Tour de France 2016: Top Banana stage 9

Sure, we rate Yates and Dumoulin deserves due credit. But there’s so much going on at the Tour de France that goes largely unseen and deserves recognition too.

At the the opposite end to the protagonists of today’s stage to Arcalis, Dimension Data pair Mark Cavendish and Bernhard Eisel were – for the second day in a row – engaged in Pyrenean purgatory to simply stay in the Tour.

The road cruelly reared up right from the start for the slog to the Port de la Bonaigua, where the pair first dropped back. It was a day of painfully yo-yoing minutes behind the bunch. The routine was as follows: get dropped on a mountain. Descend like blue murder. Get back to the gruppetto. Get dropped again.

Eisel didn’t have to shepherd Cavendish. But there are few riders in the bunch better at judging pacing and time calculations; plus, considering that the pair are like an old married couple, the Austrian probably knows the right things to say to Cav at the right moments (or when to simply say nothing at all).

He’s been doing this job for years. Helping out a leader in need carries an element of risk: if Dimension Data’s doyen abandoned or missed the time cut, it’s likely Eisel would be going home too.

Of course, it didn’t come to that. The pair linked up with the gruppetto about 60 kilometres from the finish. At least the Manxman could then suffer in good company up to Arcalis. He stayed in in the green jersey and the race.

If Cavendish takes his fourth stage win of this year’s Tour in 48 hours’ time, he may well be especially grateful to his Austrian brother-in-arms. As his wife Peta tweeted yesterday, if Carlsberg made team-mates…

Bernie’s certainly earned a few pints of the strong stuff for his hard work. For now, our daily Top Banana award for unsung hero will have to suffice.

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