The Dauphiné has arrived in Annemasse. If it?s not known locally as the ?Slough of the Alps,? it should be. It?s almost as grey as the racing has been.
CW cycled out to Mont Salève, the final climb of today?s stage, to watch the action. There?s a straight bit of road about two kilometres from the top, just after the village of La Croisette, with a view right down the climb. From this fantastic vantage point, I had the perfect grandstand seat for the slow-motion pursuit match between Pierre Rolland and Cyril Dessel. The Crédit Agricole rider was ahead, but Dessel was clawing his way back, setting himself up for victory.
And that, as far as excitement went, was that.
A motley assortment of escapees struggled past, before the favourites group, at least 20-strong, tapped past. Valverde was there, looking comfortable. Leipheimer, also. Evans ? yep, looking comfortable. Even our Charly Wegelius was looking fine, and he?s just spent three weeks flogging himself around Italy at the Giro.
As I watched the favourites potter past, to desultory applause from the crowds, I looked at their faces. They had the dead-eyed, slightly pinched expressions of a snooker player executing a particularly unexciting safety shot.
Where was the passion? The effort? The commitment?
After last year?s exciting race, the Dauphiné deserves better than for riders of the calibre of Valverde, Evans and Sastre to ride round on their anaerobic threshold. Mont Salève was the perfect strategic point for an attack ? steep climb, tailwind false flat and a twisty steep descent to the finish. Instead, the favourites watched. And watched. And watched. And did nothing.
I felt so biliously angry after this that I tried to take it out on the riders. Not Valverde and co ? I can?t afford a restraining order in my line of work.
Instead, when the final trio of Arnaud Coyot, José Vicente Garcia and Alberto Fernandez went through, about 15 minutes after the leaders, I decided to try and cycle after them and keep up. Bearing in mind these seemed to be the three slowest climbers in the race, already with 175 kilometres in their legs, and me fresh as a daisy, and more or less high on caffeine from several espressos at the Relais de la Croisette, I reckoned I could have them.
It turns out I was wrong. One kilometre later, I was crouched by the side of the road, gasping for breath, and pawing vacantly at the air for something to hold on to, while Coyot, Garcia and Fernandez blithely pedalled over the horizon.
Still, I tried harder than any of the main contenders. Let?s hope they were saving themselves for tomorrow.