Two hundred and thirty-five kilometres is a long day in the saddle. Too long, perhaps? Common sense tells us this. Not to mention the experience of our own eyes and that part of the brain responsible for absorbing bike races.
All we can say for certain is that it takes pretty well-developed cycling brain to watch a stage like today, from Orbetello to Frascati, from start to finish.
Yes, it promised an exciting twisty-turny uphill drag to the finish, but the several hours prior to that were always going to comprise a formulaic Italian-heavy breakaway, followed by a standard issue meandering peloton, before a routine catch in time for the finish.
I had no intention of watching the whole thing.
However, I also think it would be a bad idea to shorten Grand Tour stages for the sake of nebulous concepts such as ‘excitement’ or ‘entertainment.’ Surely a short stage is a must watch partly because it’s a joyous contrast to a two hundred and thirty five kilometre stage. You can’t have one without the other.
If nothing else a stage like today serves to remind us of the temperamental requirements to being a pro cyclist. Given such long dull hours in the saddle the mind of a mere mortal could quickly spiral inwards to dwell on the monumental futility of it all.
Sucked in by the melancholy metronomism of the peloton’s communal pedal stroke and left to contemplate the big existentialism questions.
Wondering how one might better use this time; a nice picnic with the family, perhaps, or maybe a quiet afternoon in the shade of a tree with a good book?
I, for one, wouldn’t last five minutes as a pro.
I’d be that guy who, mind wandering, would overlap a wheel here, or clip a handlebar there, and take down half the peloton like a set of bar-room dominoes on a sticky pub table.
Playing that role today was Team Ineos domestique Salvatore Puccio. It’s fair to say he livened up proceedings somewhat.
With six kilometres to go and casually looking around the bunch, perhaps wondering where his team leader was, he did indeed overlap a wheel and bring down a whole gaggle of fellow cyclists.
A small group sailed clear of the crash, race leader Roglic among them. He got lucky/was beautifully positioned. Tom Dumoulin was at the other end of that spectrum. Others – Yates, Landa, Nibali – found themselves somewhere in between, and set to work limiting their losses.Embed from Getty Images
But Dumoulin, bleeding from the knee, blood merging seamlessly with his Sunweb socks, was in crisis. A phalanx of teammates shepherded him to the finish, the lack of urgency betraying the prognosis. He ended the day four minutes down on the leader. Race winning ambitions surely over.
Meanwhile, there was a ragtag group of seven keen to contest the finish. A couple of GC contenders, one or two sprinters, the likes of Ulissi and Senechal in the mix too. And it was Richard Carapaz, the tiny twenty-five-year-old Ecuadorian, who burst clear on the final slopes.
Caleb Ewan, the equally diminutive Aussie, chased him down, sprinting long, before dying a death five yards short of the line.
A big win for Carapaz, and for Primoz Roglic too; wearing pink, tucked in that lead group, and clear of just about every rival. Sometimes, it seems, the guy in top form is also the one who avoids drama and remains upright.
Serene, while those around him lose their marbles.
Concentrating hard, on the quietest of quiet days.
(Main image peloton: via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/whiskeytango/2487429248)