Give us a break, we cried as four riders cruised away unchallenged at kilometre zero. A break they were, but we didn’t want to have to pick from this lot.
They were the usual suspects, a smattering of Direct Energie, Cofidis and Wanty-Groupe Gobert riders. They were hard workers no doubt, ambitious and keen. But they were not so much animators as incidentals, doomed to dangle and deter any other would-be attackers on the sprintiest looking stage thus far of this 90s throwback Tour.
Or at least that’s what the race has felt like across the opening three road stages of pre-destined gallops.
Over 190km later Jerome Cousin, Dimitri Claeys, Anthony Perez and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck were still up front. And they almost had us in a tizzy of anticipation as they entered the last few kilometres in full co-operative mode with over half a minute still in hand.
Just maybe they could stay away. But, then, of course not. The final run into Sarzeau was as straight as a ruler. The sprint teams finally pulled their fingers out. Yet as the three other riders accepted the inevitable catch at around the two kilometre mark, Wanty’s Van Keirsbulck still wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.
He had no chance but it was a spirited move of defiance from a man who had earlier sorted himself maximum sprint points and put in some monster turns to try and extend the break’s longevity.
The Belgian has form for this sort of thing too. On last year’s Stage Four, he duly picked up our Top Banana for taking off on his own for 190km. And lets face it, if you’re going to make a success of escapes like that, a couple of bananas in your back pocket is exactly what you need.
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