Paris-Nice: It’ll all end in tears

Paris-Nice – Stage 2 – Rochefort-en-Yvelines to Amilly

Rain jackets, sleet, and ice-cold conditions – this wasn’t the kind of exposure team sponsors were looking for.

Philippe Gilbert in the breakaway on Stage 2 of Paris-Nice

Picking up the race with 37.7km left to race, it became clear we were watching the convalescence portion of a stage, or maybe the grieving period, of everything that had come before, and off camera.

After “code orange” Day 1, riders were pedaling through a code red day 2. Grey sky, grey roads, grey faces, and puddles of water reflecting all of it. Crosswinds and four-degree temperatures split the peloton again. A small group of riders went one way, while Richie Porte went in the other, presumably south, to somewhere warmer.

There had been a middle group too, this one containing Alberto Contador. While Porte’s GC chances were being consigned to the deep freeze, Contador and his Trek team figured they might as well keep warm by chasing the lead group, which they did, catching it not long before live coverage began.

Meanwhile even further up the road, the breakaway of five riders, who might have been looking for shelter rather than the finish line, were showing signs of weather fatigue.

Behind them the peloton rode on. Luca Pibernik, of Bahrain Merida, was at the front of it, dreaming of the desert, and riding like a man who’d been informed by race radio that there was hot soup waiting at the finish line. He wasn’t leading the group so much as riding as fast as he could to get indoors while he could still see through his eyes, past the tears flowing from them. A permanent grimace had also settled on his face, unlikely to thaw until next year’s Tour of Oman.

Others took to swinging their arms around, in conditions that could have made this a primitive breaststroke, to move blood, previously busy keeping vital organs beating, back into the hands.

Meanwhile even further up the road, the breakaway of five riders, who might have been looking for shelter rather than the finish line, were showing signs of weather fatigue.

Philippe Gilbert, riding his tenth Paris-Nice, had by now set out on his own, and showed no signs of being bothered by the cold, possibly because his hands, wrapped in fingerless gloves, had frozen a great many kilometers ago.

He’d managed to get half a minute on the pack, but with nine kilometers to go sat up, figuring there was no point killing himself alone out front in the cold – far better to kill himself with company back with the others in the cold, who were possibly too cold to notice he’d gone anywhere in the first place.

Tears of cold during the race, tears of a different kind at the finish line. Not just from those who’d survived to Day 3 (Nacer Bouhanni, Niccolo Bonifazio and Maxime Bouet were among those who didn’t), but from Sonny Colbrelli, who defied the sprint opposition, and what was by now a strong rip tide, to cross the line first.

Tears certainly, but of joy this time.

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