The world of pro-cycling is regimented and organised. It revolves around team leaders and domestiques, climbers, sprinters, and lead out men. The vast majority of pro-cyclists win very few races and exist for the service of the team. They do a job. The good ones get paid well, but there’s not much in the way of personal glory.
Read ‘Domestique’ by Charley Wegelius if you’re in any doubt.
And then you’ve got a guy like Steve Cummings. After a successful career at the likes of Team Sky and BMC Racing in the service of others, he seems to have found himself a nice little niche at his latest team, Dimension Data.
He’s described variously as a maverick, a free spirit, a rebel, and a freelancer. He’s usually spotted in one of two places; right at the very back of the peloton, or off the front of the race and buccaneering away down the road.
His speciality is the (often) solo breakaway, and to see him riding away from several dozen of the world’s best cyclists to win a stage of a race is becoming a common sight. As is his rather natty line in nonchalant and not-at-all-rehearsed stylish finish line salutes. In recent years he has won stages at the Tour de France and the Vuelta Espana, as well as the Tour of Britain, Tour of Beijing, Tirreno Adriatico, and the Tour of the Basque Country.
He often seems to do this deep into a multi-day/week stage race, when the peloton is full of tired legs. All part of the plan, I presume.
Much of the rest of the time, you see, he is the last man in the bunch. When the TV director clicks to that camera motorbike which follows the race, there is Steve Cummings. He’s sitting on the back, not obviously in the service of a team mate, and presumably saving his legs. It is surely those days spent conserving a bit of energy here, and avoiding working too hard there, that pay dividends several days later when he finds himself five minutes clear of the race and heading for victory.
As he did gloriously on the final stage of the 2016 Criterium du Dauphine (or the Dauphinoise, as my wife calls it. She’s a fan of French cuisine).
While Froome, and Contador, and Dan Martin, and Romain Bardet were deep in battle for the overall race win, Cummings was getting busy winning the day. On this day, it seems, he was initially in support of his King of the Mountains chasing team mate Teklahaimanot, but then stayed clear, pulled away further, and almost won by accident.
If such an effort can ever be called an accident.
There’s something brilliant about the fact that Cummings’ team are clearly happy to indulge his freestyling tendencies, and if he keeps winning then why wouldn’t they? The fact is, it’s a skill all of its own. If any old pro-cyclist could work such a trick then they’d all be at it, but not many win in this style as often as Cummings.
As Ned Boulting pointed out when commentating on his recent win, if the camera pans to the back of the race and Cummings isn’t there, then the rest of the riders had better be worried.
He’s clearly up to something.