The Roar
The Roar


Want to be reminded why you love cycling? Just watch Stage 17

Tejay van Garderen's just doesn't look like a GC rider. (Photo: Team Sky)
23rd July, 2015

How thrilling was it watching Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Velverde and Vinenzo Nibali hurtle down that treacherous Col d’Allos descent towards the end of Stage 17 of this year’s Tour de France?

It was real heart-in-the-mouth stuff as this elite selection of general classification riders threw caution to the wind and risked their lives on the narrow, winding drop to the valley floor. I was nervous just watching.

It was gripping drama.

In fact the whole stage was dramatic. It was everything that a Tour stage should be.

First we had the emotion of Tejay van Garderen’s abandonment. The BMC rider had done everything right in the first, nervous week of the Tour and was definitely in the mix for a podium position.

But when he was dropped in the first half of the race on a relatively tame category three climb it was obvious that he was having more than just a bad day. When he finally succumbed to the respiratory illness he had been carrying for a couple of days and the headache that had begun raging in his head soon after leaving the neutral zone, you could hear his heartbreak.

In fact you could hear hearts breaking right across America as the world witnessed his dreams shattering before their eyes. The emotional scenes by the roadside as the support crew cradled his head and offered whatever comfort they could brought back vivid memories of the day that Australia’s Michael Rogers had to abandon the Tour due to a broken collarbone back in 2007.

Rogers had been the virtual leader on the road at the time and was in tears as he was helped from his bike and manoeuvred carefully into the team car. He’d finished ninth overall the year before and carried with him strong podium aspirations before crashing. He’d know exactly what van Garderen was going through.


But then Stage 17 also gave us a glimpse of what the future might hold. Riding in the breakaway and at times even driving it along were two riders who should be celebrated for their achievements so far.

They may be young in terms of pro-cycling experience and their palmares modest compared to most, but David Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudos of MTN Qhubeka are like a breath of fresh to the sport.

Teklehaimanot brought to life a dream he had of wearing the polka-dot jersey at the Tour by leading the Mountain’s classification earlier in the race while Kudos, who is the youngest rider in this year’s event, has exceeded all that was expected of him during this often brutal Grande Boucle.

Oh and did I mention they are both from Eritrea?

Not only are they the first of their nation to ride at the highest level of cycling, they offer the promise of something special from a continent that has unlimited athletic potential. Paired with the popular African team MTN-Qhubeka they are opening up whole new fan and recruitment bases for what has been traditionally a Eurocentric and Westernised sport.

This new influx of riders from non-traditional regions stops the sport from becoming tired and jaded. That has to be a good thing.

Not that having riders from traditional nations is a bad thing. Last year the resurgence of the French riders added life to what may have been a dull party. This year however their whole Tour could be summed up by the ride of Thibaut Pinot.


Poor Thibaut. Bad luck haunted the first half of his Tour and he got a little bit sulky. But once he came to grips with the fact that a high finish on general classification just wasn’t going to happen, he actually began to race well, with the goal of chasing a stage win.

Stage 17 stepped up and screamed, “I’m here, take me.”

“Oui, Oui,” shouted Pinot and off he went. There had been a breakaway from the breakaway and he set off up the Col d’Allos in pursuit. With the spirit of Louison Bobet in his legs he chased and he would have reeled in solo leader Simon Greschke too had the climb been a kilometre or two longer.

Alas for Pinot the spirit of Bobet was overpowered by the evil descending demons that have tormented him throughout his career. His awkward cornering style came unstuck as he dug in a pedal trying to accelerate out of a hair pin bend and down he came, crashing heavily, a tangle of French hopes, shattered pride and banged up Lapierre.

To his credit he jumped straight back on his scratched stead and continued his pursuit, but his confidence, which was never great on such negative gradients anyway, plummeted along with his chance for a stage victory.

Those whom he had left for dead on the climb began to overtake him again on the descent. But then, like a two-wheeled Jeckle and Hyde, he hit the valley floor and immediately swung onto the final climb. The tension instantly evaporated from his shoulders and his legs clicked into that smooth, rhythmic spin that he is capable of, and once again he was channelling Bobet.

Within the space of an hour we had seen the very best and the very worst of Pinot the bike rider.


Despite his troubles, he recovered well enough to take fourth place overall. And it was deserved.

Behind all of this the battle played out between the GC contenders. Contador crashed on the same descent that spooked Pinot, leaving Nibali, Froome, Valverde and Quintana to duke it out to the line without his presence.

And fight they did. They all attacked Froome but he held firm. In the end Quintana was the one to trouble him most, but only a little. The duo eventually drew clear of the others to cross the line together with the Colombian’s wheel marginally ahead of the Brits.

It was a stunning stage, the type of stage that brings people to cycling and keeps them watching. The drama engages them and the stories unfolding within the race are simply captivating.

We all know the bad stuff. It is always in the background whenever anyone talks about cycling. Occasionally though it is therapeutic to just sit back and enjoy the racing.

Stage 17 reminded me of why I love cycling.