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Colmar, July 15
Would they already need to take a breather? In any case, on paper, the 222.5km between Colmar and Pontarlier evoke what we call the “stages of transition” — in other words, stages that should just exist to move the race between the more important stages, and so not be a threat to the team leaders. In some way, St. Omer–Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais–Antwerp, Huy–Verdun, Commercy–Strasbourg, Pontarlier–Aix-les-Bains, Pau–Lavaur and Brive–Montluçon also fall into that category this year.
It remains, though, that once on the road, maps tend to merge; the history of cycling doesn’t place less importance on the transition stages that, from one turn to the next, as a challenge or as a game, can change into terrible ordeals. As the old sages expressed perfectly, one must be wary of stagnant water. And, added cycling journalist Pierre Chany, one must be wary “of races that obey the law of the zipper: those slow meanderings on sun-baked roads that give rise to hunting for fresh waterbottles and multiply the need to empty the bladder, always resulting in a painful end to the day.”
Because he forgot this several times, Charly Gaul lost at least one Giro and one Tour; closer to us, in 1971, Luis Ocaña felt the wind pass like a cannonball on the stage to Marseille. He had naively believed that Eddy Merckx, humiliated two days earlier in the Alps, was ready to give up! Ah, Merckx, the exemplary champion, never gave up, and if it is understood that a Merckx is no longer in the peloton (Axel, his son, will undoubtedly understand), it cannot be said that there are no more rebels. Consequently, we will conclude from this stage what the specialists generally conclude from stages that run a little long and are not topographically difficult, stages that take us one step closer to the mountains: Watch out, danger!