Not once, but twice it was on this most difficult day of Le Tour– an arduous climb up the famed Alpe d’Huez, followed by the obvious descent, and then to reach the finish of stage 18, encore! The much-anticipated second zigzagging ascent of the same mountain clearly put the D in difficulty.
Capping off unpredictability aplenty, this iconic Tour leg finally earned France its first stage victory of the year, following the near miss in Lyon. For a good stretch it looked like it might have been this Tour’s first American winning day with Tejay Van Garderen in the lead up that wall-hitting final climb. At just two kilometers to the line however, the result made itself clear, and a French win could not have come on a more celebrated day than this. Christophe Riblon is France’s well-deserved hero du jour.
What was I just saying earlier this week about spectators? Today’s extremely crowded finish has to exemplify cycling fans at their craziest, so much so that in sections without barricades, thousands of overly amped onlookers consume nearly the entire road! While this is not new of course, it leaves me pondering the detriment to riders such as Van Garderen in this case, who might have better maintained his line and his concentration if not for getting chased, slapped and screamed at in the face by such “spirited” fans. Their passion and energy notwithstanding, should not a bit more control in such crucial moments be imposed?
In any case, now second-place Contador still can’t catch the leader, even with Froome’s 20-second penalty today. Le maillot jaune remains on the same shoulders with a now more than five-minute gap and two remaining climbing days before the ride into Paris. As always, anything could happen yet– even France shouting “encore” for another stage victory!