British riders finished first and last on stage 14 of the 102nd Grande Boucle, but in a heart warming reversal of expectation, it was veteran Steve Cummings of African-registered Tour debutants MTN-Qhubeka who won, and British champion Peter Kennaugh of lavishly funded race leaders Sky who was last.
Kennaugh is unlikely to share such romantic assessment, however. The Manxman trailed in some 20’56” behind Cummings, and is believed to be suffering with illness.
Such is the brutal reality of professional cycling. As Charlie Wegelius observed in the crushing denouement to his book, Domestique, the sport offers no fairytales. While Cummings’ victory gives us reason to be cheerful, Kennaugh’s fate is a more sober reminder of the realities of the Tour.
Those just ahead of him on the road into Mende amounted to a confederacy of sprinters, with André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), a winner of two stages thus far, among the stragglers.
As notable, to those who examine the foot of the GC as well as its head, however, was the presence in the grupetto of Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon18).
The Irish sprinter is suffering in his debut Tour, and after this trial by hills, a parcours littered with five categorised climbs, ending above 1,000m in Mende, is a fraction under three hours behind Chris Froome (Team Sky), the maillot jaune.
Bennett is a talent, but his ability to produce a short burst of pure speed on a flat finish is of little benefit this far into the Tour. He and his ilk will have tomorrow ringed on their calendars, but at this stage, thoughts of survival are likely to predominate.
Paris, and the ultimate chance of glory for a sprinter must now seem an impossible distance, given that the Alps lie between Bennett and the French capital.
He rolled in to Mende on the wheel of team-mate Bart Huzarski, proving that his team has not yet entirely given up on the possibility of nursing its sprinter to Paris.
For Kennaugh, a further 29 seconds further behind, even the slowly-moving forms of the Bora-Argon18 duo must have seemed an impossible target. Illness and the Tour do not mix.