du Granon (Hautes-Alpes), this second stage at high altitude was not “so difficult” as expected, summarizes – between two coughs – the Frenchman Pierre Rolland. “The breakaway left easily in the Lautaret [the first ascent], behind the Jumbo made the tempo, so it was fine”, develops the rider from B
In stifling heat – 36 degrees recorded at the foot of Alpe d’Huez – the candidates for the first places in the general classification waited for the final ascent (13.8 km at 8.1%) to launch the major maneuvers. The Jumbo-Visma of the Danish yellow jersey imposed its train, with the effect of plucking the peloton. Tadej Pogacar has tried twice to attack in the last kilometers, he will not be able to get Jonas Vingegaard off his wheels.
“After the day yesterday, I was not confident as I would have liked to be, analyzes the double defending champion. I expected [the riders from] Jumbo-Visma to control the race that way, because they have a very good team to do it. When I tried to attack, Jonas never counter-attacked, which I wish it would have allowed me to answer back. But he just followed me, and I wasn’t strong enough to let him go. »
Nothing to worry about Rafal Majka: “Tadej tried to attack today. He will try again. This Tour is not over. He will never give up, “promises the Polish lieutenant of the Slovenian in the mountains.
This Thursday, the French limited the breakage. Picked up on the final climb, David Gaudu, 13th of the day, retains his 7th place overall. Victim of a “heat stroke in Alpe d’Huez”, Romain Bardet, he gave up his place on the provisional podium (4th), but was only nine seconds behind Geraint Thomas (3rd).
“I had to drag a bit to get to my destination. It was a question of management, I preferred to take my rhythm. It’s the Tour de France too: on days when you’re less well, you have to know how to keep your back round, “says the Auvergnat. “Everyone suffered from the heat. In the next few days, we will really have to be careful to hydrate well, there is a risk of failures, ”abounds Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ, 14th).
The peloton leaves the Alps on Friday, but not the hot weather, with the program for this 13th stage: 193 uneven kilometers between Bourg-d’Oisans (Isère) and Saint-Etienne (Loire).