It was Bastille Day on the Tour, and as is the custom French riders made sure to appear intent on winning the stage, even if their legs weren’t really up for it. One after one they hammered away at the pointy end, seeking victory, invitations to prime time television programs, or heroic injuries that would endear them to the nations heart for the rest of their career.
This fuss at one end of the race did mean one rider could ride out the last of his Tour without interruption, and in relative peace. Or at the very least alone, and with a Moto rider for company.
That man was Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), who rode the first quarter of the 101 km sprint to Foix today about 100 meters behind the peloton, and the next quarter looking for somewhere soft at the side of the road onto which to fall. At which point he could safely assume his team would scoop him up and take him somewhere safe and warm, with unlimited painkillers, and fresh bandages.
The Dane crashed badly on Stage 11, cracking the bones in his left arm twice – once near the elbow and again at the wrist. Any normal man, as well as any sane one, would have called it a day shortly after hearing crack number two. But Fuglsang rode on, unable to grip his handlebars. His legs still worked though, which seemed about enough.
And so what if by putting him on the road Astana was violating every health and safety regulation written since the Penny Farthing rolled off the production line, as well as all those working directives that by rights entitled him to an army of attack lawyers. Really though, all he needed was a push.
Fuglsang cut as heroic figure as the likes of Warren Barguil and others racing away up front. Unwilling to pack it in, the gap between himself and the peloton grew larger and larger, as he tried simultaneously to both hold his handlebars, and not hold his handlebars.
Some speculated when he would throw in the towel, ironic given that Fuglsang wouldn’t have been able to grip the towel had he had one to throw in. But others hoped Fuglsang might hang on, using nothing more than paracetamol and gritted teeth to manage to big climbs and a long descent into Foix.
But midway through the stage Fuglsang understood that enough was enough, right about that point where, some way along the descent of the Col De Latrape, and in what must have been an alarming moment of clarity, he could no apply the brakes. Riding with no hands was one thing – with no breaks was something else.
“I am fully empty,” Fuglsang had said the night before, probably while seeing stars and chewing aspirin like M&Ms. He was wrong. He wouldn’t be “fully empty” until another 50 km had passed. But by then his courage was overflowing.