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Stage 16: Invisible heroes

16/07/2013
We have now entered the third and final week of the Tour and the cyclists have the end in sight. The racers are quite even as far as strength goes. There are lots of nerves, the rhythm of the race has become quite fast, the heat is incessant and the pressure on those teams that have yet to win is very intense, creating even more tension.
Stage 16: Invisible heroes

Those fighting for the ultimate victory do not lose sight of their rivals; the time trial specialists contemplate tomorrow’s opportunities, climbers anxiously await the Alps, the sprinters mentally prepare to win on the Champs Elysées and in some way or other, they are all main characters. But there is a group of racers that only thinks about getting to Paris by any means possible. They are exhausted; anyone else in their situation would have given up, but they are committed to finishing the most important race in the world, something that, for them, will be a triumph in itself. And they do so alone, far from the television spotlights, at the end of the peloton’s tail, together with the sweeper car, arriving at the finish lines after the spectators have long gone, in absolute solitude: they are the invisible heroes. Last Sunday, one of our racers accomplished a great feat in the Tour. Jonathan Hivert arrived at the top of Mont Ventoux 50 minutes behind winner, Chris Froome, and 17 minutes behind the second to last of the stage. He was alone with 60 kilometres to go, 40 kilometres of leg-breaking terrain and a 20 kilometre uphill climb – the "mountain without oxygen". He was dizzy, having physical problems, but he managed to finish and maintain control. It was a very difficult situation for him, but in his mind, the most important thing was finishing the stage, since the next day there was a break and he knew that he could recover his strength. Although he arrived at the top physically destroyed, upon recognizing his accomplishment and receiving congratulations from the fans came, he smiled. He said that he received more congratulations today than after winning the Tour of Andalusia or the Étoile de Bessèges this year. It was no wonder; this was his greatest achievement.

Out front, the battle is quite different and those who do not wear yellow jerseys fight relentlessly to find a sign of weakness in the leader who responds with resolve, not allowing for even the slightest doubt to be made regarding his ability. Froome has two "kamikaze" rivals who make this sport wonderful: Contador and Quintana. The Colombian is demonstrating that he is a serious candidate to win in upcoming Paris editions and he is gaining the public’s affection thanks to his aggressive style. And the cyclist from Madrid is an unstoppable warrior who has already repeated on numerous occasions that he will not settle for second and today he ruthlessly attacked the South African, although he had no other option than to let him go. The racer from Pinto is not as strong as he was years ago, but when he can, he rears into battle and, although not always with the desired results, he manages to make the race more spectacular. Another interesting thing that we are seeing is the changing of the cycle in the peloton: old leaders of the "Grande Boucle" move to the background while others are fight for the lead. Evans, Andy Schleck, Kloden and Gesink have succumbed to the forces of Froome, Quintana, Mollema, Kreuziger, Daniel Martin and Kwiatkowski. It is the law of nature and it always happens, that in both generations there is a common denominator: some have fulfilled expectations; others have not reached the level that they were expected to reach. They all have strong legs but other factors such as mental strength, injuries or life circumstances result in some reaching glory while others fall behind. C'est la vie.

Another of these important factors is luck and today during the rest in la Rochelle we saw a clear example of this. Contador and Froome went down, although luckily for both, nothing important resulted, just a small bruising on the Spaniard’s knee. There is the risk of losing everything with every curve and the cyclist from the Sky team, who has the Tour virtually won, could have fallen with a stroke of bad luck. In virtually this same location 10 years ago, Joseba Beloki suffered a bad fall while racing against Armstrong to win that edition. The cyclist from Vitoria was always considered to be a defensive racer, but in 2003, his mentality was different, and he attempted to dethrone the champion from the United States. He had launched various attacks and was taking a very fast descent when his bike made a strange movement and he went down, with the North American dodging him, taking the curve on the grass and not even suffering from a flat tire. It was one of the most historic images from all of the race and a scene that once again shows the importance of luck in the trajectory of a racer: for Armstrong, it was an anecdote, for Beloki, it marked the end of his career as a top level professional cyclist. Because even upon returning to compete, he was never able to fully recover either physically or psychologically from that tragic moment in which he broke his thigh, elbow and wrist. I know great champions, in particular, my friend Miguel Indurain, but I recognize, as do they that Lady Luck always has been on their side, allowing them to reign during these periods.


Tomorrow will be a key day in the outcome of the French race with a tough 32 kilometre section that finishes in Chorges. Two category-two ports will be climbed and it will be difficult for the racers, although for the fans it will be a lovely day with a picture perfect course. It is celebrated in the foothills of Izoard with the unrivalled image of the Serre-Ponçon Lake visible and the Alpe d´Huez in the background. And after Glandon and la Madeleine there are other great alpine sections. There is a lot of race yet to come and we are ready to enjoy it. Come and see for yourselves.

And that’s all friends. Regards from Gap!



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