Anthony Turgis masters the chaos

The TotalEnergies rider takes his biggest ever win, and his team’s first at the race in seven years

Sometimes, all you have to do to win a bike race is to be the guy who doesn’t lose the bike race.

Anthony Turgis could not possibly have planned how to win the ninth stage of the 2024 Tour de France, the first ‘gravel’ stage of the race since the early years of the 20th century, when, as gravel fans like to point out, the whole Tour was on unmade roads. This chaotic, helter-skelter day, in which the hazy dust kicked up by the race shrouded the riders in a visual metaphor for the lack of clarity in its narrative and the constantly shifting sands of the race, was beyond planning, marginal gains, sports science, process, or any of the other tools with which modern cycling teams have succeeded in controlling the sport. If you squinted at the various groups fighting their way along the gravelly roads east of Troyes, you might have perceived the vague shape of the race, but along would come another cloud of dust to obscure everything again. Each time the race left a gravel sector, it seemed like something different was happening.

Turgis was outnumbered in the group which went clear after about 40 kilometres raced. Then again, so was everybody else, except for Movistar, who’d put three riders in the initial dozen to escape. However, that made things simple – the group had little choice except to put their heads down and co-operate, especially as the aggression of the yellow jersey group meant their lead peaked at two minutes and was mostly a lot less than that. The break was even caught briefly, when Tadej Pogačar, Remco Evenepoel and Jonas Vingegaard bridged up with 75km to go. Pogačar and Evenepoel didn’t have time to acquaint themselves with their new companions, because they were too busy trying and failing to persuade Vingegaard to work with them, with the peloton slowly closing. During this time, a small group went off the front, Turgis found himself chasing with the rest, and the top three on GC drifted slowly back to the bunch. 

It took Turgis and company 17 kilometres to put themselves back at the front of the race, though it wasn’t long before another threat loomed – that of a group containing Mathieu van der Poel and Biniam Girmay detaching themselves from the yellow jersey group and halving the gap between themselves and the front group. All these circumstances – the GC contenders knocking off their effort, and the world champion and green jersey launching a chase – were good for cohesion in the front group. They were so busy defending their lead on multiple fronts that they had no time to turn on each other. 

That is, until Jasper Stuyven attacked with 11.5 kilometres to go. But again, Turgis and his fellow escapees collaborated to chase him down, even though it took until the flamme rouge to finally close the gap. Even then, there were separate attacks by Ben Healy, Alexey Lutsenko and finally Derek Gee through the final kilometre, and if Turgis was active in doing anything to engineer his win, it was by patiently letting others do the chasing. Alex Aranburu chased Healy, with Turgis in third wheel. When Lutsenko went, Aranburu chased him again. And it was only Gee’s sprint, with less than 200m to go, that Turgis chased. Turgis is a better sprinter than Gee, so it was the perfect launchpad for the Frenchman. (Tom Pidcock looked to be moving faster in the finishing straight than Turgis, but his timing was not as good.)

Turgis’s stage win was his TotalEnergies team’s first since Lilian Calmejane won stage eight of the 2017 Tour, and was his first WorldTour win. His career has been a story of consistency and strong results in big races, especially the Classics, but until today the really prestigious wins have eluded him. He was second in Milano-Sanremo in 2022, fourth in the 2020 Tour of Flanders and has also podiumed in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the French national road race championships. His biggest win before today was a stage of the 2016 Tour of Luxembourg.

“When I saw the group, I thought we could go a long way on the stage,” said Turgis. “I anticipated Jasper would have a big attack. I was going to try to follow but not do too much. In the back of my head, I was thinking, don’t do too much, and stay calm. If it comes back together, I could win the sprint.”

He told French journalists, “I’m versatile, perhaps too much so. In my case it’s tricky to know which stage to try to win. Today I found myself away with quite a few good climbers, and I really knew it, because I had to hang in on every climb. But I knew that the finish was perfect for me, and I only had to get to the finish because I was the fastest in the sprint. I didn’t want the Van der Poel group to bridge up to us, and I was also worried about Pidcock overtaking me. I started my sprint too early, and I really had to throw my bike over the line. It was only when the cameras all gathered around me that I knew I’d won.”

It's usually more straightforward for specialists to win bike races than all-rounders like Turgis. The all-rounders tend to get out-climbed by climbers in hilly races, outsprinted by sprinters in flat races, and outgunned by the rouleurs in time trials. But at the same time, Turgis is more of a thoroughbred than the classic French baroudeur type, and it seems that a big win has been a long time coming. For him, the wait is finally over.

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