Blazin' Saddles

Tour de Farce: Night-Demare for Arnaud, Tears for Tinkov

Blazin' Saddles

While Polish tyro Rafal Majka was pooh-poohing that chances of his fellow escapees on the front of the race, French national champion Arnaud Demare was dropping something of his own during stage 14 of the Tour de France on Saturday.

Anyone well versed in Tour mountain stages is used to the sight of Demare very much rooted to the back-end of the race once the roads start to head up into the clouds.

But mid-way through the Col du Lautaret, Demare - chaparoned by a FDJ team-mate in the time-old manner of two girlfriends going to powder their noses in restaurant restrooms the world over - made a sudden surge from the bottom of the peloton.

The Tour debutant then edged clear of the pack in one of the most unlikely ostensible breakaways of the entire race before further puzzling viewers by pulling up at a roadside campervan and entering through the back door.

No hallucinations - it did actually happen. Look...

This sparked some good natured banter about the motives behind Demare's impromptu visit to the vehicle - perhaps to gain some kind of motorised assistance?

The official Katusha social media person innocently thought it was perhaps a visit to a friend or relative - even though the van in question has a Belgian number plate and was nestled between vans emblazoned with American and Australian flags.

Of course, most of us with a typical British sense of humour were quicker to read between the lines...

Yes, the real reason behind Demare's visit to the campervan was so he could shed some bib short ballast. You see, like many riders in this year's race, Demare had been struggling with illness and - in the fierce heat on the Lautaret - he needed to empty his bidons, so to speak.

If you're still in doubt, then an article on a Norwegian website later confirmed that Demare had been struck down by diarrhoea (or as they put it, "very loose stools"). When put through Google Translate, it does indeed make for comedy reading...

The article also revealed that there had been a sequel to Demare's opportune campervan visit. Apparently, once his rivals eased up over the finish line, Demare "upped the pace" and entered a second motorhome next to the FDJ team bus - inside of which he spend 10 whole minutes before exiting "tired and relieved".

Perhaps the best thing about the whole article is the photo of Demare giving the reporters the thumbs-up after some much needed relief to his fiery day in the saddle.

Judging by her scowl, it's fair to say that the lady in pink was probably the van's unfortunate owner. Either that, or the person responsible for cleaning FDJ's kit every night...

The episode recalls a tricky moment in the career of Eurosport pundit Greg LeMond, who once famously followed through on a stage to Futuroscope, rode 60km with the evidence all over his shorts and legs, and then made a beeline to his team bus and a box of Bernard Hinault postcards to "boucler la boucle" as the French would say.

Moving on, and also having a stinker of a day was Spain's Alejandro Valverde, who cracked on the final climb to Risoul to lose exactly a minute to yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali - and see his position on the podium threatened by French youngsters Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot.

French fans were certainly pleased to witness the Spaniard's demise after Valverde was branded a "rotten" sport by arguing with Pinot and refusing to ride with his rival on Friday's climb to Chamrousse. Valverde's wily antics apparently led the Movistar man to apologise to Pinot on Saturday morning - but the pair were at each other's throats again at Risoul.

Speaking to reporters after the stage, Valverde indeed blamed his troubles on an alleged incident involving Pinot, with the Frenchman apparently breaking Valverde's derailleur and forcing him to ride the final 5km in the big ring. If true, then Pinot has more than got his own back... while the next instalment of their rivalry promises to be extremely spicy.

Finally, a quick word on stage winner Rafal Majka, a late call-up to Tinkoff-Saxo's Tour squad following the shock suspension of Roman Kreuziger prior to the race. Freed from the fetters of marshalling Alberto Contador, 24-year-old Majka has been in his element in the Alps - and apparently he had Saturday's stage down as his all along.

If Majka was livid when he learnt of his late selection, it's fair to say that the Pole will now be happy he's topping podiums rather than topping up his tan this July. One thing's for sure, the man who pays his salary is quite happy.

In fact, Majka's win after Contador's shock withdrawal from the race proved all too emotional for Oleg Tinkov, who showed his soft side by bursting out in tears when interviewed on live television.

And finally, after the chateaux and mountains of the previous two blogs, how about some livestock on a mountain - even if they're sadly not overlooking a castle.

Felix Lowe - Twitter: @Saddleblaze

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