ARENBERG PORTE DU HAINAUT, FRANCE | On some cobblestones in Roubaix, Australian Simon Clarke's surprise victory in stage five gave the young formation Israel-Premier Tech (IPT) the first bouquet in its history at the Tour de France.
Even if his mother tongue is not French, the former champion Steve Bauer has found the perfect word to describe this stage: epic. Dantesque could have been a good choice too.
“I'm more relieved than happy. We needed it. I hope this confidence will lead us to more victories,” said Canadian-Israeli team co-owner Sylvan Adams.
“It's good for morale,” also mentioned Hugo Houle, well positioned in 25th row.
At the end of a crazy stage between Lille Métropole and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, four riders covered in mud presented themselves for the final explanation after having resisted the peloton.
Neilson Powless attacked with a red flame as the three other survivors stared at each other in bliss. Edvald Boasson Hagen finally sacrificed himself to shatter his opponent's dream, but his own too.
Exhausted, Clarke was still in the wheel of the Norwegian. Taco van der Hoorn threw away his last strength, but Clarke stayed upright on the pedals as he launched his bike further over the finish line.
With the disappearance of his former team Qhubeka, the 35-year-old winner had found refuge at the last minute at IPT last January, narrowly postponing a forced retirement.
“Last winter, I was without a contract. So imagine how I feel. It's beyond what I imagined. Thanks to my team, who gave me a chance. I try to seize the opportunities, that's what I did today,” Clarke said, still bearing the marks of the effort and the dust from this piece of the Northern Hell.
“Even with five riders up front, you had to believe it. It was a great breakaway,” he added.
Despite a crash and a dangerous swerve from the handlebars to avoid a car, Wout van Aert narrowly retained his yellow jersey by 13 seconds, but the Jumbo-Visma almost burned itself trying to save everything at the same time.
Jonas Vingegaard has had mechanical problems and Primoz Roglic finds himself more than two minutes behind Tadej Pogacar. In disaster, the yellow jersey van Aert even slipped for a moment to help his teammates. The leader of the team may no longer be the Slovenian Roglic.
Before this incomparable success, Simon Clarke had snatched two stage victories in the Tour of Spain in 2012 and 2018. He also won the mountain classification on the Vuelta in 2012.
On the Grande Boucle in 2014, the fifth stage and its cobblestones also allowed Simon Clarke to believe in victory, but Lars Boom won.
This galley demonstrated why the peloton seemed to be sleeping a bit for a few days. For once, the promised action exceeded expectations. Falls, punctures, favorites trapped or lagging behind, the cobblestones have lived up to their heartbreaking reputation.
To make a change, it was the polka dot jersey Magnus Cort who was the fifth fugitive at the start of the race. Since last Friday, the Danish fighter has spent around 75% of the race on the breakaway.
A ton less pressure
Steve Bauer celebrates Israel's victory Premier-Tech with the team coach driver.
There were lots of hugs and shouts of joy this evening for all the riders and support staff of the Israel-Premier Tech team.
This long-awaited first success came as the fansweren't expecting it. In addition to saving their season and suddenly forgetting the troubles of spring, this glorious day took the pressure off several notches.
Even Steve Bauer jumped on the neck of the burly driver of 'coach. In addition to the eight cyclists, dozens of other people work day and night for three weeks.
“A great victory at the Tour de France on a key stage, hats off to Clarke! » commented Hugo Houle, proud of his family.
Casing nothing, the Quebecer once again finished in the first group and is in 34th place in the general classification at only 1 min 51  ;s of the yellow jersey.
“Behind it was quite chaotic. A beautiful mess. There were a few crashes and I was slowed down. It's a really good day for the team,” he finished before disappearing into the shower.
All the post-race interviews were interspersed with several pats on the back. Guillaume Boivin was also happy with the turn of events.
“A victory in the Tour is extraordinary. Simon is a sniper. When he has the opportunity, it's rare that he misses his shot. »
In his second Tour de France, Boivin would like to have better sensations.
“I have to manage my efforts. I don't have the best legs, but winning will feel good. It's good for morale and pressure. It will motivate everyone to continue in this momentum,” analyzed the 33-year-old cyclist.
“We couldn't ask for a better day. We hope to win more. Simon is sharp and strong tactically. The photo-finish added to the suspense”, also specified the director Steve Bauer, who relived strong emotions today in Arenberg while thinking of his second place in Paris-Roubaix in 1990.
Before enjoying a glass of champagne with the family, one of them recalled that Michael Woods is patiently waiting for the mountain. Early in the first week there is still time to double down.
“When [Neilson] Powless attacked from a mile away today I was sure it was done for Simon Clarke. We know there are more victories that can await us. Tonight, we are going to allow them to have a drink, a little one! » finished boss Sylvan Adams.
Returning to the country after the passage in Denmark, the other leader Jean Bélanger was a little angry.
“ But I am so happy with this victory and not at all on the expected stage! »
In the notebook…
- No rider had left the Tour after four days. The first two cripples forced to retire are Australian Jack Haig (Bahrain) and Austrian Michael Gogl (Alpecin). At Arkea-Samsic, Frenchman Hugo Hofstetter was fined around 300 euros (approximately $398 CAD) for “inappropriate behavior”. The runners' pee break must have a minimum of discretion.
- In France and Belgium, masks and barrier gestures have disappeared. The number of COVID-19 cases recorded each day in France is approaching 200,000, French Health Minister François Braun announced on Tuesday.
- Le Tour, which wants to be carbon neutral in 2030, will have to be imaginative with the amount of fuel needed per day. It is not the installation of bicycle parking spaces on each stage and the bamboo utensils that will eliminate the image of polluter.
- A few kilometers from the finish, near the last cobbled section in Arenberg, a large Quebec flag was unfurled along the road. Its French owner had already studied at the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue in forestry (UQAT). “I don't know why he puts that on. No one is going to understand,” her mother said. False.