Every day at the Tour de France, a combativity prize is awarded to the most aggressive rider of the stage, decided by a jury. This is not always clear the viewer at home, or the fan on the roadside, but it does mean something. It's not only some time on the podium, or €2000 in prize money, or even red numbers for the next stage; it's some recognition for a big effort.
Some stages this is obvious, like Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on stage six, when the Belgian was up the road in the yellow jersey for 146km, or when it was the Magnus Cort show for a couple of days. However, other days it is a bit more puzzling, and tends to be awarded to French rider more than others, perhaps just because of their numerical advantage at the race.
Now, imagine spending almost four hours out the front of a bike race, to be the last one to be caught, only to be rewarded with nothing at the end of the day. That is exactly what happened to Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious) on stage eight of the Tour, with the young man from London spending 172km up the road from the bunch, only to finish 77th in the end.
He didn't even get the combativity prize, it being awarded to Mattia Cattaneo (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), his break colleague for almost all of the day's escape, before Wright dropped him at the end.
Rolling back to the bus almost four minutes after Wout van Aert won the sprint in Lausanne, the 23-year-old seemed reasonably chipper for a man who ended the day with nothing after putting all that work in, apart from being gutted not to get the red dossards for tomorrow.
"I think they must have decided when Cattaneo gave up," he said. I'm a bit disappointed with that to be honest. I kinda thought with 5km to go that at least I'd have the red number, but what can you do, it was a good day out anyway."
Maybe Wright is a big fan of Louis Pasteur, whose 200th birthday was being celebrated by his hometown of Dole on Saturday morning, as this was one as he had marked for a chance. Sadly he didn't comment on his love of germ theory, but who knows.
"I targeted this stage as a day to go for the breakaway," he explained afterwards. "You follow moves, you're there, and you realise there's only three of you. I was a bit gutted. I think there was some people coming across, well I thought people were coming across, but unfortunately not. Once you're there, you're there. It was a long day out but I enjoyed it."
He might be yet to take a professional win, but Wright has impressed at a number of races, especially at the Tour of Flanders this year, where he finished seventh. He has clearly been given some licence by his Bahrain team to try things, along with teammates like Matej Mohorič, Jan Tratnik and Dylan Teuns.
"There's obviously a lot of us here that want to take opportunities," he said. "We still have Damiano for the GC, but there are some more days for me and the other guys to really have a crack and trying to get a stage win....
"It's not just a simple thing of 'oh get yourself in the break'. It was pretty straightforward today, but often there's a big fight for the days the guys want to get in the breakaway. The decision often just makes itself, because Matej [Mohorič] will be trying, Jan [Tratnik] will be trying, I'll be trying. You can all be committed. Sometimes you end up with two guys in a big break."
Wright was in a break at last year's Tour as well, on stage 16 to Saint-Gaudens, where he finished 12th, but this one was different as he was the last one up the road. Also, this year has seen huge crowds on the route in a semi-post-Covid world, a change from last year.
"I can't describe it really, I don't think it has sunk in to be honest," he said. "It's pretty special to be there, and there's plenty more days to come, more breakaways, and I'll hopefully take some more opportunities."
Sadly for the Londoner, and his break companions Cattaneo and Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal), the peloton always looked like it had the day under control and never let the three men go, although they did try some tactics.
"We had a nice relaxed period, Cattaneo made the call and it was a good one, we chilled for about 10km, and then he drilled it," Wright explained. "I was really on board with that. You gain back time, and then it was flat out to the finish."
In the end, three men were just not enough to keep the might of the peloton at bay, but that won't stop him from trying, especially as he was capable of doing something in a reduced sprint.
"On that finish, I'm not going to beat the likes of Van Aert from the bunch, but from a break I fancy my chances on a day like today," he said. "The break just wasn't big enough, but ah well, what can you do."
You can read more of Fred Wright's thoughts at the Tour de France in his Cycling Weekly diary, out in the magazine every Thursday.
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