Who wasn’t pulling for Edvald Boasson Hagen of Dimension Data to win stage 19 from Embrun to Salon-de-Provence?
Probably the entire world-wide cycling audience except for Jan Bakelants, Thomas De Gendt, Daniele Bennati, Sylvain Chavanel, Jens Keukeleire, Nikias Arndt, Elie Gesbert and Michael Albasini. They were firmly against the idea although they couldn’t stop him. (All of Africa was cheering for the Norwegian.)
They were the other eight riders in the break who escaped from the larger group of twenty that had left the peloton behind. For most riders and teams it was the final shot at glory, with only the Marseille time trial and the sprinters-only dash up the Champs Elysées before the 2017 edition was done and dusted.
Anyone with two legs left and no responsibility for a high GC finish was motivated to give it a go. The stage was over 222 kilometers, the longest étape of Le Grand Shindig, so there was plenty of road to try to establish a break. Groups of riders kept jumping off the front until there were 19 riders. At which point maillot jaune Chris Froome and Team Sky relaxed and hit cruise control.
The winning move was a curve ball. With 2.2 kilter to go, there was a roundabout and a decision to be made at hight speed. Boasson Hagen and Arndt took the right side while the others went left, not knowing it was the slow way around the corner. The duo shot ahead and never looked back, with Boasson Hagen dropping the German in the final kilometer and soloing to victory.
It was a deeply satisfying win, given the Norwegian could very well have taken out four stages — given his two photot-finish second places (to Marcel Kittel and Michael Matthews) and a third place, as well. He saves the Tour for Dimension Data after star sprinter Mark Cavendish crashed out of the Tour, trying to race thru a shrinking gap along the barrier protected by Peter Sagan and his right elbow.
It’s always struck us that Edvald is a painfully nice and reserved young man — which seem silly to say at this point given he’s 30 years old. Still, he has a boyish face and apparent lack of ego that takes years off his appearance. Heralded as a prodigy when he was at Team Sky, he never really fit into their rigid analytics-driven culture and the switch to Dimension Data was a new start and fresher oxygen.
When we were at the Tour for the second week, we thought Edvald looked particularly lean. Little less of a classic body and more of a power sprinter. Whatever he’s done to accomplish that, he’s been impressively fast in the Tour — a performance in the sprints that absolutely nobody saw coming.
You could see from his ecstatic smile as he crossed the finish line that he was one happy man. Sometimes, as the cliche goes, the good guy really does finish first, on a Friday, in Salon-de-Provence.