Stage 16: Wanted. Men brave enough to serve as Cofidis Domestiques

The explorer Ernest Shackleton famously placed an ad in the Times of London to recruit the crew of his doomed South Pole expedition. It simply read: “MEN WANTED”.

Shackleton was clear about the dangers that lay ahead: the risk to life and limb, and the prospect of not returning. But he offered glory to the survivors, which in those days was often enough. Shackleton, so the story goes, was inundated with applications.

Any day now a similar ad will appear, taped to the door of the Cofidis team bus by the Director Sportif looking for help. But would anyone apply?

“Cofidis Domestique” must be the most inauspicious position in the peloton. Each day eight men are tasked with getting Nacar Bouhanni to the finish line, and preferably in front of everyone else. It’s thought failure to satisfy these demands causes all sorts of tantrums, and bollockings.

However bad their lot is, riders in the peloton can at least say they don’t ride for Cofidis, as they watch the bruiser butt and slug his way through the peloton, with eight excuses ready for when things go wrong.

And they have been going wrong.

So when Bouhanni found himself in the wrong group when the peloton split, and on what was supposed to be a sprint stage, he set about reversing the situation.

We can only imagine the teeth grinding among his teammates, grinding specifically through the wiring of their two-way radios, hoping to disable them and justify inactivity. But Cyril Lemoine rode forth and into the wind, ready to pedal like hell. Bouhanni hung on.

Cyril Lemoine rides his team leader Nacer Bouhanni back into contention

Fear is not exactly a healthy motivator, but you wonder how much it motivated Lemoine to deliver his man. He and Bouhanni pulled back the two lost minutes of ground before finally easing off – Lemoine leaving Bouhanni to push towards the front. Had his team leader muttered any word of thanks, Lemoine would have been without the breath to acknowledge it.

Bouhanni would miss out on contesting the stage, finishing some 1:43 back. Only the renegade Christophe Laporte, in an obvious act of betrayal, finished ahead of him. The others, wiser perhaps, rolled in later. No thanks or appreciation guaranteed.

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