Team-mates finishing first and last on a single day represents the glory and suffering of professional cycling as well as anything.
Ag2r-La Mondiale’s soigneurs and handlers would have been busy in Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne, steering stage winner Romain Bardet through press calls and podium appearances, and waiting for Damien Gaudin, who crossed the line nearly 36 minutes later.
A day with seven categorised climbs was never likely to suit an 85kg rouleur, and so it proved. Gaudin notched his second last-placed finish of the race, having been the last man home on stage eight.
Then, it was the Mur de Bretagne that proved his undoing, but such a compartitvely short ramp, regardless of its severity, would likely have struck Gaudin as fair exchange for the extended suffering of today’s unremittingly steep 186.5km run from Gap.
Gaudin lost a shade under 11 minutes on that most ferocious of Breton ramps; today, he sacrificed more than three times as much on a parcours that included three climbs over 1,000m, peaked at the 1,924m summit of the Glandon, and to which ASO had thrown in the coiling Lacets de Montvernier seemingly for fun.
If they enjoyed the show (and Bardet almost certainly will have), for Gaudin and his brothers in suffering in the grupetto, it was a day to forget.
Gaudin was one of 60 riders led home by the Colombian Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida) 35’51” after Bardet had fulfilled his potential in the most emphatic style, mostly the sprinters and their henchmen.
Etixx-QuickStep occupied the majority of seats on the autobus, but even their number was depleted. Mark Rensaw, pilot fish to Mark Cavendish, did not start stage 18, though the impact of his absence is unlikely to be felt for a further three days, until the arrival of the Champs-Elyeses.
Sébastien Chavanel is now last overall and the official lanterne rouge. Arriving in the same group as Gaudin, he shipped a further bucket load of time to maillot jaune, Chris Froome (Team Sky), whom he now trails by just over four hours.
The road to Paris will strike Chavanel as long (six more categorised climbs await, over two stages, including a second ascent of the Glandon), but he has finished a Grand Tour on eight previous occassions and knows what is required to survive.