The concept of a broom wagon sweeping up riders at the back of the race may now only be a metaphor, but the battle to beat the time cut lives on for riders toiling at the back of the Tour de France.
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Jens Debusschere (B&B Hotels – Vital Concept) was the latest rider to get booted from the race Wednesday after losing the eternal battle with the broom wagon, finishing over 37:35 behind stage winner Miguel Ángel López. The Belgian is only the third rider to have missed the time cut at this year’s race, alongside Jérôme Cousin (Total-Direct Energie) and John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal).
Wednesday’s queen stage of the Tour took the peloton over two hors categorie climbs and marked a clear threat for the peloton’s heavyweights as they looked to battle against the ticking clock of the stage time cut, which is calculated as a percentage of the stage-winner’s time.
While all the fastmen hoping to kick for a sprint victory on the Champs-Élysées hauled themselves to the high-altitude summit of the Col de la Loze in the safe camaraderie of the gruppetto, Debusschere found himself stepping into the metaphorical voiture balai having spent all his energies towing sprinter teammate Bryan Coquard through the mountains.
“On the Col de Madeleine I was pretty comfortable in the group with Sam Bennett, but Bryan [Coquard] had a hard time and I waited for him,” Debusschere told Sporza after the stage. “We can’t do much here without him, because what’s a lead-out [Debusschere’s role] without a sprinter?”
“In the valley, I did everything I could to bring him closer. But at the foot of the final climb, I was finished. Then he left with my approval. It was over.”
Coquard made it through the stage to finish the last man inside the limit before collapsing in tears, later saying on Twitter, “At the end of the effort. One word, ‘Thank you, Jens.'”
Total-Direct Energie rider Cousin was another to go from hero to zero, eliminated from the Tour on the hilly 16th stage into Villard-de-Lans having fallen foul of the time cut by just two minutes.
Two weeks earlier the Frenchman had spent hours in a solo breakaway as the peloton went on an unofficial go-slow on stage 3 out of Nice, landing himself the combativity prize having stayed out front alone “out of respect for the Tour de France.”
— RoisDeLaPedale (@RoisDeLaPedale) September 15, 2020
Just as Cousin toiled away solo to honor the biggest bike race in the world on stage 3, many riders already aware that they will miss the time cut choose to pedal to the finish of a stage rather than getting into the nearest team car as a mark of respect. Star sprinter Mark Cavendish came to the finish of stage 11 of the 2018 Tour half an hour outside the limit, saying afterward “I never climb off. I climbed off as a neo-pro and I said that I’d never do it again.”
Degenkolb was the first rider to miss the time cut at this year’s Tour having crashed on the very opening stage of the race. He too ground his way to the finish line despite injuring both knees when hitting the deck on the greasy, rainsoaked roads around Nice.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Today I lost all,” Degenkolb posted on Instagram after the stage. “All I worked and trained for in this special 2020. With wounded knees I could finish with a lot of pain the stage, alone, with a more than 18 minutes delay but obviously I am far out of the time limit… It’s frustrating as hell but that’s the brutal reality of cycling.”
Riders that fail to meet the cut off at the Tour de France are a stark reminder that although the peloton pedals at superhuman speeds, they’re not infallible. And that makes those designated “OTL” [Outside Time Limit] just as heroic as those that go on to stand on the podium in Paris.
“The beautiful stories of the Tour are also written at the back,” stated B&B Hotels – Vital Concept after Debusschere was booted.”At the top of the Col de la Loze, the team loses a rider but above all a teammate with unlimited dedication. Thank you!”
For the Belgian, it’s just a hazard of the job.
“It is a shame that I have to leave so close to Paris,” he said after the stage. “But it is no different. I came to the team to ride for Bryan and so you have to do everything for it.”
— B&B HOTELS – VITAL CONCEPT P/B KTM (@BBHotels_VC) September 16, 2020