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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Heroics in Flanders Fields (on and off the bike)

Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields

Cyril Lemoine, in a ditch, having possibly lost his wedding ring.

It was only appropriate, in a race named after Flanders Fields, one ridden through memorials and tributes to the fallen of the Great War, that trenches would feature so prominently. Specifically the heroics of men falling into them, and then climbing out again.

First is was Cyril Lemoine of Cofidis, a team that tends to feature strongly in crashes of late, and which you suspect doesn’t tolerate crybabies.

Lemoine was picked-up by the cameras, messing around in a trench that ran parallel to the road, either catching tadpoles or looking for his wedding ring. Understanding that with a bike race on this was no time for either, he clambered out, and, seeing no sign of his team car, began clobbering his back into shape with several blows to the handlebars. Bodge complete, and the peloton disappearing in a cloud of dust up the road, he set off to catch them.

Even more heroic was the effort of Robert Wagner, who earned a mention in dispatches for a selfless manoeuvre, worthy of a medal.

Richard Wagner performing heroics in the Flanders trenches

With the crash unfolding in front of him, Wagner was somehow off his own bike and putting his teammate onto it, before others had finished falling off. While they hit the gravel track, Wagner was pushing his man back into the race, not thinking of the lonely ride he had ahead to rejoin him, which he would do, finishing only seven minutes or so back.

Wagner watched him roll away, and then turned to find a Sunweb rider midway through the process of falling into a ditch. In the spirit of the location, and of helping a fallen comrade regardless of their nationality, or their team, Wagner hoisted him out of what looked like an uncomfortable situation.

Touching scenes in the fields of Flanders, both on and off the bike.

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