As clinically as they closed out today’s stage in Nancy, nothing at this year’s Tour de France has demonstrated quite how deep Deceuninck Quick Step’s riders are prepared to dig for each other than the team’s pre-Tour press conference. Most teams held them at either the Brussels Expos or their Grand Départ hotel. The Belgian outfit, however, got creative, inviting the world’s cycling media to a suburban branch of the supermarket chain, Lidl.
There we were witness to the team’s top dogs (wolves?), Julian Alaphilippe and Elia Viviani, quite literally squeezing oranges while a Lidl executive interviewed them about their previous juicing experience.
For the visual metaphor potential alone, it didn’t seem the smartest PR decision. More than one person predictably responded to Rouleur’s Tweet of the event with a variant of “Quick Step on the juice”.
The other six simply seemed relieved it wasn’t them having to do it. Kasper Asgreen smirked while Max Richeze looked bemused by the whole thing. He wasn’t the only one.
The Argentine champion’s expression in the closing metres of Tuesday’s Stage 4 was quite different. Richeze was Viviani’s last lead-out lieutenant and once Michael Mørkøv swung off he wasn’t on the front for long. Still, it must have seemed like an age and his responsibilities for those final few seconds were enormous. Those were some of the most important metres of Elia Viviani’s career and each one had to go perfectly. The unassuming Richeze didn’t let him down, drilling into his reserves and taking his captain closer to the line than he could have thought possible.
The second he could sustain the speed no longer, he ensured his captain had room to manoeuvre round him but that no-one else could. With all eyes on Viviani we didn’t catch sight of Richeze’s face as the Italian crossed the line. It ought to have worn one of immense satisfaction. Job – impeccably – done.
There aren’t many at Quick Step who still qualify for “unsung” status, but Richeze might be one of them. Lesser sung, at least. Moreover, as one of the best lead-out locomotives in the game he’s proving that, as long as he’s on the tracks, the game ain’t gone. Maybe steer clear of supermarket-based public appearances, though.
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
Rouleur Top Bananas 2019: