Alberto Bettiol came agonisingly close to a Tour de France victory on stage 14 after briefly riding eventual winner Michael Matthews off his wheel on the Montée Jalabert a few kilometers from the finish line.
“Sometimes you spend five hours on the bike and in a few seconds the victory goes from you,” Bettiol said from his team bus after the finish. “I’d promised everyone in this team, everyone who makes a big effort for us, to try for another victory. I’m disappointed for me and for them and for people who believe in me.”
The first 40 kilometers of the stage to Mende were frantic to say the least – thanks in part to agent of chaos Tadej Pogačar who joined in the stage – but a breakaway of 23 eventually escaped, and was given the green light to go for the stage by a weary peloton.
Bettiol was one of three EF Education-EasyPost riders to get up the road, Neilson Powless and Rigoberto Urán also making the selection.
“Uran wanted to help me and so that’s why I’m sorry for the faith a great rider like him, who is even my roommate, put in me,” said Bettiol. “It would have been great to win for him and the team, who are all fantastic.”
The 28-year-old Italian has had a predominantly strong Tour, getting up the road a couple of times and sprinting to fifth on stage 8 to Lausanne. However, he got ‘overly excited and kind of forgot himself a little bit’ on stage 5, and was compelled to apologize for damaging teammate Powless’s chances of wearing yellow.
He found redemption on the road to Megève by helping Magnus Cort to stage victory, and he got his own chance on stage 14. If it hadn’t been for an especially combative Michael Matthews, who clawed his way back onto the wheel on the finishing climb (2.9 km at 10.4%), it would have been his.
The outcome of stage 14 felt very close to home for Bettiol who employed much the same tactic on stage 10. The Italian attacked solo in the last 50 km, but was retrieved a few kilometers from the finish by his breakaway companions, including Cort who’ d enjoyed an armchair ride with a teammate out front.
The tables turned on Saturday, but once caught, Matthews was just about able to hang on and then bite back.
“I think Matthews deserved this victory,” Bettiol conceded graciously. “He started the attack with 52 km to go. He did like I did a few days ago but he made it. On the uphill finish I didn’t make it.”
Matthews was one of few lone rangers in the breakaway, so his attack so far out was a massive risk. Unlike Bettiol’s attack a few days ago, the Australian was joined by three others. The quartet ultimately became a trio when Lotto Soudal’s Andreas Kron was knocked out of contention by a front blowout.
“I really thought my chance had gone when the three got away,” Bettiol explained. “Then in the final I got back up there. That’s the tour, your feelings go up and down, you feel good and then bad.
“Then Matthews had that extra, final jump on me. I thought I’d got rid of him after attacking him as soon as I got up to him. But he’s a great rider who knows how to fight back. He deserves to win.”
Despite the disappointment he suffered on stage 14, it’s clear that Bettiol is in some scintillating form. The 2019 Tour of Flanders champion and 2021 Giro d’Italia stage winner has come close to victory a handful of times this season, but is yet to mount the top step. Though there are admittedly slim pickings for a rider of his character in the rest of the Tour, he’s feeling good and is motivated, for much more than just himself.
“I’m optimism about the remaining stages and especially for after the Tour,” he said. “After a really hard year, with all the health problems I’ve had, I finally feel good.
“I know my directeur sportif and my teammates have faith in me. I just hope to do something in this Tour or this season to pay them back. My season is not over and my Tour de France is not over. I’m disappointed but also a little happy too.”