It won’t surprise you to hear that, during the Giro d’Italia each year, I make a point of being somewhere near a TV every evening to watch the highlights of the day.
This year was no different. For eighteen of the twenty-one stages. And then real-life kicked in, with it’s responsibilities and it’s bank holiday family weekend, and I found myself left hanging.
At the very point where three weeks of dramatic tension were reaching a crescendo I was well out of range of media communications, sitting around a camp fire in the west of Cumbria, swatting away midges and eating cheese.
Which is certainly a very enjoyable way to spend a weekend, but it did leave me no option but to binge-watch the best bits of three whole stages of Giro highlights on my return home.
And, as ways of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s of a Grand Tour go, I’d thoroughly recommend it. Not for me the slow drip-drip of Tom Dumoulin’s eventual victory, but a tension and drama filled single evening epic.
So I watched as Quintana, robotic and expressionless, eked out vital seconds, assisted by Vincenzo Nibali in his role as pantomime villain.
Quintana talked of pushing hard in the mountains until Dumoulin blew up, and Nibali made vaguely sinister threats suggesting the upstart Dutchman should keep his mouth shut. Dumoulin himself focussed on avoiding any toilet related time-losses.
And then came the final day time-trial in Milan.Embed from Getty Images
I wanted Tom Dumoulin to win, by the way, because I like his style; I prefer big riders who time-trial and hang on through the mountains, rather than tiny pip-squeak climbers.
Partly because, were I approximately 100 times more talented, that’s the kind of rider I’d be.
I also find Quintana a little dull.
And Nibali has developed rather nicely over the years into a sullen, suspicious, guarded, sell-your-own-grandma-win-at-all-costs arch professional.
Valverde-lite, if you like.
He’s a great rider, and can set fire to a bike race with more purpose than most, but he’s a bit grumpy for my taste.
So…they lined up for the final day time-trial; the contenders were three weeks into a gruelling bike race, and I was three hours into a gruelling back-to-back of Eurosport commentary, punctuated by adverts selling generic products to generic Europeans.
The flat course meant the small lead held by Quintana was not enough. Any semi-fan could tell you this. But on the last day of a Grand Tour people are tired and things happen.
It was tense.Embed from Getty Images
Dumoulin rode a stormer.
Nibali was falling short.
Quintana was snaking around on his TT bike like a man with insects in his bib-shorts and 3,000 kilometres in his legs. The Columbian was tired, and trying to limit losses on terrain suited to everyone but him.
But binge watching a Grand Tour does funny things to your judgement.
Here’s Dumoulin, on the final corner, one of the finest bike riders on the planet, and I’m worried that he’s about to headlong into the barriers. I’ve just watched him go pedal to pedal with the cream of pro cycling for three weeks, and I judge it about 50/50 that he’s going to be able to successfully turn right as required.
Miraculously, he does, before crossing the line and sitting down to watch Quintana finish his TT.
The time and the distance tick along on screen, a simple calculation suggests Quintana would need to smash the land speed record to beat Dumoulin, and my TV addled brain continues to make it tense.
“Dumoulin might just do it,” I think.
(He’s easily going to do it.)
“Quintana looks tired, i’m not sure he can make up the time,” I say to myself.
(He hasn’t got a hope.)
“I can’t believe it…big Tom has won!”
(It’s been obvious for a few minutes now, idiot brain).Embed from Getty Images
Had Quintana won I would have been disappointed for about 10 minutes before shrugging and getting on with my life – it’s a bike race, after all – but still.
After three stages back to back, with a brain compromised by too much screen time and a weekend of heavy cheese consumption, that was a modern classic.