If you see a red jersey driving along at the front of the peloton during the Tour's flatter stages, the chances are that it's going to be Lars Bak.
The Danish rider with the Belgian Lotto-Belisol team earns his keep by spending vast amounts of time at the head of affairs, keeping the pace high enough to discourage attacks, or chasing down any breakaway riders who need bringing to heel – all in an effort to set up his team's sprinter for the win.
On Sunday's 15th stage from Tallard to Nimes, it's a case of 'back to work' for Bak, who'll be pulling at the front of the bunch for André Greipel – the German champion who won on stage six in Reims, and who is hungry for more success, with just two more flat stages to go after this one, on Friday and on the final Sunday into Paris.
Not that Bak is exactly feeling refreshed after his two 'days off' while the Tour visited the Alps.
“Even if you climb slowly, you've still got to get over the mountains,” Bak told Cyclingnews. “It's not like they're not there just because you try to take it easy.
“But yeah, it's a case of trying to save as much energy as possible in the mountains so that you're ready to work for your sprinter again,” he continued. “It's still going to be difficult, though, as at this point in the race everybody's suffering. The hardest thing each day is always the first hour, when you're trying to start the body up again, but once you're 'in the zone', you just have to try to go into 'robot mode'! Of course, it's hard work, and it's going to be a difficult day today [Sunday], but hopefully we might get some help from some other teams – although it may only be Giant-Shimano, actually.”
Greipel's biggest rivals for a stage victory in Nimes are likely to be Marcel Kittel or John Degenkolb from the Dutch team, and Katusha's Alexander Kristoff, who won stage 12.
“It's a good stage for Greipel, and I'm going to be spending a lot of time on the front,” said Bak. “It's a long stage, and it's also likely to be very windy – the kind of stage that could split up as a result, so it's going to be tough.”
Lotto-Belisol have had a busy Tour, as, in addition to riding for Greipel on the flat stages, they've been trying to put their team leader, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, into a high overall position. On Saturday's 14th stage to Risoul, the Belgian rider lost time, and slipped from eighth place to 11th place overall.
It's already been a successful Tour for the team, however. As well as Greipel's stage win, they also won stage 11 thanks to Tony Gallopin, who had already spent a day in the yellow jersey on stage 10.
“We had Tony here in a free role from the start of the race, as we knew he would be good, and he's a good rider to go in a break,” explained Bak. “So it's been a good thing to have had three horses to bet on here at the Tour. It's more work, of course, but I only see that as a positive thing. And the more success we have, the more valued my work is.”
Keep your eye out for Bak; you'll find him on the front.
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