Phil Taylor is a Weekend Herald and New Zealand Herald senior staff writer.

Cycling: Bauer's 'beautiful agony'

New Zealand's Jack Bauer, left, who rode in the two-man breakaway all of the race, is comforted by a teammate as he cries after being caught by the sprinting pack. Photo / AP
New Zealand's Jack Bauer, left, who rode in the two-man breakaway all of the race, is comforted by a teammate as he cries after being caught by the sprinting pack. Photo / AP

Jack Bauer knows better than most why they call the Tour de France the "the beautiful agony".

The powerful rouleur had a fingertip on history in stage 15 to Nimes only to be swallowed by the voracious peloton half a dozen pedal strokes from becoming the first New Zealander to win an individual stage.

Such near misses can drive athletes crazy. Bauer burst into tears.

Sportswriters called their ride "heroic", fellow escapee Martin Elmiger spoke of the Kiwi's strength, the victorious sprinter, Norwegian Alexander Kristoff said he felt sorry for them.

Freed from his team chores to roll the dice in a breakaway, the Garmin-Sharp rider along with Elmiger rode clear of the peloton at the start of the 222km stage. This time the usual big breakaway group didn't form, leaving the pair to share the work of pushing through the wind for a tick shy of five hours.

They built a lead of nine minutes before the domestiques of the sprinters set about ruining their ambitions. The sprinters first overcame Elmiger, then a defiant Bauer 30 metres from the line.

Bauer, born in Takaka, based in Girona, crossed the line distraught, 10th in the midst of the sprinters.

Paul Jesson in 1980 and Greg Henderson, 2009, won stages of the Vuelta Espana and are the only New Zealanders to win a stage of one of the three grand tours.

Henderson withdrew from this year's Tour de France after a crash.

Jesson watched Bauer's performance from his Christchurch home. "Oh, yes, I felt for him," Jesson told the Herald.

Jesson won from a long-range breakaway, holding off the favourites to win alone by 15 seconds - enough time, he said, to zip up his top, raise his hands aloft and enjoy the moment. He survived from a break of 17 riders that dwindled as they climbed two category 1 mountains.

"He's a very strong rider and it was so close," he said of Bauer. "He'll get another chance, hopefully."

Just one month after his Vuelta stage win, Jesson's professional career was ended by a crash in the Duaphine Libere in Evian Les Bain which resulted in a leg being amputated. He resumed racing with a prosthetic and became a world champion in 1998 at the IPC Paracycling World Championships.

"It's a childhood fantasy to win a stage of the Tour for any cyclist, and especially for a Kiwi because not many of us ever get the chance," Bauer said today. "I really gave it absolutely everything."

"It would have been a career defining moment. I could retire tomorrow. I would be a happy man," he told ONE News. "So I guess I saw that all coming true in the last kilometre and then I realised it wasn't coming true in the last 50 metres ..."

Bauer and Elmiger led the stage from the starter's gun as the race rolled away from the Alpine town of Tallard, through Provence and the Midi, battling through a storm and entering the suburbs of the Roman city with almost a minute advantage on the main field.

"We really came together as a team and decided this morning that one of us would be in the move no matter what it took. I hadn't planned on it being a two-man move. Me and Martin managed it pretty well between ourselves. I think we both had decent legs in the finale, I felt I had the upper hand in the last 20km. I just waited to pounce. Maybe I waited a little too late."

Julian Dean and Chris Jenner have won Tour de France teams time trial stages.

- NZ Herald

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