Before the stage, Wout Van Aert said words to the effect of, “If I’m going to win this race, every stage is important, but this is the hardest.” Tadej Pogačar’s mantra was “Gain as much time as possible on Van Aert before the final time trial.” No one spoke to Mathieu Van Der Poel (AFC) about his GC plans, for the simple reason that yesterday’s stage left him 64th at 20’24”. But he was the powerbroker, and the way he interpreted the role today will keep cycling fans talking for years.
Peter Sagan, by the way, 148th in GC, joked, “Really, I don’t know what I’m doing here!” He was referring to his recent bout of Covid-19, and his consequent lack of condition. But perhaps it was important he was here. After all, he won a very similar stage in 2013 – stage six, Porto Sant’Elpidio-Porto Sant’Elpidio (209 km), the second half of racing took place in heavy rain, over two circuits with repeated climbs of the demanding “muri” with gradients of 27%. They cost Chris Froome the race lead that day. He never got it back.
If that stage is little remembered, today’s well be talked about decades from now as the expression of three fundamental principals – of life, of liberty, and the vigorous pursuit of Mathieu Van Der Poel.