Stage 8, today, in Catalonia, was all context.
Stage 9 is all set for a whopper in Andorra so the big names would keep today’s powder dry. The single climb of the day, twenty-seven kilometres from the finish – the Puerto de Montserrat – was seven kilometres in length, and big enough to ensure sprinters would be dropped.
And then there was the weather.
From Montserrat onwards it was biblical. Torrential. A total deluge. Skies darkened and moto headlights spot-lit the shiny calves of cautious cyclists.
It is known that Spanish roads, so dry so often, become double-treacherous when wet. The descent from the mountain was a tippy-toe affair; the day’s break having broken up somewhat to feature three clear leaders, fifteen or sixteen chasers, and seven minutes of clear rod back to a metronomic peloton.
All of which provided an odd, spring classic kind of finish.Embed from Getty Images
Having descended, the riders swung onto the local motorway system, hogging the middle lane for a couple of junctions before picking up other major arterial roads. The run in to Igualada was not, it has to be said, picturesque.
Had those couple of junctions included a motorway services it seems likely one or two riders would have pulled over, popped in, and grabbed a coffee and a pastry while they dried off.
Not Zdenek Stybar, though. The Czech rider relishes brutish weather conditions. With all the riders in the lead groups shorn of teammates, mano-y-mano, like Belgium in late February, he clipped off the front as if chasing a win at Omloop het Niewsblad.
Promising, but it didn’t stick.
Sunweb’s Martijn Tusveld, in countering, slid off on a roundabout to remind the rest of the slippy roads. The lead moto cameraman, just to really nail that point, hit the deck shortly afterwards.
Carnage.Embed from Getty Images
The few twists and turns in to the finish, edgy and slow motion, left a mini-bunch of weather beaten hardmen to contest a sprint. Nikias Arndt, the fast finishing Sunweb man, a former Giro d’Italia stage winner, jumped early. Decisive. Not a man inclined to die wondering.
The win was his.
An odd, ambiguous, transitional kind of a stage. Neither one thing, nor the other, but a different thing entirely; a recreation of a northern classic, albeit one featuring a late-stage mountain and an ambient temperature hovering in the lower twenties Celsius.
And, to cap it off, another left field wearer of the red jersey. Nicolas Edet, of Cofidis, and from the day’s break, nudging Superman Lopez from top spot.
He’ll lose a tonne of time tomorrow, but today was his day.