Bastille Day antics from fans and ridersTwo-hundred and thirty-three years after most famous prison break-in in history marked the start of the end of the tyrannies of French absolutism, there was an ambiance of genuine joviality and cuddly camaraderie in the Tour de France on Saturday.
The peloton philanthropy was clear from the outset when no less than five French riders from five different French teams were allowed off the front in an eight-man breakaway. The absence of any representative from Team Europcar was clearly a magnanimous gesture from a team that had already notched two wins in this year's Grande Boucle and didn't want to appear as greedy as Louis XVI, the monarch the Revolutionaries beheaded a few years after their storming of the Bastille.
Such universal bounteousness was obviously rubbing off in the break, where at the intermediate sprint Spain's Pablo Urtasun asked his fellow escapees whether they would mind awfully if he took the points — and when his French comrades nodded their head in approval, the Euskaltel rider duly pocket the 2,000 euros needed to cover his team's bandage budget for the rest of the season.
Back with the bunch, GreenEdge's Matt Goss was equally generous in gifting green jersey rival Peter Sagan all the remaining points at the intermediate sprint despite a strong lead-out by his ever-giving team-mates.
With the bunch closing on the leaders, none of the escapees put up a fight when Denmark's Michael Morkov pinged off the front — presumably because they all knew full well that the Saxo Banker was keen to put on a solid display in honour of his late father, who passed away five years ago to the day. Morkov may have been caught on the steep Mont Saint-Clair climb 23km from the finish, but the Dane was awarded the stage's Fighting Spirit award in what was a poignant moment on the podium.
It was not just the riders who were feeling kind on Saturday: the race commissaries clearly cast a blind eye on Jerome Pineau's flagrant drafting after the Frenchman had picked up a puncture with 70km remaining.
The Caravane, the Tour's infamous publicity cavalcade, was also in a generous mood: in an area renowned for its naturalist and nudist tendencies, a record number of shirts and caps were handed out by race sponsors. Oddly, a lot of Vache Qui Rit cheese too.
Entering the closing kilometres of the stage, the stream-lined main pack showed a remarkable piece of largesse towards one of cycling's most colourful characters. Riding his last Tour before retirement, 38-year-old Alexander Vinokourov was granted the chance to remind the world of his pink pate and grizzled determination as he formed one half of a doomed attack combo with Swiss rouleur Michael Albasini.
The final bunch sprint even saw a display of maillot jaune munificence when Bradley Wiggins opened out the sprint for his team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen, later claiming the "it was nice to help Eddie because he's an absolute gentleman and I'd like to be able to pay him back in some way".
For a rider accused so much recently of relying on the selflessness and decency of others, it was a classy touch from Wiggins — although one rider didn't seem too happy about the yellow jersey dash.
Luis Leon Sanchez, who pinged off the front in a bid to veer off-script inside the final two kilometres, was seen gesticulating at Wiggins as he came past. Later, the Spaniard reportedly railed at Sky's desire to win everything — but he soon came to his senses, and on this day of all-round niceness and well-being, Sanchez apologised to Wiggins on Twitter, saying: "Brad is the leader of the race and his team and so can do whatever he wants."
The win, of course, went to Andre Greipel who drew level with Peter Sagan's hat-trick of wins with a measured burst of pace after an excellent lead-out by his Lotto train. Instead of gloating, Greipel was gallant in victory, praising both Boasson Hagen ("a really strong guy") and Sagan ("a really fast guy ... and not the green jersey for nothing") as well as his "awesome" team-mates (who, let's not forget, had already shown much altruism to Sagan in letting him hitch a ride to the finish on their locomotive without a valid ticket).
Greipel later even thanked GreenEdge for their role in closing down the break, at the end of a veritable deluge of Teutonic tenderheartedness.
It was a very different Greipel from the one a week before who, in the heat of losing out to Sagan in stage six, had sent Kris Boeckmans of Vacansoleil-DCM a rather threatening text message after the Dutchman's chain-snap in the final sprint slowed him down.
"Never ever go in my train again, you amateur," read Greipel's strongly-worded SMS (although perhaps in German). To make matters worse, the angry Gorilla reportedly attempted to ride Boeckmans off his bike the following day — prompting a complaint by the intimidated Tour debutant to race officials.
Still, Boeckmans must have got out of bed on the right side on Bastille Day, because like everyone else in the peloton, he was in the forgiving mood. "We have both expressed our apologies and the matter is now closed," he said when quizzed about the incident.
Rumour has it Greipel now wants to bury the hatchet by inviting Boeckmans to join him in one of his celebratory baths...