While the four passes on the program are emptied one after the other, the convicts on the road are busy trying to end their long ordeal as best they can, the rear wheel stuck a few meters from the sweeper.
The end point of a step
Created to monitor potential cheaters, this 112-year-old icon has created his legend above all else by acting as a vacuum cleaner for runners in need. This year, the minibus, which was run for five years by Stéphane Bezault, collected only two. Now the assistant cars take over. “Gianni Moscon under the cobblestone tape and another whose name I can not remember,” says the Tour employee. “We take their bike on board and they sit in the back. It always hurts, they are runners in need. No need to talk to them. »
On Sunday, the Dane Michael Morkov (Quick Step) finished the stage almost a quarter of an hour late. Abandonment was not a solution for this kingmaker, the last launching pad for star sprinters: Mark Cavendish, before, and Fabio Jakobsen, now. “He told us it was his last Tour de France, that’s why he wanted to finish somehow,” says, almost moved, Jean-Pierre Boutin, race judge and co-driver of the car. “In the end, he thanked us because we gave him some supplies,” continues Stéphane, who remembers some great anecdotes, during Danish stages where the sprinters’ big thighs explode in the passes. “2 or 3 years ago I accepted 5 sprinters, including Kittel and Gaviria. They knew they would finish too late, so they waited for me to pick them up on the climb. They laughed, they had asked me for champagne ”, laughs the pilot, who keeps dozens of bottles of water and soda in his cooler, in case of emergency refueling.
The genius left to himself
On Tuesday, far from the Pogacar-Vingegaard duel, Stéphane and Jean-Pierre continued their trek in the shallow areas of the field. In good time before the first ascent, Col d’Aspin, Fabio Felline (Astana) descends. The Italian is picked up by his team, the diet cart can continue on its way to the first difficulty of the day. “He is where Caleb Ewan”, reasoned on the side of the road, referring to the small Australian sprinter in Lotto, the Tour’s red lantern. “We do not want it at the moment, otherwise we will be late again,” laughs Stéphane Bezault, who sees a new galley slave in the distance: Kevin Geniets, David Gaudu’s teammate at Groupama-FDJ.
During the kilometers, the Luxembourger, who suffers from bronchitis, talks to his sports director who accompanies him. The French team car pulls away. The runner is on his own and asks the diet cart about news: “What is the difference with the next group? What are holdups? A few meters in front of him pulls the French champion Florian Sénéchal, the Belgian Yves Lampaert, winner of the prologue, and the Dane Mikkel Honoré (Quick Step) somehow their leader Fabio Jakobsen, winner of 1.D lifted stage of Tour 2022.
A little lower in the Pyramid of the Tour, Geniets participates in a time trial to pick up. “If he succeeds in joining them, it will restore his morale,” explains Stéphane, who adapts to his rhythm: very slow uphill, “I sometimes stop,” and the balls go downhill, ” Hold on tight “. The distance fluctuates between the last two groups of runners. The Luxembourger digs into Hourquette d’Ancizan, but manages to get back on the Quick Step train in the Val Louron Pass, the penultimate difficulty of the day. A great recovery at the expense of a few irregularities: the bottle is stuck, the arm hangs on the rearview mirror, the door or window of the Groupama-FDJ car. Judge Jean-Pierre Boutin is the police and will impose a fine. Not enough to worry a resurrected Kevin Geniets, who gives up the stage “dunce’s cap” to the Belgian Jakobsen, worst in the high percentages.
Jakobsen saved for 16 seconds
Up there, for almost 1,600 meters above sea level, the dolphin Tadej Pogacar rules over the yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard in a sprint on the slopes of Peyragude. During this time, the five galley slaves embark on the descent of Val Louron. The times, calculated in relation to the difficulty of the course and especially the time of the winner, will be 37 minutes and 4 seconds. From the first slopes of the Col de Peyresourde, Jakobsen gives the green light to his teammates to leave him in the open country, instead of taking the risk of finishing after the deadline while he waits for him. “In the last bump, he was really on the edge. He said to us, ‘Go on, I’m going at my own pace’ ‘, says Florian Sénéchal, who boarded his Kevin Geniet’s luggage carrier, very happy to reach Peyragudes on time.
In the broom, the excitement is at its highest, will Fabio Jakobsen succeed in his rescue mission? The kilometers go in slow motion, the seconds in accelerated. “He had to drive at 4 minutes per kilometer for the last 5 kilometers,” Jean-Pierre Boutin emphasizes with his hand on the stopwatch. In the titanic percentages of the altiport opens the mouth, the young Belgian (25 years), lowered himself on his frame, pushes on the pedals to swallow the last meters. His unfortunate teammates wait for him and jump for joy with their arms in the air as the sprinter finally crosses the finish line, 36 minutes and 48 seconds behind Pogacar. The good last of the stage, overwhelmed by fatigue, immediately collapses on the metal barriers.
“In a few seconds it goes. He deserves it after all he has been through. In the last bump, he was really on the verge. On the radio we could talk to each other and we encouraged him as much as possible. He’s not a climber at all, but he’s tough on things. On the Champs Élysées he will show his strength. That’s what motivates him to reach the finish line, ”appreciates the French champion, ready to return to coal on Thursday during the final mountain tape of Tour 2022. In the broomstick, Stéphane and Jean-Pierre were in the front row of this ran against time where 16 seconds separated laughter from tears.