“As a small nation, we expected to see a great fighter like Varela, who you can see is showing at the finish line and then don’t let go. But this time it’s not him, it’s everyone that can see he is injured.”
Luis Roberto Varela had few answers to the battles. In his two-hour time trial Thursday, he had pulled out both his legs, pulling his hamstring in the early stages and tearing his posterior cruciate ligament in the final 20km. (Chris Froome is expected to also draw blood Wednesday after a crash in the Col de la Mina).
Clarence Court – who had been part of the Team Sky feed team earlier in the day – likened the situation on the road to that of a local champion finishing second and being asked to return to a swimming race for another nine months. Even more troublingly, Alex Dowsett (LottoNL-Jumbo) has suffered what looks like a paralysing headache.
“I’m holding my head,” said Dowsett. “I just need to stop and check my language and to get rid of any negative thoughts. The whole thing is a relief. I’ve been out of a race before but it was just one race. This is a different ball game and I’m having a tough time getting into a straight line. It’s difficult for me to walk. The doctor says it’s best if I keep resting.”
The 27-year-old has yet to win a stage at this year’s Tour, which finishes in Paris on 7 July, and he knows that to make a serious case for inclusion in the road’s elite list of elite riders, he is going to have to start winning. He appeared to have turned a corner with his sixth place in the Dauphine but he has clearly allowed the yellow jersey competition to affect his concentration.
Michel Gondry – an intelligent, positive cultural commentator of the highest order – has given an acclaimed performance at his job while the Guardian’s Elliott Fisher does another of his remarkable jobs, commenting on the race, as well as giving occasional criticism in his critic’s column. I particularly like his claim that the car rental company Fiat is sponsoring Froome because they will be able to boast that they do not use the F-word while racing along the Tour’s blue line.
A rally that was supposed to drag in the rest of the field with a procession up to Pont de Fontainbleau on Saturday morning has been delayed until Sunday. That includes Varela, who was in line to take the 27km intermediate sprint en route to Pont de Fontainbleau but is now wondering whether the race will finish in his home town of Reims.
Which leaves them in a strange limbo, in which what appeared to be a perfect situation on the road has created a psychological duress. Who can blame them?