If there was anyone not willing Marc Hirschi on to victory as he escaped up the road on stage 12 of the Tour de France, best check the back of their neck for loose wirings that would expose them as a robot incapable of human emotion.
The Swiss youngster’s win came at the third time of asking, edged out by Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) on stage two, a victory that would have also handed him the yellow jersey, before being foiled by Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) on stage nine.
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Hirschi was inconsolable after the second near-miss but resolved to take courage from his performance, knowing his talent was showing through on the biggest stage of all.
Did he get back to the team bus and plot where he would next try for the top step of the podium?
No. The 22-year-old doesn’t even look at the course profile until the morning of the stage.
“I like to open the roadbook in the morning and see what the stage is,” Hirschi told the press conference when asked if he will now look for opportunities to double his tally. “I will keep doing the same, I will decide every morning.”
Hirschi has now secured his place within the story of the 2020 French Grand Tour, the race a magnet for have-a-go heroes. But the exuberance of his youth and how he seems to be approaching his racing also means he didn’t believe he would win even when he was well clear of his chasers in the final kilometres.
“In that last kilometre, I didn’t believe I could make it,” Hirschi admitted. “I was doubtful after the last few sprints, and it’s made it more special because I have been close. I’ve been sad, especially after Sunday, but it’s just about having the confidence to try again.”
With Sunweb’s sprinter Cees Bol also making the podium on two occasions this race, it felt like a deserved win for the squad. Hirschi says the team set out to try and get eight riders up the road today on a stage that Mitchelton-Scott’s Matt White said had “breakaway written all over it”.
After that failed to materialise, Sunweb tried to position Hirschi, Søren Kragh Andersen and Tiesj Benoot up the road. With Roche swapped in for Benoot, the stage winner eventually attacked from 27km out, while Roche and Kragh Andersen provided the invaluable assistance of blocking counter-attacks in the group behind.
“I tried to wait for the last climb and then move with the big guys,” Hirschi explained. “But in the moment I reacted to both attacks and then there were three guys in front. Then, I tried to make it hard in the last climb and just went, then it was just full gas.”
Having lost star rider Tom Dumoulin last year to Jumbo-Visma, and Michael Matthews amongst their other top guys jumping ship at the end of this year, Hirschi is humble in whether he will move into a bigger role going forward.
“That’s something that’s in the future. First, I have to realise what I’ve done and then what I can do in the future.”
Last year he began being managed Fabian Cancellara, the rider he looked up to while progressing up through the ranks. As for his own future, Hirschi wants to at first target punchy races such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia, before maybe morphing into a Grand Tour contenders.
“I think in the next years I will be more for the punchy races, Liège, Lombardia,” Hirschi said. “And then that punch is something you can’t do as much as you get older so I hope my engine gets bigger, then I can improve in stage races and longer climbs.
“I’ll focus on the basics and then hopefully one day I’ll develop into a Grand Tour rider or for the Tour de Suisse, that would be nice.”
For now, we should just hope there’s a morning Hirschi opens up his roadbook, likes what he sees, and sets off up the road once more.