Among the myriad storylines at this spectacular Tour de France – from the astonishing Julian Alaphilippe and the soaring Thibaut Pinot, to the questionable Geraint Thomas, the inexperienced Egan Bernal and the dependable Steven Kruijswijik – there has been relatively little talk of Bora-Hansgrohe's Emanuel Buchmann.
The German is a man of few words and, true to type, has quietly made his way into the fight for the podium at the 2019 Tour de France after a brilliant weekend in the Pyrenees.
Buchmann entered the mountains sixth overall after a solid time trial in Pau, and has since shown himself to be one of the strongest climbers in a race that has exploded over the last two days.
On the Col du Tourmalet on Saturday, he finished in with the very select front group of six, with a host of marquee names scattered down the mountain. At Prat d'Albis on Sunday, he was one of only three who could live with Pinot's initial attack, and went on to place fourth on the stage.
"It's a really nice feeling. To be in front of those good riders is amazing. It's been a great Tour so far," Buchmann told Cyclingnews in Foix on Sunday.
Pinot eventually forced his way clear, and Buchmann had to drop back, although he did catch Bernal, who'd tried to stay with the Frenchman for a little longer. The pair finished the stage together in fourth and fifth place, with Pinot and Mikel Landa (Movistar) the only GC riders ahead.
"Pinot was super strong today. When he attacked, that was impressive. I was on the limit and couldn't follow him. He's the strongest at the moment," Buchmann said. "I had to go at my own speed because Pinot was too strong and too fast for me; otherwise I'd have blown up completely. I think Bernal just followed a bit longer and blew up, and I just caught him back."
Buchmann now lies sixth overall, 2:14 down on Alaphilippe but within 40 seconds of Thomas, Kruijswijk, Pinot and Bernal. It was the same position in which he entered the Pyrenean weekender, but that's somewhat misleading. Fourth on both stages speaks for itself, and the way he has ridden away from some seasoned contenders has seen his stock shoot up.
Buchmann might be softly spoken but he is firm in refusing to consider himself the surprise package in this Tour de France. He's 26 years of age and only just maturing as a leader and Grand Tour rider, but he points to his string of results since the start of the year: victory at the Trofeo Andratx, fourth at the UAE Tour, third at the Tour of the Basque Country, seventh at the Tour de Romandie, and third at the Criterium du Dauphine in June.
He was never under the radar.
"I've already had some good results this season. I was always in the top positions on GC. I never finished outside the top seven," he pointed out. "I took a big step this year. I'm stronger than ever, and everything leading up to the Tour has gone perfectly."
Buchmann came into the race with the goal of finishing in the top 10. After the Pyrenees, he might be dreaming a little bigger. It's tight at the top, at least from second to fifth place, while there's a gulf of nearly three minutes between Buchmann and seventh-placed Landa. There are now major doubts surrounding Alaphilippe, while question marks linger over 2018 Tour champion Thomas.
"My goal is still the top 10," Buchmann said. "I'd be very happy if I make it to Paris in that position. But if I'm in the top five, that would also be nice..."
Bora-Hansgrohe director Enrico Poitschke struck a similar note, highlighting Buchmann's relative lack of experience.
"We still have the same goal. When you see the top 10, all of them are world-class riders who have had very good results in Grand Tours. 'Emu' is new in that circle and, from that perspective, the third week is very difficult, with the stages at high altitude that make a big difference," Poitschke said.
"We'd be very happy if he finishes in Paris in the top 10. If it's further up, fine, but at the moment we're not thinking about other goals."
Indeed, two days in the Pyrenees have sent shockwaves through the Tour, and there is still so much room for change in a final week that includes three Alpine stages, two summit finishes, and six climbs above 2,000 metres.
"It will be an interesting final week, with three really hard stages to come. At the moment, I'm in a really good position and just have to follow. When I have the legs and the opportunity, I can try it, but first I have to follow," Buchmann said.
"Everyone can have a bad day. If you have one in the Alps, you can really lose a lot of time very quickly, because the stages are so hard. I'm hoping I don't have a bad day."
There's a long way to go, and Buchmann's inexperience means that he and his team are keeping their feet firmly on the ground, but the Pyrenees have certainly put a smile on their faces.
"We're optimistic," added Poitschke, "but we're not dreaming."
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