Gritty Jack Bauer winning over Le Tour fans
Before Jack Bauer began the 19th stage of the Tour de France, the New Zealander who crashed out of the race on his first attempt last year said: "It's a big achievement to finish the race. I am looking forward to the finish, all going well."
How close Bauer's words came back to haunt the 29-year-old from Takaka several hours later.
With 2.5 kilometres to go in the 208.5km stage from Maubourguet to Bergerac, Bauer crashed with the wearer of the green jersey (leader of the points classification), Slovakian Peter Sagan (Cannondale), and Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r).
The sight of Bauer on the ground, in pain after having landed heavily on his hip and arm, would have brought heartache to his legion of fans, which has grown since witnessing his courageous bid to try and win stage 15.
No matter the likely overall Tour victory by Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on Monday (NZT) in Paris, etched in everyone's minds will be the image of Bauer being caught by the bunch less than 25 metres before the finish of stage 15 in Nimes after spending all day in a two-man attack with Swiss rider Martin Elminger (IAM).
With the Tour's Champs Elysees finish in Paris looming, Bauer (Garmin-Sharp), in tears on the 15th stage finish line later, can reflect on his desperate charge.
"I have been able to appreciate the opportunity," Bauer said. "It's not a given that a break goes to the line on a day that is so cut out for a sprint. That was an awesome opportunity and to get so close was amazing and nice, but it will happen again."
Fortunately, Bauer's fall on Friday did not end his Tour.
As painful as his wounds from the fall may feel, they were soothed upon hearing that his teammate, Lithuanian Ramunas Navardauskas, had won the rain-stricken 19th stage.
There was no change in Nibali's overall lead which, going into Saturday's 20th stage time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux, was seven minutes, 10 seconds on second-placed Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) and 7:23 on Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) in third - both from France.
The stage win was the tonic Bauer's team needed after losing leader American Andrew Talansky because of injuries from a crash at the finish of stage nine to Mulhouse.
With only Sunday's (NZT) 20th stage time trial and the finale to Paris left, he said: "Last year my big goal was to finish and it didn't really happen.
"This year my goal was to bag a stage and unfortunately that didn't happen either. But I think this year I will get to achieve last year's goal, so it's not a bad thing."
What many may not realise is how he gambled on his Tour finish by trying to seize the best of the opportunity to ride for himself following Talanksy's exit.
He drained the tank in his attack with Elminger, hoping that the following rest day would allow him to recover and survive the ensuing three days on the Pyrenees.
"It was a Tour-ending effort. We had a rest day after, but often the body will shut down," Bauer said. "Then we had the Pyrenees ... I have been battling as a result. But that's cycling. You have to gamble ... that was my gamble and it didn't pay off."
For added motivation, Bauer said he also drew on the knowledge that at the finish line each day his girlfriend and her father and stepmother were all waiting for him.
"Knowing that they were there ... it only had to help keep you going," Bauer said.
No doubt, they will be waiting for Jack Bauer in Paris, too.
Sydney Morning Herald