Aussie cycling fans finally have something to cheer about in this year’s Tour de France after fan-favourite Michael Rogers scored a blazing stage win on the Tour’s first foray into the Pyrenees.
Not only did the Tinkoff-Saxo rider win the stage, he and his fellow breakaway riders left the peloton for dead.
Using the fresh legs they had nurtured on Monday’s rest day, the group tackled the gruelling climbs with gusto to forge a lead of almost 10 minutes over the main pack.
Late in the race, Rogers emerged as one of three riders in contention for the top spot.
Just a few kilometres from the end of the stage, the Australian launched a surprise attack to win the stage by a comfortable margin over Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler.
Rogers had recently taken up the team leadership role for Tinkoff-Saxo following the withdrawal of high-profile teammate Alberto Contador.
It has been a ‘Tour de Calamity’ for the big names in this year’s race.
Contador, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish, Andy Schleck and a host of other withdrawals were joined by world champion Rui Costa of Portugal on Tuesday, who came down with pneumonia before the 16th stage – the first in the Pyrenees.
Wild weather and some bone-crunching on-road incidents have also taken their toll on many others at this year’s event.
Australia’s hopes of a miracle Tour de France win previously rested with Team Sky’s Richie Porte, who emerged mid-tour as a real chance in second place.
But it was not to be. His hopes were dashed after he contracted a chest infection.
While he is still battling on admirably, his hopes of a win are slim-to-none.
If it is any consolation, even a healthy, in-form Richie Porte would have struggled to challenge the faultless Yellow Jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali.
Astana Pro’s Nibali has appeared untouchable so far, avoiding the havoc and poor luck that has wracked the favourites.
He will enjoy the luxury of a 4min 37sec buffer over second-placed Alejandro Valverde Belmonte going into day two of the Pyrenees and the final week of Le Tour.