In the Vuelta Espana, as we know, the sprinter’s stages are full of hills.
Spain doesn’t do pan-flat drag-race. This leaves guys who, in the respectful words of David Millar on ITV commentary duty, are: “certainly not second-rate sprinters, just different sprinters.”
Italian champ Elia Viviani, a man who is not afraid of an uphill gradient, was today’s favourite. Matteo Trentin, a serial Vuelta stage winner last year, was in the mix. Nacer Bouhanni, the rider who boxes in his spare time (and sometimes his professional time too*), was looking for redemption.
After a season of spats and squabbles, and recalled to the Cofidis Grand Tour squad, the reappearance of Bouhanni somewhere near the spotlight demanded that the fighting analogies were dusted off and wheeled out for a proper airing in the Andalusian sun.
But I can’t help applying them to Peter Sagan instead.
The world champ, nursing his way back to form and fitness after a bruising Tour de France, looked to be pulling the Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope in response to the heavy George Foreman fists of Viviani.
The “Fear in Andalusia,” perhaps?
For much of the stage he was dangling towards the rear, visibly encroaching on Steve Cummings territory**, and looking benign.
Losing heavily on points.Embed from Getty Images
Fast forward to the trashy tourist town finish at Alhaurin de la Torre and, with three kilometres to go, he was in position. Around seventh or eighth wheel, breathing calmly through his nose, and doing an uncanny impression of a fully fit Peter Sagan pondering over exactly how to break the hearts of Bouhanni, Nizzolo, and Viviani.
Had they punched themselves out and left defences down for a sucker punch?
It seems an out of condition Sagan can still look like the king of the world. He contended by force of personality and muscle memory alone. When Viviani accelerated, Sagan’s head dropped, and the game was up.
He rolled in third.
Giacomo Nizzolo finished second, with a punch-drunk Bouhanni fourth.
And the biggest surprise of the day was that, unless I’m looking in the wrong places for my cycling news*** Bouhanni, the one-man headline generator, produced no recognisable fall-out whatsoever.
I kind of miss the old Bouhanni.
*Just Google “Bouhanni fight,” or “Bouhanni punch,” or “Bouhanni controversy.” You’ll get the idea.
**Cummings is the laid back, laconic Brit. Riding for Dimension Data he spends 98% of a Grand Tour at the back of the peloton, saving energy. The remaining 2% will see him engaged in the most outrageous solo escapade through the mountains you’ve ever seen. Some of the most goose-bump-inducing stage wins I’ve witnessed have come from Steve Cummings.
***I’m looking on the internet. Unless I’ve missed the launch of some great, new, world changing piece of tech, I’m pretty sure that’s the best place to look.
(Boxing Image via pixabay.com)