There are days when you watch bike racing on the TV and it looks like a bit of a jolly.
The riders freewheel across the countryside, swapping small talk and Mario Cipollini anecdotes, before rousing themselves for something resembling a sprint finish.
Post-stage they are then whisked away for a rub down at the hotel, a near Michelin-starred meal courtesy of the team chef, and a couple of hours of “screen time” before the team boss reads them all a bedtime story and tucks them in for an early night.
It’s not a bad little life.
Today gave us the other side of that cosy little coin.
Wherever the TV director directed our gaze we were met with a rider grimacing, a bike being wrestled with, or a career choice being regretted.
It was, we knew from the off, a day for a breakaway. The road roller-coastered across the landscape of northern Spain with very little in the way of flat Tarmac. Every man and his lycra-clad dog wanted to get in the break.
The first two hours of racing were ridden – and forgive me for using the technical term here – balls out.
What we ended up with was an all-star cast in the break: the likes of Pinot, DeMarchi, Mollema, Roche, Haig and Rolland up the road and clear of the main field. For a while, the break also included the race leader as Thibaut Pinot, by dint of a three-minutes-and-some gap back to the peloton, became the “virtual” red jersey.
A fact which pleased me greatly; Pinot is a rider I can’t help but love.
A slightly flawed character, perhaps – in the context, of course, of being a world-class bike rider – and I do like a flawed character. They are forced to make up for those flaws with panache, and daring, and risk taking.Embed from Getty Images
For a while Pinot had the look of a man about to “do a Froome.” He rode clear of the break in search of an epic, race winning, career defining, Twitter confounding solo win, reminiscent of Froome on the road to Bardonecchia back in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year.
Unfortunately Pinot was not sprinkled with whatever magic dust Froome discovered that day.
His first move didn’t succeed so he tried, tried, and tried again. Full marks for effort. And persistence. And for trying everything to make the race happen for him. But it came to nought.
By the finish he had shed all the time gained and took only eleven seconds from race leader Simon Yates.
No kind of reward for the energy expended.
While all this was going on BMC Racing were busy setting up their man Alessandro DeMarchi; not just a breakaway specialist, but a Vuelta Espana breakaway specialist. His win today the third such Vuelta stage win of his career.
As he crossed the line, with a final grimace, he was too tired even to celebrate properly; not so much punching the air as waving a weary arm in it’s general direction.
In the post-race interviews he had the hollow-eyed look of a man who’s been to a dark place and doesn’t want to talk about it. I reckon he’s earnt an extra bedtime story from the directeur sportif tonight.
(Top image: Bruce Turner via Flickr)