An upset stomach can be hard enough to bear in the privacy of your own home, but during the biggest annual sporting event on the planet, you can ramp up the discomfort by a factor of a thousand.
Cannondale-Garmin’s Nathan Haas was the last rider to cross the line at the end of the seventh stage from Livarot to Fougères, 6.02 after Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) had thrust his hands into the air for the first time this Tour.
Haas had Tweeted about his unenviable predicament a day earlier, describing his stomach as a washing machine that had spilled over. He shared his thoughts after the seventh stage too, providing an insight into the thoughts of the last rider home. Dispiriting.
The 26-year-old Australian is no Grand Tour debutant, having completed a Giro-Vuelta double last season, but this is his first Tour.
If there’s a bright side to suffering a stomach bug in the world’s biggest bike race, it’s that his illness has come during the first week. Such hardship in the mountains might be unbearable, and could test the compassion of the commissaires in the matter of the time cut.
Michael Matthews must by now be becoming used to his status as Lanterne Rouge, after completing his fifth consecutive stage at the foot of the general classification.
Matthews suffered badly in the savage crash that marred stage three and ended the Tour of then-leader Fabian Cancellara. Footage of the accident recorded on a camera worn by his Orica-GreenEDGE mechanic records a dazed and disoriented Matthews.
He crossed the line that day nearly 22 minutes behind stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on a stage in which he might have hoped to contend for victory.
Matthews’ GC position wasn’t helped by being caught on the wrong side of a split in the peloton on the wind-whipped second stage to Zeeland; not that he is likely to have focussed on much beyond sprints.
Now he is 1.02.14 behind current race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky), but, remarkably, not cut adrift entirely from the GC. Tour debutant Alex Dowsett (Movistar) is 58.15 behind Froome, after crashing on stage four, and Lotto-Soudal’s Greg Henderson, who suffered almost as badly as Matthews on stage three, is just eight seconds ahead of Dowsett.
Control the controllables, quoth the prophet Brailsford, but illness, accident and injury are all matters a rider cannot influence. The red light shines on Haas and Matthews, Australians abroad. Let’s hope neither requires a lantern to light their way home.