Many commentators expected a rush by Alexey Lutsenko right from the earliest stages of the Tour de France.
Some expected him to challenge Julian Alaphilippe on the Col des Quatre Chemins above Nice, while others predicted he would pull ahead of the pack at Orcières-Merlette, powering away moments before others made their move, because Lutsenko is fully capable of limiting the recovery of the group vying to claw back seconds for the overall ranking.
But between the Teil and Mont Aigoual the (demi) finisseur suddenly changed tactic, abandoning his attack for a long-distance breakaway, a moment before other riders made their final offensive.
The adventure began just past Lavilledieu—20 km from the start of the stage—and continued as he kept pace with others until Mandagout, the beginning of the steepest — and, many swore, decisive — climb of the day: Col de la Lusette.
At that point, a track cycling tactic was predictable: an elimination race. In the end, after covering half the climb, Alexey Lutsenko and Jesús Herrada had pulled far ahead of the pack to challenge only each other on the last two hills, never before included in the Tour.
In reality, practically no one expected Herrada to be a challenger in this stage, with the commentators counting down Lutsenko’s attack, made four kilometres from the King of the Mountains’ finish on Col de la Lusette.
At that point, he opened the throttle, gradually drawing away from a struggling Herrada, who, at that point, had only enough strength left for a second-place finish, still a great result in a stage dominated consistently by Lutsenko from the very start.
Naturally, some disappointment is natural in a second place, but Herrada had nothing to be ashamed of in the last stretch of Col de la Lusette: Alexey was the stronger rider, never looking back until it was all over, turning to greet Astana’s sports director and starting celebrating his win.
It was thrilling to watch him pedalling confidently on the final flat of the stage offering a spectacular view of the Cévennes, Hérault Valley and Occitanie further south. His great feat will be memorable, completed on two of the Tour’s brand-new climbs as if to remind us that no one had ever raced to Col de la Lusette and Mont Aigoual before Alexey Lutsenko.
No one but Alexey Lutsenko… and his bicycle.
A Wilier 0 SLR.