Magnus the magnificent

Faster Everywhere: SystemSix and Magnus Cort conquer stage 10 of the Tour

Some stages of the Tour feel like several stages, all rolled into one. Magnus Cort Nielsen’s memory of today will probably feel especially so.

On the first of three consecutive stages rising into the French Alps, the day started with relative calm. The ride up Côte de Chevenoz, then down into Thonon-les-Bains, was brisk if uneventful. The break began then, however, 60km into the 148-km stage. Cort and his teammate, Italy’s Alberto Bettiol, broke away from the peloton with 23 other riders. Bettiol would eventually jump off the front, with approximately 40km remaining.

A bizarre scene awaited him only a few kilometers later, however. A group of protestors, seeking to draw attention to climate issues, had staged themselves on the valley road, some of them literally chained together, having ignited pink smoke bombs that poured heavily into the air. Bettiol weaved through the seated protestors and kept charging, but was halted by race officials shortly after. The remainder of the peloton caught up, the protest was cleared, and the race was reinstated, with Bettiol’s 29-second time gap allowed over the breakaway before the rest of the riders continued.

The climb up to Megéve saw Bettiol reeled back into the chasing group of 12 with only 10km to the stage’s finish. Bettiol faded back soon after, having played his role perfectly on the day, protecting and then setting the stage for his teammate. But Cort then dropped off the back of the group, too, with 6km remaining. The team’s chance at a stage win seemed gone. Bettiol was done. Cort seemed spent.

He wasn’t. He fought his way back up into the group, which had thinned further. The finish neared. The final charge for the line was led by BikeExchange’s Nick Schultz. He went off hard. He looked strong. But Cort, flying forth aboard his SystemSix, broke out, now at Schultz’s heels. In a sprint that seemed to last forever, Cort dug deep. Side-by-side now. Final meters. At the finish, Cort’s thrown front wheel edged out Schutlz’s by mere centimeters. He’d won the stage. And SystemSix had won another race, atop another climb, after another sprint. Truly, faster everywhere.

For his part, Bettiol took home a well-deserved Most Combative Rider award for the day.

“It was unbelievable. I can’t believe what just happened today,”

an exhausted but effusive Cort shared after crossing the line. “I was on the limit for so long on this climb. Luckily, I had Bettiol. He was really strong and was in front which meant I could sit on and save some energy. Somehow, I was losing the group a couple of times in the last kilometers but suddenly it was all back together, and I was there.”

“I saw a sign of the Tour de France and I told myself, ‘This one is mine.’ I just had to take it, no matter the price,” he added. “It can’t be any bigger than this.”