This was supposed to be a big day for Yoann Offredo. First away after the flag dropped, the Frenchman put distance between himself and the peloton just as he had done on Stage 2. After half a minute of sprinting he was in his rhythm. The only problem was that when he looked back nobody else was doing the same.
If being in the break is good, being the break is bad. There he was, alone, presumably now irritable, and cursing his luck. He’d essentially volunteered to race 178 km on his own, the plaything of an ambivalent peloton, members of which did well not to laugh out loud.
It’s the fate of these animated go-getters. They plan to cross the line first, while knowing all too well they’re more likely to roll in last, minutes behind everyone, exhausted and unnoticed as the winner gets a bunch of flowers and a stuffed lion.
But just as Offredo was counting in his head the number of people he hated right now, Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Oscaro) came along behind him, looking for redemption. It was a small piece of luck for Offredo, for if you’re looking for a man to help you set fire to a stage, who better than a man who set fire to his hotel the night before?
The story went that Gesbert had left some tissue paper on an electric heater in his room. Stumbling around in the middle of the night, he’d flicked what he’d assumed was the light switch, but had instead turned on the heater. Soon everyone was stumbling around in the middle of the night, the fire alarm forcing everyone out of the hotel.
Perhaps it was penance, perhaps it was that his teammates were not yet back on speaking terms – either way his team, their eyebrows a little singed, sent him off to hook up with Offredo and to think about what he’d done.
More importantly Offredo now had company. Together, they set off.
Offredo could have been forgiven for a degree of cynicism at this point. But even with the exasperation, cynicism doesn’t appear to be Offredo’s style.
Just a few months ago he was the victim of a drive-by mugging, complete with a hoodlum armed with a baseball bat. In reporting it he refused to get angry, expressing only remorse that people acted like this, and that the threat was more to kids, than to him.
A sentiment that might have explained why, as they rode through the Medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, festooned for the day with flags, bunting, and three deep crowds, Offredo picked out a little kid waving a French tricolor at the side of the road, and made sure his empty bottle landed at his feet.
You wonder sometimes whether riders notice the size of the crowds of people who wait hours to watch them ride by, or the kids about to experience moments that will have them hooked on bike racing forever. Not to mention their parents, touched a little by moments like this, who before the close of business become lifelong Wanty-Group construction materials customers. If Offredo is anything to go by, they do.
Not bad from a man who was on a fools errand, on the flat terrain, and chased by Marcel Kittel and his friends.
But Offredo must have figured his chances were slim from the moment he set off on this break. He knew this again when 7 km from the line, he looked over his shoulder to see the peloton approaching, reaching out to shake hands with Gesbert and giving some recognition to the belief that there had been honour in this crazy plan.
Then he shook his head again, as exasperated by the circumstances as he had been 171 kilometers ago.