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Philippa York: A Tour de France homage to Tim Declercq

Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step) (Image credit: Wout Beel / Deceuninck-QuickStep)

It's one of the fallacies of Tour de France racing that a day out near the seaside is all fun and ice creams. 

It might be if you're just out for a casual ride along the coast but full-on competition in a tourist area is a very different proposition. I can tell you right now that if you're a pro rider having ice cream by the seaside it's because you're in hospital nursing your injuries after a high-speed crash that’s taken you out of the Tour.

However, if your idea of fun is hopping traffic islands and skidding off on dusty corners at any moment during a race then you'll love days like stage 10. Enter into view guys like Tim Declercq, who occupied the 131st place on GC at the start of stage 10. 

The tall Belgian from Deceuninck-QuickStep may not be troubling the podium fight in the coming mountains but on the route from Ile d'Oleron to Ile de Re his influence was certainly felt by all those who have ambitions of grandeur in Paris. It was quite amusing to watch how he maintained his position on the front left of the peloton for the majority of the stage, riding at an average of 50kph as if it was all downhill with the wind behind him.

Other riders came and rode beside him, or rather tried to, but more often than not teams rotated alongside the Belgian as they competed to stay out of trouble and maintain a view of the road that allowed maximum safety for their protected riders. The only constant of the ever-changing battle for position was Tim Declercq, still riding one guy in from the edge of the road. When he allowed, and I choose the word carefully, someone else to be in pole position, it would be a teammate like Kasper Asgreen, as interlopers strong enough were few and far between.

Riders like Declercq are the unsung heroes of the big teams that rarely get a mention in the results, and yet they have the respect of everyone that they drag along for kilometre after kilometre. Everything that they do is earned the hard way.

I used to hate days like stage 10, quite often it would be into Bordeaux, flat all day, pulling a big gear with legs tired from climbing mountains in the front group. The tension would always increase more and more as the finish approached. I used to hurt more on that day than I did on any other stage during the entire Tour. 

The stage 10 route through the Charente Maritime, from one holiday destination to the other, was entirely stressful. At any moment you could fall off, be caught in a sidewind, or be caught behind someone else's crash.

Sam Bennett finished off a mega piece of work from the Deceuninck squad, winning a strong man's sprint made more difficult by a headwind that slowed things down once the peloton had climbed over the spectacular bridge onto the Ile de Re. 

To give you an idea of the furious pace that preceded the sprint, I timed from 20km to 10km. Eleven minutes it took, roundabouts and corners included. The final 10km took another twelve, so the pace slowed down in a relative sense.

It was telling that the main protagonists for the GC had designated minders for this tricky stage. Of course, Primoz Roglic had the whole Jumbo-Visma team at his disposal and in yellow he had a tiny bit more respect from everyone else. Even so, he would have found himself in the gutter now and then. Like when Ineos attacked to cause the final selection approaching 20km to go. They used Luke Rowe to start things and then had riders, and especially Kwiatkowski, to look after Egan Bernal whilst behind them there was a general panic. 

Eventually, Jumbo and the few teams with the firepower to ride at 65kph reorganized themselves but the benefit that the Polish former World Champion brings to Bernal can't be underestimated. We've seen him ride tempo in the Pyrenees and today he made sure his leader kept in a safe position until the 3km was passed. 

However, the day really belonged to Tim Declercq. Amazingly he was still pulling inside the final kilometres, putting the lead out guys that would go on to guide Sam Bennett to the victory in the ideal place.

When the front group began the final phase Declercq slipped back, knowing his work was well done. 

As he drifted through the group he would have become visible again to the climbers like Richie Porte and Romain Bardet. The smaller guys would have been cursing all day. Both would have spent a nightmare of a stage fighting to stay in the GC on a terrain that burnt their legs and mental energy in equal measure. Secretly they'd have being wishing that the guy who finished 43rd was on their team.