LONGWY, France (VN) — No nude hotel meeting, no grand plan, just an opportunity seized and strength displayed as Cannondale-Drapac tossed its polka dot jersey between two Tour-rookie teammates on Monday, off Taylor Phinney’s shoulders and onto Nate Brown’s.
“I’m on Cloud Nine,” Brown said, rolling slowly back to his team bus after the podium ceremony. To stand on the podium just three days into his first Tour is “a dream come true,” he said. “I would never have dreamt in a million years I’d be the polka dot jersey at the Tour de France.”
“You just can’t compare me to Phinney now,” he joked. “My interviews won’t compete.”
A day that began as a defense of Phinney’s lead in the climber’s competition soon turned to offense. The best way to hang on to the jersey was to pass it around within the team. If Phinney, tired from his 203-kilometer escapade on Sunday, couldn’t defend the jersey himself, Brown could do it for him.
That wasn’t the plan, though. Cannondale director Charly Wegelius did not sit down with Brown Sunday night and lay out the polka dots as an objective, as he had with Phinney. Instead, Dylan van Baarle was the man for breakaways on Monday’s stage. He jumped in a couple, but each was brought back. “I was going to watch for moves that he wasn’t in,” Brown said. “One went away that he wasn’t in and I jumped across. It happened to be the one.”
“Lucky, yeah, and a little strength involved,” Brown said.
Brown took the points over the first category four, earning a single point. Phinney had two. Then Nils Politt (Katusha) took the second KOM, another cat 4. The simple math dictated that the next climb, a category 3 called Côte de Wiltz, worth two points, would decide who ended the day in dots.
Politt attacked. Brown followed. “I didn’t know who was going to get it,” he said. “Politt was super strong, but I knew as long as I could get to the base of the climb with him, I thought I could out climb him.”
Once on the slopes of the Côte de Wiltz, there was little question who was climbing better. Brown, a slight rider who will be tasked with supporting Andrew Talansky in the mountains later in the Tour, hit out early and had room to soft pedal at the top.
“I didn’t want to wait to long, so I went pretty early, maybe too early,” Brown said. “But it worked out.”
Brown is the type of rider who could conceivably continue to chase the climber’s jersey throughout this race. He will almost certainly do so through Tuesday, which features just a single category 4 climb, worth a single KOM point. He didn’t rule out the possibility of continuing to defend, nor did he point to it as a real goal. “We’ll go with the team’s goals first, but if those have me keeping the jersey, I’d love to hold on to it.”