On the road to the Mur-de-Bretagne, you might have been mistaken for thinking Cannondale-Garmin were doing some hasty TTT cramming for tomorrow.
For a good part of the final 50 kilometres of racing, they had five men on the front. No namby-pamby conservatism or hesitation for them: they were the only team to take early responsibility, chasing to pin back the breakaway. They showed how badly they wanted the stage.
It’s hard to single out one man for greater praise than another: Nathan Haas did lots of legwork, Ramunas Navardauskas was his usual powerhouse self, Tour virgin Dylan van Baarle did his damndest, as did Kristjan Koren and Sebastian Langeveld too. So we’re giving Top Banana to the whole team.
Of course, in cycling, the result is rarely equal to the effort put in. Craft often beats strength and commitment. Ag2r’s stage winner Alexis Vuillermoz was barely visible until the last two kilometres and delivered searing accelerations at the right time. Cannondale leader Dan Martin, pinned on the right barriers with 800 metres to go, chased valiantly once space opened up, but had to settle for second place.
"The team was so strong today. Everyone rode great and I would have loved to pay them back with the win," he said after the finish.
Sure, the squad’s contender Andrew Talanksy dropped ten seconds to the other favourites too. But that’s small fry compared to the gaps that’ll cleave open on the bigger climbs, where the American ought to be more at home.
With the high mountains to come and the squad’s tactical expansiveness, don’t bet against a Cannondale-Garmin stage win before Paris.
Our Top Banana award celebrates the Tour de France’s unsung hero of the day, the lesser light who has done a cracking ride that has gone unrecognised.