Low moments on high mountains: The Tour de France 2020, Stage 8

Not to make light of his plight, but “Thibaut Pinot looking forlorn in the company of team-mates (also looking forlorn)” really ought to be a meme by now. It certainly feels like it's become an annual tradition.

Actually, it’s not just Pinot. When it comes to the collapse of their riders’ Tour dreams Groupama-FDJ (and their previous incarnation, Groupama-less FDJ) seem to have a certain flair for the dramatic. Remember a few years back when Arnaud Démare was unable to make the time limit? So committed were three of his team-mates to staying by his side that they were prepared to cut their own Tours short.

Somewhat suspiciously, despite the television cameras being trained on Pinot for far more minutes than seemed justified, to the point where it began to border on the gratuitous and pornographic, no still shots could be sourced this evening. We’re not accusing anyone (his team, the race organisers, the French government, the illuminati) of orchestrating a cover-up, but we’re not not accusing them of that either.

No matter. Even if you weren’t watching you can picture the scene.

It was all a bit "string quartet on the Titanic", to be honest. It might be a bit “Oh captain, my captain,” as well, but none of us have seen Dead Poets Society for a while, so we can’t be sure. If only we knew our Walt Whitman from our Waldo Emerson…. Now we’re just name-dropping 19th century American poets.

While Pinot’s team may not have the legs, they certainly have the nose for PR. It was a shame, really, that one French rider having a bad day should suck in so much of the oxygen of attention. Especially when there were three others having particularly good ones.

The stage winner, Nans Peters was a revelation. In the break he contributed enough, but not too much. He made his move at the right time, then climbed steadily on the Col de Peyresourde, before descending from the mountain with the deftness we expect from an AG2R rider, but for which they rarely receive due credit.

In the favourites group his team-mate, Romain Bardet, looked comfortable all day. The Rouleur columnist (do we ever mention that?) even had enough left to pinch a couple of seconds and three GC places at the end. Both less significant, perhaps, than symbolic, in the scheme of things, but a liberated Bardet riding so lightly is a wonder, and something we haven’t seen for some time.

And then there’s Guillaume (or Gwilliam) Martin, the Cofidis rider currently sitting pretty in the final podium spot, just one ahead of Bardet. He again climbed with the best and - again - was unafraid to animate the race.

Their hero will not be Pinot, and it will not be Alaphilippe. We also have barely made it to the end of the first week. But this has the makings of a most memorable Tour for the home nation. Vive la France.


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