Here’s an adage you’ve already seen a lot: you don’t win the Tour in the first week, but you can easily lose it. It’s a viper’s nest of potential downfalls: crashes, punctures, tawdry TTTs, errant spectators in the road.
Today’s test in Brittany: crosswinds. Under pressure from Quick Step, they split the bunch 100 kilometres from the finish of stage 6 at Mür-de-Bretagne. Most pre-race contenders made the front group, apart from one: Primoz Roglic.
This is where his LottoNL-Jumbo team roared into action, with Robert Gesink and Dutch debutant Antwan Tolhoek particularly strong in bringing an 80-second deficit down to nothing.
Phew, and that was the end of that, right? Nope. Thirty minutes later, Tolhoek alone was called upon to do it all again. He must have groaned when the news came through: Roglic had crashed lightly – and punctured his front wheel – trying to bunny-hop a kerb.
That’s the professional cyclist’s equivalent of tripping over your own feet while walking down a well-paved street. Get up, red-faced, walk a little quicker and hope nobody noticed. The principal difference being nobody’s televised your little tumble to 190 countries around the world.
The baby-faced Tolhoek manfully did his job again, shepherding his Slovenian captain through the team cars to the haven of the bunch. Coincidentally, his first victory as a pro came at Mür-de-Bretagne in 2015 in the Tour of Brittany; this time, he didn’t have the energy or the freedom to get in the mix.
Tolhoek was 163rd, over 14 minutes down, but crucially, Roglic crossed the line with the favourites, finishing tenth, while rivals Bardet and Dumoulin proved that cliché, suffering far more inopportune misfortunes.
Without ever getting anywhere near the front of the race, Tolhoek and his team-mates saved their captain from a potentially fatal first week loss of time and hope.
The little climber hails from Yerseke, the hometown of Johnny Hoogerland; let’s see in the next few weeks whether he can become a Tour cult hero too. The early signs are promising.
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