It happened around 4.15pm UK time. Business, communication, and cat GIFs ground to a halt. Some kind of mass internet crash? Broadband shutdown? A North Korean state-sanctioned mega virus?
A continent, bereft, and cut off from their beloved internet.
“Wait…” pipes up the office pro cycling fan, “who won the bike race today?”
Baffled workmates roll eyebrows. No internet means no furtive Vuelta Espana updates. What’s that got to do with anything?
“Valverde.” It’s the only plausible explanation for total online silence. “Alejandro Valverde must’ve won…that’s it!”
Age thirty-nine and the cyclist, who, more than any other, divides opinion and shines light on grey areas. Alejandro Valverde wins another brutally steep stage of La Vuelta and all five hundred million citizens of the European Union have an opinion and have to express it, now!
Through Twitter, Facebook, and whatever platform people fifteen years my junior are using without my knowledge.
Too many @’s and #’s.Embed from Getty Images
Valverde the legend, the doper, the hero, the cheat, the inspiration, the stain on our sport, the balding, mahogany tanned thirty-nine-year-old World Champion bike racer.
Thankfully, as I write, it’s back up, allowing me to dissect matters with as little recourse as possible to emotive Valverde related language. I don’t want to be the one to trip the web again.
Talking of language, we need a new word. Brutal has run it’s course. Every day at La Vuelta is brutal. Today, the climb of the Alto Mas de la Costa, was four kilometres in length, 12% average gradient, and hitting 20+% more than once. An old goat-track paved with concrete.
It was super-brutal, double brutal.
It was barbarous, callous and downright rude.
As a peloton shorn of it’s bulk hit those slopes we were quickly left with four: Valverde and Nairo Quintana – teammates not teammates – Primoz Roglic, and soon to be race leader again Superman Lopez.
For four kilometres they struggled in formation. Synchronized. Quintana accelerating and slowing, Roglic composed and rhythmic, Lopez hanging in, and Valverde.
Almost dropped, at one point, like a man of his age should be. The other three know; take Valverde to within sight of a finish line and kiss the race win goodbye.Embed from Getty Images
Which they did, and then did.
It was a perky little acceleration to draw him clear of Roglic, but had Roglic countered with his own Valverde would’ve beat him some other way. He’s the master.
A small gap back to Lopez and Quintana, and our Vuelta has revealed itself. We have our four protagonists. Top four on the stage. Top four on the General Classification (with a minor shuffle of placings).
And an entire internet, creaking, and barely able to handle what might be to come.
Alejandro is a living legend. A class act. As at home in the Ardennes as he is on the Altos of Andalucia and Aragon ( that’s probably enough alliteration). Whatever he did or didn’t do, admitted to or denied, it was so long ago that it literally belongs in another, darker age of cycling. Viva Alejandro! Vamos!
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