Sweet like chocolate, boy: The Tour de France 2020, Stage 12

Why, you might well ask, are we choosing to reference a popular British garage track track from more than two decades ago in the headline of an article about the Tour de France? Well, because we're old, quite frankly. Also because the surname of yesterday's winner is the same as an American brand of confectionary (yes, we know it's spelled differently). Lastly, because we literally began the week talking about how... *types "sweet" into thesaurus.com*... sacchariferous it would finally feel for Marc Hirschi when he finally took that first big win. [Nailed it - Ed.]

We weren't, however, expecting “finally” to mean a mere five days after that astonishing ride. Has no-one told the Swiss rider that this is not only his very first Grand Tour experience, but that it’s the biggun’? That it’s supposed to be, well, hard? What on earth are they feeding them in the cantons these days?

Hirschi has been a professional for a season and a half (or more, depending on how you count this one). In that time he has largely performed as you’d expect a recent under-23 World Champion to perform. Which is to say perfectly well, but not so well that your attention would be drawn to him over any one of the astonishing talents flooding forth from his peer group.

Only in the last thirteen days has he turbo-charged his way to the top of lists of the most riveting riders around. And that’s an adjective we employ as deliberately as the 22 year-old rides. Unlike, say Tadej Pogačar, Hirschi’s approach to racing has been more enthralling for its steadiness, than electrifying us with aggression.

During both the stage that he won and the one in which he came so close, Hirschi was said by the TV commentators to be “time trialling” his way to the finish. There’s a small amount of irony there, as his TT results suggest it to be the discipline that requires the most work. Still, with his arms mostly dangling over his bars and eyes fixed on what was ahead, there was something of the Cancellara about him. Likewise, where it really mattered, as his legs turned the pedals over at the rate required to get him to the finish, he appeared in complete control.

Which is more than can be said for those riders that made up the group behind him.

“What Hirschi’s got on his side is that he’s on his own,” noted Eurosport’s Brian Smith. “He doesn’t have anyone to argue with.”

The more they did so, the less road there was left on which to catch the man in front, and the less Hirschi had to concern himself with getting caught. But there would be no repeat of Sunday. No need to sprint to snatch something from the stage this time, he had time to sit up and savour the experience. Victory could not have been sweeter.


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