TdF Daily | Stage 9 | Ben Healy’s heroic ride on a historic stage of the Tour de France

Irish racer does us proud on the Champagne gravel

July 7, 2024

As soon as the breakaway passed under the red kite, Ben Healy went.

He’d already attacked with two kilometers to go and the remains of the break had only just caught him. He was going to make the most of his last shot. Ben sprinted up the side of the group and launched. He tucked in his elbows and drove towards the line, knowing that a flyer was his only chance to win one of the most spectacular Tour de France stages in recent memory. For a moment, it looked like he’d cracked his rivals, but then they were on his wheel. Ben led out the sprint and finished fifth to end his heroic performance on the gravel roads of Champagne.

Today’s stage was spectacular. Run across 199 kilometers of hilly Champagne country with the start and finish in Troyes, it included 14 sectors of white gravel roads to test the riders’ bike-handling skills and bravery. The race started hard and only got harder, as the peloton attacked every chalky dirt road and hill through the vineyards

Neilson Powless went for it as soon as the commissaire dropped his flag. With the race for the general classification due to kick off at any moment, we wanted to get riders up the road. Neilson held out with a group of five, riding a searing pace into a crosswind with an advantage hovering between 10 and 20 seconds for most of the first hour. When they were caught, Neilson went again, this time breaking free with a stronger group of ten. He was outnumbered in the break and had just made a huge effort, so our sports directors made the call to send Ben across.

Getting there was a huge job, but Ben put his head down and hammered the pedals, gaining time on the leaders with Tom Pidcock alongside him. As they neared the first gravel sector, they were almost on the wheels, but risked losing time on the dirt if they didn’t make it up to the group first, so Neilson dropped back and did a huge pull for Ben to bring him up to the group. That gave Ben his opportunity and for the rest of the race he rode with one goal in mind–a Tour de France stage win–while behind his teammates marked all the right moves.

When world champion Mathieu van der Poel tried to go across to Ben’s group with a group of hitters, including green jersey holder Biniam Girmay, in tow Rui Costa was on their wheels, able to sit on and disrupt the chase. If they had gotten across, Rui’s free ride would have left him fresh for the final kilometer. Meanwhile, we had Marijn van den Berg in the peloton with the GC favorites, ready to takeoff if it came down to a sprint.

But Ben’s group made it. Our Irish racer matched attack after attack, forcing the other riders in the break to push into the wind and chase, until he went with two kilometers to go and then again under the red kite. He didn’t win, but rode heroically on a historic day at the Tour de France.

After tomorrow’s rest day, we’ll attack this Tour de France again.

This is what our riders had to say after the Champagne gravel stage.

Ben Healy

It was a full gas fight from the start for the breakaway. I kept my cards close to my chest until the first sector because we knew it was pretty hard after that and if the gap wasn’t too big we could maybe bridge. That’s what I managed to do with Pidcock. It was a tough old battle to get across and I think we spent a lot of pennies there. As soon as we caught them, we hit the next gravel sector on the steep part. We were in for a hard day then! And from there, it was just a war of attrition with nowhere really for me to make a big difference in the final. Everyone was so knackered. It wasn’t just me. When it’s flat, it’s hard to make a difference. It was always going to be tough, but we gave it a good go and I’m just happy we were there and represented in the finish. We’ve just got to keep playing our cards and eventually it’ll roll our way.

Rui Costa

We knew that it was going to be a super complicated day. We had a very clear plan though. The team worked very well from the beginning of the stage, with people in the breakaway, first Neilson, then Ben. We tried everything to win, knowing that it would be super difficult.

Tactically, the opportunity for the break was going to be pretty difficult, because it was a key stage for the GC, but we did a very good race, Ben came very close to winning the stage. Congratulations to him, because he is in very good form. Neilson was also in spectacular form today.

I was in the second group, just sitting and following their moves. Sometimes I would go to the front and get our pace down, so Ben would gain more time, because we were very close.

In the end, I tried to get the best placing I could. I’m happy with my performance.

Charly Wegelius, sports director

I think we did everything that we could do, and we also did everything we should have done.

We had Neilson in an early move. We had Neilson wait for Ben at a very key moment to get Ben across. That was a great bit of teamwork there.

Ben did great, surviving the whole day. Rui protected his position in the group of Van der Poel and Girmay.

And Ben tried in the end, knowing that he was not the quickest sprinter in the group. We wanted to win. We did everything to win, but when you do everything as well as that, as a group, and you get fifth, then you accept it. I’m pleased with the group and I’m really happy with how they rode.

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