Bahrain Victorious’s special edition Tour de France jerseys are white, but this is still a squad in mourning. Soldiering on. Picking up the pieces.
The team suffered the sudden and tragic loss of rider Gino Mäder last month, as he died following a crash at the Tour de Suisse just under a month ago.
But the grieving process was given a little soothing balm by Pello Bilbao’s victory on stage ten. The Spaniard, who hails from the Basque Country where this Tour de France started, got himself in the early break and played his cards masterfully to win the final sprint.
Bilbao himself said he had found solace elsewhere in the immediate aftermath of Mäder death. “The team did offer psychological help but in the end, for me, the best psychological help was to go on and stay with with my family, especially with my daughter Matilda… because kids don't understand these difficult situations and so it was easier to forget all the difficult emotions we were feeling.”
Reflecting further on those days of pre-Tour training he continued: “Slowly I started to feel better on the bike to believe that I had good legs that I needed to to do my best for Gino and also to try to to enjoy this special moment for me because starting the Tour de France in your home isn’t something that happens to everybody.”
He said today’s victory was helped by the fact the stage, which suited his characteristics as a rider extremely well, had come after a rest day when he could ensure he was “fully hydrated” for a race through the Massif Central in over 30 degrees celcius.
He said: “I think that was the key because I usually suffer quite a lot with a heat. But from yesterday I got a good rest so at some points of the race we were suffering a lot but you know the team has everything well prepared and organised with ice at every point.”
The other element to his victory was staying on top of the moment. “The last three weeks have been really tense,” he said. “Also with the beginning of the race being in the Basque Country for me was super emotional.
“In some moments [at the Tour] I feel like I lost a bit the control of the way I usually race, but today was different. I started the stage with clear ideas and just had the capacity to take the right decisions to move in the right moment and to take the control of the race.
“Obviously without the collaboration with the group it was going to be impossible, but the riders that were with me they believed in the victory.”
Those other riders didn’t manage to land that victory they believed in but few would begrudge Bilbao and his team the win after the month they’ve endured.
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