Tour de France


STAGE 18 : July 18

Gap → Alpe d’Huez

42 bends

Riblon wins the stage! The breakaway survives, glory to the bold. Two of the gutsiest rides of this Tour from Christophe Riblon and Tejay Van Garderen. Much as I was rooting for Tejay, I’m glad to see France win on such a strong ride. They really need the spirit of Hinault (see below), maybe more than ever.

From the early action, a break of 9 riders solidified before the first climb to Col de Manse. Attempts to catch them were made: Paulinho and Roche, both of Saxo-Tinkoff (why? they were helping no one), Voeckler (who died off early again).

And from that group emerged Riblon (age 32), Tejay (age 24), and young Moreno Moser (age 22) of Cannondale. They duelled up the first run at Alpe d’Huez, trading advantages. Tejay took 20 seconds, the other two caught him. Moser went up, crossed Alpe d’Huez first among everyone. Everyone watching was saying to themselves, ‘Hunh, Moser.’ Another rider with a famous name.

And so the race already strung out and it was hard to know who was riding together and who was getting dropped. A few minutes back was the chase group of Schleck, Rolland, Nieve, Voigt, others. Seven minutes or so further back was Froome, Contador, Quintana et al. The peloton, with its usual vanguard of black jerseys, seemed content to let them go and the decision was clear: the real fighting wouldn’t come until the second assault on the mountain.

And then the extra section of road up to Col de Sarenne: Riblon and Tejay dropped Moser. Way back, Movistar was moving to the head of the peloton and finally it seemed the race leaders might muster.

And then the descent into the valley to La Ferrière. This part is all I can really think about, still — narrow roads, empty of cars and people, green rushing down from the mountain above and then down again and away. Just men on bicycles.


And then Tejay jams his bike! He can’t pedal! Moser has caught them and away he goes with Riblon. On a tight turn (they’re all right turns), Riblon rides into the bushes. Now Moser is alone in front. An Italian!


Now the peloton is over Col de Sarenne and into the descent. I’d wondered if it would prove a dangerous mistake for Froome or Contador to ride this road within the peloton, but it was nearly a flawless day of cycling — no crashes. Haven’t we had a crash every day so far? (Alas, Péraud.)

Contador attacks on the descent! Vamos los cojones or whatever! He goes with Kreuziger, 2 and 3 in the GC at the start of the day. Sherwen has it right: ‘He [Contador] is a champion. He’s a racer.’


Meanwhile what’s happening to Tejay? They were 6 minutes ahead of the chase group at Col de Sarenne — is he losing time because of the bike? We’re all thinking about Valverde, although Tejay’s overall GC standing, his whole Tour, is not at stake. Tejay is riding today for glory. We don’t see him fix the problem but he’s back on the bike and chasing again. It’s Moser then Riblon then Tejay.

And those winding narrow roads dropping down off the mountain. Some of the turns have been repaved but these roads, like Mont Ventoux, used to be gravel and dirt, used to be for goats. With Contador attacking, with the lead breakaway holding but holding the way an elastic band holds, the race is happening here. Does Quintana know he’s missing it? We sense that Contador does.

It’s 7:45 back to the peloton. Contador and Kreuziger get 20 seconds ahead of Froome. The two Saxo riders are rolling past chase group stragglers, who seem to pop up along the way like barrels in Donkey Kong. There goes Amador. Without the usual coverage of cameras on motorbikes, watching the race today feels different. It’s easy to forget who’s where and then they reappear. There goes Chavanel, Nieve — that’s right, they were out there.

Riblon and Moser are back together. Tejay still fighting back from his mechanical. Contador and Kreuziger sit up, futile, perhaps just a bluff. Movistar is marshalling: four riders lead Quintana and the peloton. More than 7 minutes back and still on the descent. Contador changes a bike and whatever, surprise bike check announced, blah blah, sick of every move triggering speculations about some kind of cheating or other — LET THEM RIDE.

And then Tejay’s caught Moser and Riblon! They’re about the start Alpe d’Huez again, and as they address the mountain once again, Riblon attacks. The AG2R rider is relentless, riding for France, riding to win! They drop Moser. He eventually connects with Jens Voigt, coming up from the chase group — this has to be a lesson for them (and how will they ride tomorrow?). Jens Voigt is 41 years old!

It’s Tejay and Riblon. Breakaway dynamics on the mountain are completely different than on the road: less codependence, more probing for weakness. Meanwhile gravity. Porte is pushing the peloton again for Sky. Movistar may have waited too long. I’m on my eighth page of notes.

Tejay breaks away! With 9 km to go — uphill — he’s got 4:20 or so on the peloton and he’s pulling away from Riblon. Froome attacks, it’s a bluff. Kreuziger has cracked. Moser and Voigt are together but it’s Tejay out alone and Riblon chasing. It’s not a question of Riblon cracking — Tejay is just plain riding hard.

From the peloton Rodriguez of Cofidis attacks. 6.5 km to go for Tejay. I know it’s crazy but I think he can win. The crowds are too close, too crazy, to let cameras through so we can’t see Riblon’s face. Is he whipped? Is he stalking Tejay?

Porte (my god Richie Porte!) is fighting back. He rides past Voigt and Moser, leading Froome and as Sherwen notes, trying to deaden the legs of Quintana and Rodriguez.


My notes say ‘FR food’ then ‘Q attack’ but perhaps Quintana was already making his move and Froome was, this time, at last, not right there with him. Froome raises an arm. A flat? Close up of his rear wheel. Liggett thinks it’s a flat. Quintana pulling away. Go, Quintana, NOW! Is the Colombian finally putting the hammer down?

Porte has gone back for a gel pack for Froome. The yellow jersey is bonking. THE YELLOW JERSEY IS BONKING! For all his serene, smooth climbing on Ax 3 Domaines and Mont Ventoux, Quintana seems unable to draw blood. Go Tejay! I really believe now that Tejay will win.

And then, wow: it’s all over. I mean, it takes 3 km but suddenly Riblon is up and flying right up to and right past Tejay and forget it. I’d been doing the math to see if Tejay’s lead would be enough to hold off the peloton, but with Riblon there is no math. Somewhere Riblon had the reserves. Tejay, we realize, has been riding on guts alone for longer than we were aware. Valiant effort, Tejay, but this is what it looks like to win. It’s profound and spectacular.


In 3 km Riblon makes up the 24 second gap on Tejay and goes on to ride alone, celebrating and/or looking over his shoulder, and wins by 59 seconds. It is magnificent.


For the descenders, for the racers:

For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure and are awed
because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.

— Rilke, ‘Elegy I’ from Duino Elegies

Here is your daily champion for Stage 18:
Bernard Hinault, ‘The Badger’
‘I race to win, not to please people.’
Five-time winner. 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985. World champion. Stage race winner and single day winner and punch thrower. Opinionated, aggressive, domineering — everything you love to see in a champion. The quintessential Frenchman.
The great 1986 Tour, with Hinault and LeMond battling all the way up Alpe d’Huez. Some say the greatest Tour ever:
This is the 1980 Liège-Bastone-Liège, Hinault at right for Renault. Love this picture:
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