“It’s horrible all the way now” said Sean Kelly in the Eurosport commentary box, as we watched the three-man breakaway approach the final four kilometres of the stage; a summit finish to Alto de Javalambre.
Sean Kelly, the hardest man ever to throw a leg over a bike and pedal for money, and you could hear the empathy in his voice.
The climb would reach nineteen hundred metres and the final ramps would exceed fifteen percent in gradient. Enough to cause a quiver in the voice of King Kelly. To call it brutal would be like suggesting Brexit is a hot topic and Donald Trump likes power.
More Brexit than Brexit.
More Trump than Trump.
That the breakaway would win the day had been apparent seven kilometres earlier, at the base of the climb, and with their lead over the field approaching ten minutes. It comprised Jetse Bol and Angel Madrazo of Burgos BH, and Jose Herrada of Cofidis.
Herrada the class of the trio. Bol powerful, but not a climber. Madrazo, King of the Mountains points chasing all week, clearly flagging. Dropped already on the stage he had battled and fought gamely back on. Surely the win was beyond him.Embed from Getty Images
Behind them a collection of the finest bike riders on the planet prowled like tigers.
In the final kilometres Alejandro Valverde struck first. Resplendent in the rainbow jersey, accessorised by white bike and mahogany tan, and defying his thirty-nine years. Thirty-nine! Only Primoz Roglic was able to follow. Valverde seemingly unconcerned about leaving teammate Quintana to fend for himself.Embed from Getty Images
Then came the turn of Miguel Angel ‘Superman’ Lopez; the Colombian with the loftiest nickname in the pro peloton, crushing a massive gear, just disappeared up the road.
I must confess I didn’t spot the moment when he dived off to the side of the road, found a conveniently remote phone box, and transformed from Miguel Angel ‘Clark Kent’ Lopez into his ‘Super’ incarnation. Whether his competitors did or not, they were powerless to stop him.
Lopez finished third in both Vuelta and Giro d’italia last year in 2018. Could we be watching him taking that leap, two steps at a time, onto the top of the podium? I don’t recall ever seeing Superman climb stairs, but I feel sure he’d be a two-at-a-time man.
Lopez now leads the race.Embed from Getty Images
Meanwhile up the road in our breakaway Angel Madrazo, our bespectacled, be-polka-dotted thirty-one-year-old Spaniard, did a remarkable thing. In the final kilometre, as we waited for Bol and Herrada to cat-and-mouse each other, he accessed yet one more burst of energy and beat the pair of them.