The squad crosses the Chartreuse, an imposing massif and a valley between Grenoble and Chambéry, on whose roads Bruno of Cologne discovered silence, his Carthusian followers, the formula of a liqueur; Charly Gaul, the rain and Hinault, the heroism. The Roglic leader remains silent, although his face is strangely relaxed, and he even smiles, silent. It’s a holiday. The Jumbo have celebrated the birthday of their great Van Aert, 26, having breakfast with champagne, as Anquetil liked, and then they have loaned the ball to the kids and let them go on a quiet excursion. They go 23 to enjoy it. The day is beautiful. The ideal temperature.
Kämna wins the stage and Carapaz crosses himself dejected as he crosses the finish line, beaten. Superman sprints 200 meters, lives in the shadow of the mountain of the three pucelas, and does not win a second.
The kids go on the run in pairs, in trios, huddle together, help each other on the Col de Porte that goes down to Grenoble, where they are all friends. There are the mountain regulars, Kämna, that German that Dani Martínez mocked in the Puy Mary, there is Alaphilippe, of course, and Nicolas Roche, on the roads where his father, Stephen, fought with Perico, who in Villard de Lans won twice, the king of the place. And there are new to the experience, the debutant Carapaz above all, freed from domestic work due to the resignation of his boss, Egan Bernal.
Egan is not on the run.
Nor is he, in the final kilometers, in the main squad, which already looks like a mariachi, some artists and their choir that does not sing their praises but curses them under their breath, and that could be called the mechanical banana and its arrueda, the Jumbo and the ten champions who only aspire not to separate from the wheel in front of them and cannot see beyond, and only intuit from the noise of the changes two kilometers from the finish line that Pogacar is preparing something because his faithful De The Cross accelerates in the hardest percentages of the finish and everyone goes crazy, and they only calm down and go back to their routine when George Bennett, Roglic’s bulldog, restores order, and Pogacar launches the sprint, as always, at 400 meters, and he does not go very far, and neither does Superman, who opens a couple of meters of gap that are not worth a second, but he gives himself the pleasure, a great pleasure, of entering in front of the whole group of inseparable, the singers and The chorus. And he even feels a soloist.
Egan, his number one number one well adhered to his jersey that cannot be yellow again, he walks far behind, his sad gaze on the ground, on the green sprinters bus, alongside Sam Bennett, who crawls, a place he only knew existed when reviewing the stage classifications on mountain days. He makes his discomfort evident every few minutes by performing a torture exercise on his back, and he does not even have the capacity to enjoy doing what he had promised, to bring water to his companions, a task for which he had never been required in his career . Well, Egan, 23 years old, the youngest winner of the Tour in the last 110 years, suffers a curse: he already came to cycling as champion, and he only knows one world, that of the leading peloton, that of permanent tension, that of no losing one’s job, being attentive to everything, stress as the only vital state in racing.
Egan, so young mature, like Remco (20 years old), Pogacar (21) or Hirschi (22), is not so far from the gymnasts that the younger they are, the more can be extracted from them, and managers could participate in the ethical debate and directors whose eyes only light up when, behind the word young, the one who talks about them adds the adjective exceptional, and they go crazy while their head becomes that of the protagonist of the story of the milkmaid or the chicken of the golden eggs, and so on.
On the run, everyone looks at Carapaz, an Ecuadorian and a farmer from Carchi, who has a final change of pace that is ideal for the Villard de Lans wall. He is not as young as Egan, he has years behind in which he was not required, and he feels like in the Giro he won because he has Amador by his side, and between the two, in the first, long and hard, the Saint Nizier, they organize a scabechina. Carapaz wants to win the stage in a big way. Alone, as in his great days. The sprint is not worth it. After three attacks in two kilometers the escape of 23 has remained in two. Kämna resists him, a young German who grows little by little and admires the speed of the mechanics with which in full acceleration the Ecuadorian drops an empty drum from his frame, grabs one on the fly offered by an assistant in the ditch, throws the Gel that is attached and places it in the bottle cage without losing a fraction of speed. Then he asks the German for a relay, encouraging him to go as a couple until the end, and Kämna only gives it to him 100 meters from the top, and it is not a relay but an attack, and Carapaz, already dry after so much waste of attacks , you just want to cross yourself.
And at Col de La Loze, the toughest Wednesday of the Tour, many more will feel the same way.
More than crossing himself Roglic thinks about speaking, and he is almost talkative and creative in the press videoconference and it is not known if that is a good or bad sign on the eve of the Great Alps, an indication of calm or nervousness before what may happen today at more than 2,000 meters of altitude in the endless Col de La Loze, an unprecedented peak, 10 kilometers above the usual arrival at the Méribel winter resort: 21 kilometers of total ascent (and before they had to climb the Madeleine trantrán, another hors catégorie wear) with a last wall of five kilometers with steps of 24%.
“Five crazy hard kilometers,” says the Slovenian leader, who can’t find a better adverb to classify the climb. “Everything has been under control on Tuesday. On Wednesday I expect many attacks. It is the queen stage. The highest port. We will fight for every second. But I have good legs, and the team is good. Pogacar will attack and we will watch over him and the others, and the others will look at each other and mark themselves ”.
In Roglic’s Calculation Tour, which has captured the overwhelming superiority of his team in just 40s of margin over his compatriot, passing La Loze without much damage is half Tour. “And no, I’m not going to wear down the team controlling the leak. The stage will be won by one on the run, ”says Roglic, who gives up looking for bonuses that Pogacar always raises for him. “Better to have 40s in favor than against. On the other hand, nothing seems enough. You can have five minutes and want more ”.