pro cycling

La Vuelta 2017 Stage 18: Call me maybe?

Call me maybe

I’ve never been given the chance to ride a Grand Tour.

Each year, as my phone sits in my pocket, un-rung, in the lead up to the Giro, the Tour, and finally the Vuelta, it occurs to me that Sir Dave and the Team Sky mob really need to up their admin game.

How else to explain my non-selection, year after year?

It’s unlikely my form on Strava this year went un-noticed.

Because of this lack of experience, I’m always reluctant to wax lyrical about how the riders might be feeling at any given moment.

“Never judge a man until you’ve pedalled a 100 K’s in his bib-shorts,” as the old saying goes.

“And if you do,” goes the pragmatic response, “make sure you chuck ‘em in the wash afterwards!”

But now, 18 stages into the Vuelta Espana of 2017, I feel qualified to make a well-educated guess at how most of them are feeling. It begins with F, ends with D, and contains a number of stars, asterisks, and hash-tags to make it family friendly.

Sam Bewley, current rider with Orica-Scott, described it thus:

All of which makes today’s usual guerrilla attack-fest all the more impressive. A day of medium mountains, it was clearly a day to be in the breakaway, hence the scorching opening hour or so.

No chance of a sleepy truce at La Vuelta.

With a big break well clear, the GC contenders spent the last forty kilometres or so knocking lumps out of each other; attacks from Contador, Lopez, Aru, Sanchez, Contador again, and again, then De La Cruz.

It was cat, and indeed mouse.

With groups of riders scattered, an unremarkable stage like this in the Vuelta can have the disorientating feel of a one-day classic at times.

Embed from Getty Images

Up front, ten minutes and more clear, the breakaway ultimately carved itself down to two; Alexey Lutsenko, and Belgian all-rounder Sander Armee. In the final kilometre, on a steep slope, Lutsenko sat clamped on to Armee’s wheel.

We know how this scenario in a bike race plays out.

Armee makes a desperate grab for the win, Lutsenko follows him coolly, in prime position, before sneaking past to pinch it. Standard. This was what was about to happen.

Except it didn’t.

In the least obviously aggressive attack of the entire race Armee just pedalled a bit harder, and stretched a metre clear, then two, and simply rode Lutsenko off his wheel.

Lutsenko’s shoulders slumped, beaten, and Armee crossed the finish line comfortably, and yet simultaneously too exhausted to even zip his jersey up and show the sponsor’s name.

Even I, with my lack of Grand Tour experience, know you’ve got to save some energy to zip the jersey on the line.

You’ve got my number Mr Brailsford.

Call me maybe?

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