It’s always fun to see spring Classics riders shining at the Tour de France, well away from their natural habitat. It elicits a touch of disbelief and awe, a bit like seeing a celebrity at your local pub or a blizzard in June.
Today’s ninth stage to Brioude was a route for those big cats of Belgian racing to purr, with Tiesj Benoot and Oliver Naesen joining Jasper Stuyven at the head of affairs. Maybe these cobbled Classics next big things agreed to get up the road over a Leffe at their team hotel last night.
They all fell narrowly short. Just like last summer, when he and Julian Alaphilippe finished six seconds down on Omar Fraile on Mende, Stuyven lacked that little bit of extra punch to keep up with Benoot and Nicolas Roche when they accelerated on the decisive final climb, the Saint-Just – or to jump across later with the spring-heeled Daryl Impey. Nevertheless, he drove the chase behind in vain, his group of four pursuers getting to within 12 seconds at one point.
At this Tour, Stuyven – who we interviewed in 2016 over a game of pool – looks like he’s been mainlining his Italian sponsor’s coffees. The 27-year-old has regularly been up there in bunch sprints, finishing third into Epernay and even eighth on stage seven’s sleepy day.
So, on a stage with barely a metre of flat on which he outclimbed former Paris-Nice winner Marc Soler when it mattered most, this was a reminder of Stuyven’s class. He’s showing himself to be a versatile, luxury commodity: sprinter, Classics man, breakaway artist, domestique to Porte and Ciccone, plus a bit of a puncheur.
The only thing missing is the win, the story of Stuyven’s season so far. But in recognition of his work and his strong Tour, he’s today’s Top Banana.
Whether Tour stage glory is forthcoming or not, he’s the kind of hard worker whose riding garners respect among his peers too. On this evidence, he’s a firm bet for spring Classics glory in the next couple of years – where there will likely be more battles with Benoot and Naesen.
The Rouleur Top Banana goes to an unsung hero of each stage of the Tour de France – not the winner, not the yellow jersey – but a rider whose efforts deserve recognition
Rouleur Top Bananas 2019:
Stage 1 – Greg Van Avermaet
Stage 2 – Tony Martin
Stage 3 – Michael Matthews
Stage 4 – Max Richeze
Stage 5 – Toms Skuiņš
Stage 6 – Geraint Thomas
Stage 7 – Wout van Aert
Stage 8 – Thomas De Gendt
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