Tour de France 2015: Lanterne Rouge - stage 16
Even medium mountain stages can expose specialists in other disciplines, as time trialist Adriano Malori discovered to his cost
Even so-called medium mountain stages can expose riders whose penchant is to travel quickly along flat roads, as Adriano Malori, one of the fastest in the world against the clock, discovered to his cost.
Movistar’s time trialist deluxe (they had two, but Alex Dowsett withdrew on stage 12) was the last of the 169 riders to finish the hilly 201km stage from Bourg-de-Péage to Gap.
With a starting ramp absent and nary a disc wheel in sight, Malori was in foreign territory. The small matter of the Col de Manse only worsened matters for the Italian.
Malori took his place among the largest grupetto so far, which does not bode well for the Alps. He was one of 72 riders to cross the line with a time some 30’36” slower than stage winner Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida).
While the Spaniard was soloing to glory in Gap (and so becoming part of a proud Tour tradition, shared with Jean-François Bernard, among others), Malori was suffering alongside a diverse range of talent, not limited to his own specialism against the clock.
The likes of Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez, LottoNL-Jumbo’s Laurens ten Dam and Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) might have expected to fare better on the rolling parcours.
Worse still was the fate of British champion Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), who climbed off ill, and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), winner on stage 13, but who failed to take the start.
Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon18) is now the Lanterne Rouge by an uncomfortable margin. The tale of his suffering is writ large in the 3.27.13 that separates him from race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). A sprinter and a Tour debutant, the Pyrenees were always likely to come as a brutal awakening to the unforgiving nature of the Tour and the Alps offer only the prospect of further cruelty.
It is not in the nature of professional cyclists to quit while even the faintest hope of continuing remains, however. Bennett would be unique among sprinters if he didn’t still believe in his heart that survival to Paris offers the chance of victory on the Champs-Élysées: the greatest stage a quick man can hope for.
He will dare to dream, even when reason, and every fibre of his physical being, screams “Stop!”. It is why carrying the Lanterne Rouge is an honour, where last place in any other major sporting event offers only ignominy. The Tour is a different beast; its protagonists cut from a different cloth. Chapeau, Sammy B. Our best wishes go with you.