(San Sebastian, Spain) Impressed by the almost insolent demonstration of Victor Lafay in the steep slopes of Bilbao the day before, Hugo Houle “chambered” his colleague at the start of the second stage, under a drizzle Sunday noon in Vitoria-Gasteiz.
“I saw you got the legs, you walk around!” “, launched the Quebecer by mimicking the movement of the pedals with the index and the middle finger, universal symbol of ease on two wheels.
We won’t know what the Frenchman answered him, but five hours later, on the dry asphalt of San Sebastian, he surprised all the favorites by scampering under the red flame before resisting their return in extremis to lift the arm on arrival.
Not only was it the best victory for the 27-year-old rider, winner of the Giro in 2019, but it represented an almost miraculous deliverance for the Cofidis team, which had not tasted it on the Tour since 2008 and a success of Sylvain Chavanel.
Fifteen years of frustration – and even taunts – have probably disappeared at once for the northern team, sometimes mocked for its red and sunny yellow uniform which has not always offered a happy assembly.
“When I made my effort, I wasn’t even thinking about winning,” said the friendly-looking Lyonnais, still out of breath.
Lafay was ahead in order of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Tadej Pogacar (UAE) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo), the main players in the last Tour. The three Galacticos of cycling once again fought a crank battle at the top of Jaizkibel, the emblematic mountain of San Sebastian invaded by the Zaleak, the name given to Basque supporters.
Fifth the day before, Canadian Mike Woods (IPT) finished seventh this time, falling two places in the general classification. His Belgian teammate Dylan Teuns finished ninth.
“There was a big tempo all day,” said Lafay, who clocked the same time as his 23 chasers, nearly losing it all.
“It’s not what I like the most. In addition, I had a side stitch in the middle of the stage which I dragged into the last bump where I was a bit limited. I really got hooked. I said to myself: for once, I’m going to have a plan in the end, which I don’t necessarily usually have! »
Sixth Saturday, after getting involved in the first Pogacar-Vingegaard duel, the puncher has faded a bit this time.
“Yesterday I was tagged. Maybe today I took advantage of it a little. I saw that Jumbo worked a lot in the final. That’s also why I thought it might be a good idea to do the kilometer course, since they were a bit worn out. Wout was not going to roll on his own. I played on that and I think that’s what won me. »
Nineteenth on the stage, Adam Yates (UAE) kept his yellow jersey, but Pogacar slipped between him and his twin brother Simon (Jayco) thanks to the 12 bonus seconds snatched from the top of Jaizkibel and the arrival.
First to draw on the mountain, Vingegaard ultimately lost five seconds to his main rival in the general standings, where he nevertheless moved up to sixth place.
After the ceremonies, Lafay pedaled towards the bus, reviving with his hand the cheers of the Donestians who did not want this finally sunny Sunday to end. The two Cofidis cars, which followed him behind, honked at will, exclamation points of an unforgettable day.