Stage Preview: An unusual garnish

Despite a night having passed, the tension hasn’t dropped, and the images of yesterday continue to dance in our minds, confirming Antoine Blondin’s beautiful proposition: "Three-quarters of a century of existence have sufficed for the Tour de France to create and exalt its own privileged geography. Among the modifications that, from one year to the next, can affect the itinerary, we find the permanence of certain hallowed places. They lend to the race a fourth dimension, situated in time, and contribute to the foundation of a sort of classicism." Needless to say, the classicism passed

Grenoble, July 18

Despite a night having passed, the tension hasn’t dropped, and the images of yesterday continue to dance in our minds, confirming Antoine Blondin’s beautiful proposition: “Three-quarters of a century of existence have sufficed for the Tour de France to create and exalt its own privileged geography. Among the modifications that, from one year to the next, can affect the itinerary, we find the permanence of certain hallowed places. They lend to the race a fourth dimension, situated in time, and contribute to the foundation of a sort of classicism.”

Needless to say, the classicism passed through L’Alpe d’Huez yesterday, and everyone is now weighing the merits of the winner, comparing him to the Alpe’s Italian conquerors: Giuseppe Guerini in 1999, Marco Pantani in 1997 and 1995, Gianni Bugno in 1991 and 1990 — even to the legendary Fausto Coppi, as it was the campionissimo himself who had the honor of opening the Alpe’s palmarès in 1952! That said, in this Tour de France that voluntarily reduces the Alps to the Alpe d’Huez — Chamrousse connection, the lessons that can be drawn from the past come down to a meager result: Only Piotr Ugrumov in the recent past has scored back-to-back victories in the Alps.

“The best cooked meals are often satisfied with unusual garnishes, whose very nature contrasts with the outright quality of the main dish,” Blondin wrote at another time. It’s not a bad phrase, giving the day’s time trial — 32km, 18 of which climb at an average 7.2-percent grade — its true value: that of an unusual garnish. Not the trite cherry on the cake, but one of those spices that hangs on the breath. In the 1980s, Pedro Delgado adored this type of dish. Today, one can imagine that his compatriot, Roberto Heras, could do the same.