As bike races go Stage 13 was enigmatic. Crossing mountain, then mountain, the stage would end at Ceresole Reale. Or rather the high-altitude lake up there – Lago Serru – at two-thousand-two-hundred metres.
Up in the Italian Alps air would be thin. Banks of snow would add atmosphere. There would be winners and, without doubt, losers. It was a day to send riders up the road to aid later attacks from a strong team leader.
It’s Chapter One, Paragraph Three, of the Big Book ‘O Cycling Tactics (sub-section: Big ‘Ills).Embed from Getty Images
Spanish team Movistar, telegraphed though this move always is, are the masters.
They stuck riders up the road as staging posts allowing their man Mikel Landa – Basque, enigmatic, the enigma’s enigma – to do his thing. His thing, in Italy, being to climb like an absolute dervish, hands in the drops like Pantani, putting on a show for the locals.
From the moment he struck for the summit he was clawing back time on Roglic and the rest. Masterful. He finished the stage in third and gained a minute and a half on the Slovenian and his Vincenzo Nibali shaped shadow.
Those two, though, had plenty in hand, and are still best placed of the big names.
Second on the stage was Mikel Nieve, teammate of Simon Yates, specialist climber, and stage hunter. He himself not in any way enigmatic. He does what it says on his tin. His leader Yates is the current enigma in that team; the Brit cracked early, shed time, and slid away out of contention.
Minutes behind, losing two to Roglic and Nibali, and shedding five against the stage winner. His current form is puzzling. It’s a riddle. Its frankly implausible. If this is a Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope to lull the rest into a false sense of security then he’s overdone it.
Yates’s race – his #fightforpink as the Giro’s marketing team would put it – surely gone.
And who, I hear you ask, won the stage?
And was he also an enigma?
The answers to those two questions are Ilnur Zakharin, and hell yes!Embed from Getty Images
Zakharin is a Russian, or more accurately a Tatar, who speaks little English. He is a non-practicing Muslim. When he’s travelling the world racing his bike he reads books and listens to Tatar music to remind him of home. He is very tall (1m 87cm) and very skinny (68 kg’s).
When he wins, he wins big: overall at Tour of Romandie in 2015; stages at the Tour de France and Giro in 2016. And then he wins nothing. For ages. Before winning an absolute whopper like today’s stage. He occasionally threatens the overall positions at Grand Tours before bowing out quietly, with a whimper.
Mikel Landa is wary of him, so enigmatic is he. Finds him unpredictable. Bit puzzling, that kind of thing.
Zakharin was the last remaining rider of the day’s big breakaway and struck clear of Nieve in the dying kilometres to take the win. His ragged, edgy style on the bike redeemed, as it always is with him, by his trademark: jersey fully unzipped, flapping in the wind, and to hell with the sponsors.
Enigmatic to the end, but it’s a great look when you’re busy winning a big mountain stage.
(Top Image: filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium [CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D)