Tour de France Stage 10

Yesterday’s TdF stage was a beautiful mess; surreal, stunning, painful, gorgeous… Just a bit of an epic on a day which looked like it could have been so straightforward.

There was one unexpected moment when I all but lost my shit: the helicopter cameras that provide such gorgeous footage throughout the entire race for the TV viewers suddenly showed a piece of coastal defensive architecture – it was only Fort Boyard! A surreal moment in a day packed with them.

The coverage had opened with the reassuring news that – aside from a handful of positive Covid-19 test results which have put individual team members out of action – none of the riders were being forced to leave the race at this point. The Tour’s rest days are being used as a roughly weekly moment in time to test all those participating in the race – the result of two positive results in one team (of anyone including staff, riders, etc) is a forced abandonment for the entire team.

But then came the news that the Tour’s ebullient director Christian Prudhomme has tested positive and is now barred from any in-person involvement. Prudhomme is the face of the Tour, and he is usually seen standing with his head out of a car sunroof as he drops the flag at the start of each stage. The car then follows the route the whole way, giving the race director oversight of the whole thing. News of Prudhomme’s positive Covid result was accompanied by images of him riding in the back of this car during an earlier stage with France’s newly-installed prime minister Jean Castex – masked-up, but very cosily chatting away. Castex has since tested negative, but is self-isolating for seven days to be on the safe side.

So, for now the race continues, though the spectre of “will the Tour reach Paris this year?” looms large. We will need to wait till the next rest day for the next round of tests and possible exclusions.

Meanwhile, Stage 10 looked like it would be pretty straightforward: a pan-flat profile, only one intermediate sprint, and fresh legs following the first rest day. And it was a gorgeous stage to watch, too – starting on one island on the west coast of France, noodling around the low-lying coastal towns and salt flats and ending on another island. The islands and wide estuaries along the route meant for a diverse range of bridges, and as usual there were a number of gorgeous-looking towns and villages passed through at speed, a few of which have been added to my perpetual Google Maps of places I’d like to visit someday. There was even a shot of a transporter bridge which apparently takes bicycles, so that’s definitely on the list.

Unfortunately, despite (or because of) the flat profile, high speeds and a tightly-packed peloton led to a number of fairly nasty crashes. With a whole bunch rolling along, filling the width of the road, all it takes is one momentary lapse of concentration or a sudden piece of road furniture and several riders can be sent flying. There were a number of shots of some very sore-looking road cases of rash, and that Lycra clothing doesn’t offer much protection when sliding along tarmac at 50km/h.

It all culminated in an exciting sprint finish – of course – and a tight victory for a very emotional Irishman who has worked hard towards the goal of a stage victory at the Tour de France for many years, and now Sam Bennett has one under his belt.