(Bayonne) Guillaume Boivin and Hugo Houle played “Where is Corbin?” “On the occasion of the first massive sprint of the Tour de France, Monday afternoon, in Bayonne.

Unlike the famous character from Where’s Waldo?, Corbin Strong didn’t wear a beanie and red and white striped sweater. The 23-year-old New Zealander rode in blue, white and orange instead.

Even if Israel-Premier Tech’s new uniform is conspicuous, it was difficult to spot in the first places of the colorful peloton which tumbled at more than 70 km / h on the bridge which spans the Nive river. The rowers who rowed on its brown waters were probably disheveled.

On their first experience together in this context, Houle and Boivin, the only two locomotives on IPT’s humble ‘train’, lost their only carriage, Strong finishing 16th in stage three won by Belgian Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) .

“It was a good first try in a sprint like that,” said the rookie. We didn’t get a good result, but the boys did a really good job in the approach. With the resources we have, we did a pretty good job of getting into position. »

It was a little later that the operation “it is necessary to place the soldier Corbin” came to a standstill. At a roundabout 2.4 km away, Houle had to negotiate a slight bottleneck.

“I went up them when I had to, two kilometres,” he noted as he got off the bike. I was in the wheel of Wout van Aert, calm. It was perfect. »

The problem is that Strong was no longer there.

“He’s not following!” “, swung Houle when Boivin joined him on the bus. “You saw, before the roundabout, I took you…”

“We didn’t go through, but he wasn’t there,” confirmed Boivin. I did not force too much to pass. Then I let myself down to get it. He put me back in the DSM group and I went after. In the last mile, I thought to myself, I’m not going to come back and mess with him and get him locked up. Do you understand what I mean? »

“I was following,” Houle continued. [Mads] Pedersen [9th] hit me in the face and I let Sagan pass so as not to take any risks. I have fun. »

At his baptism of the Tour, Corbin Strong had showcased his profile as a puncher / sprinter in the breakouts around Bilbao by settling the second group to rank 15th. On this first occasion for the real big cars to roar their engines, he did not expect to fight with the best in Bayonne. A place in the top 10 would have satisfied him.

“It would have been a good first run, but I missed it by a few positions,” admitted the 5-foot-6, 140-pound athlete. It was a good experience. We will continue to learn. Hopefully I can fight for the win in the next [sprints]. »

Boivin, his roommate, was also looking ahead.

In a good mood, Houle shared the same optimism: “We lack a bit of experience. It’s the first time I’ve run with them for the sprints. So it’s hard to stay together. But the intention was there. We ran well, we were there in the final and we tried. »

The two men agreed to pose to immortalize this first “train” of Israel-Premier Tech at the Tour de France 2023.

“It’s limited in ost… the train!” “, chuckled Houle before going to the shower in the coach, already ready to leave for the next stage. Another sprint is to be expected between Dax and Nogaro. Will they play “Where’s Corbin again?” What if Boivin took a chance?

It was not very complicated: except for a victory for Mark Cavendish, the sprint in Bayonne would be more or less a non-event.

In pursuit of the Tour de France stage record, the Cav ‘, who has 34 like Eddy Merckx, crossed the line in the sixth rung, a tone below the contenders.

Even at 38, the Briton from Astana has shown that he can be counted on at the Tour, as at the last Giro where he beat everyone at the last stage in Rome, his 17th success in Italy.

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin) beat in order Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain) and Caleb Ewan. The pocket Lotto finisher has signed his best result since his last victory in 2020.

In this curved final, Philipsen slightly closed the door to the unfortunate Wout van Aert (Jumbo), who had to get up (4th). The jury of curators watched the revival, but was quick to confirm the success of the Netflix series “Jasper Disaster”, crowned on the Champs-Élysées last summer.

The man to beat is him, even if he refuses to take the hat. “We will decide after Paris,” tempered the 25-year-old Belgian, who assured that he did not want to be “unfair” to his compatriot Van Aert, surprised by Victor Lafay (Cofidis) the day before in San Sebastian. “If you have the lead, it’s okay to take the shortest route to the line. »

The real firework of the day was how his luxury pilot fish, Mathieu van der Poel, put him into orbit between 600 and 300 meters. After two disappointing performances in the Basque Country, Raymond Poulidor’s grandson showed his true level.

“It’s not easy to stay in Mathieu’s wheel,” admitted Philipsen. If the other trains aren’t able to pass, you know it’s going fast. Only the acceleration for the sprint was very difficult. »

Adam Yates (UAE), 66th on the stage, kept his yellow jersey without struggling.