Tour de France - Blazin’ Saddles: Unlucky 13 for France
It was looking tres bien for Jeremy Roy en route to Lourdes but it’s now going to take a minor miracle for the home nation to pick up a win this year.
Friday's stage 13 saw FDJ’s Roy holding a two-minute advantage over the final climb of the day, while the man in pursuit was another Frenchman, David Moncoutie of Cofidis. Cashback, surely?
From this seemingly untouchable position, only the French would preside over a complete turnaround which not only saw a Norwegian pip both men for the win, but also brought about some nasty in-fighting as washed-up former-riders-cum-pundits joined forces with hoarse directeur sportifs and fickle fans alike to point the finger.
The target for France's opprobrium was Moncoutie, a man so bland he's not even deemed interesting enough to be tagged 'the postman', instead earning the more humble moniker of 'the postal worker'.
Once the veteran climber was caught by Thor Hushovd on the long descent down the back of the Col d'Aubisque, he was accused of working with the world champion in a bid to reel in Roy.
It's shocking to think that one rider, in his last year as a professional and taking part in what is essentially an individual sport, would try his best to beat two other riders in separate teams, even though one of them was born in the same country as himself – but that's Moncoutie for you: always putting himself ahead of his nation.
A seething Saddles couldn't believe what he was seeing. How dare Moncoutie thwart Roy's chance of glory – after all, hadn't both Roy and his FDJ team been involved in every break this Tour? Wasn't it time to let them finally get the win they so desperately seek?
Well, rather worryingly, these seem to be the actual thoughts of many (sane?) people out there – including some highly respected ex-pros. Take Laurent Jalabert, for instance; the former polka dot jersey and one-time sprinter (now that was an intriguing transformation...) pretty much assassinated the two-time Tour stage winner on French TV.
Like Mark "Moan Moan Grumble Grumble" Madiot, the DS of FDJ, Jalabert was of the opinion that Moncoutie not only rode terribly but also let down France; instead of combining with Hushovd, he should have stuck to his wheel and then attacked him in the finale. As you do when taking on one of the peloton's best sprinters – just wait right to the end and then hatch an ingenious surprise by playing them at their own game. It's a bit like challenging Hugh Grant to an English fop-impersonating competition.
The thing is, both Madiot and "Jaja" clearly weren't even watching Moncoutie; the 36-year-old was having a mare simply keeping up with Hushovd. He was only putting in 10 per cent of the turns, and he was well aware that 10 times out of 10 he would have lost a sprint against the world champion.
His attack with 2km to go – which ultimately spurred on Hushovd to catch and pass Roy – was all he could do: try and beat Thor from distance. But as Moncoutie admitted after the stage: "The stage was already lost – Hushovd was always going to win from that position."
Even Roy admitted he knew it was lost as soon as he "heard the gap was down to 30 seconds. It was two against one, plus a headwind. The two climbs near Lourdes crushed me and I overcooked the engine."
Despite these clear realities staring them right in the face, some fervent French fans were in denial after the stage, looking for a Moncoutie-shaped scapegoat (the postal service always gets it in the neck, doesn't it?).
One patriotic punter on Twitter slammed the reclusive climber's "egotistical, rotten behaviour" as if wanting to win a race at the expense of another Frenchman was crime worthy of the guillotine; another effectively called Moncoutie a numbskull; some American armchair fans even got in on the act, totally misunderstanding the nature of bike racing and calling him an "utter douche".
The only thing Moncoutie can be blamed for is not climbing the Col d'Aubisque faster. Perhaps if he had caught Roy on the ascent, then the pair of them could have worked together. That way, when Hushovd caught and passed them on the descent – which was always going to happen given the time gaps – then fans would be slower to apportion blame.
Tensions are clearly boiling over in France. Yes, in Thomas Voeckler they may have a worthy and formidable yellow jersey; heck, they also have the polka dot jersey on Roy's shoulders and Arnold Jeannesson in white. But chances are running out for that elusive stage win.
Given that the rider who wins atop the Plateau de Beille always goes on to win the whole Tour, we can safely discount the prospect of a French victory on Saturday. In fact, any summit finish is probably beyond the host nation - ditto bunch sprints and ITTs - which leaves just stages 16 and 17 as possibilities. It’s going to be tough.
Thankfully, both Roy and Moncoutie have vowed to continue attacking. Maybe the next time they could join forces and do it for France.
Gaffe of the Day: Moncoutie - what a douche – selfishly riding for himself instead of rolling over and supporting someone else on another team.
Plat du Jour: Loads of sheep's cheese and honey. Plus some French sour grapes.
Word of the Day: Monc**tie – French profanity
Uses for… David Moncoutie: Punch bag
Quote of the Day: "Our starting point was Cavendish - if he ends his career without the green jersey, we need to do something. 15 stages in three years. He has made his mark on the history of sprinting. No rider has ever won like he wins." Christian Prudhomme talks to ITV about the green jersey rule changes.
Stage 12 prediction: Whoever wins in Plateau de Beille wins the Tour, right? Well, that's how the tradition goes – but not this time round. Cadel Evans will take the stage, but Alberto Contador will take time back from both Schleck brothers. Although it will be Damiano Cunego in second and Ivan Basso third. Johnny Hoogerland will attack on the first climb of the day, but end up 20 minutes down.
Ever since he was bullied by his brothers into watching the Tour de France as an eight-year-old, Blazin' Saddles has been a cycling fanatic. As persistent as Voigt, as fast as Abdoujaparov, as voracious as Ullrich and as accurate as a Festina watch, Blazin' Saddles offers a lighter take on the oft-grave world of professional cycling. The self-styled best cycling-blog pedlar in the business, BS refutes sullied claims of doping levelled by his rivals: these nuggets are powered on Gerolsteiner fizzy water alone. Just ask BS's friend Bernhard Kohl for a reference.