It wouldn’t be a Grand Tour without a diplomatic etiquette related incident.
Our appetite to see Alejandro Valverde cast in the role of pantomime villain demands that, if possible, he be a central character. And so it was that, sixty kilometres from our finish in Toledo, friendly relations broke down.
A crash, on a tight walled bend, saw a huge swathe of riders on the Tarmac. Race leader Roglic was down and scuffed up. Others – Lopez, Pogacar, et al – were tangled and held up. Team Movistar, the team of Valverde and Nairo Quintana, slipped through unaffected at the head of the race.
Now would be a good time for all riders still pedalling to sit up, take a breath, and allow the walking wounded to at least try their luck as the pedalling wounded. Get back in the race. Or alternatively, and presumably at the behest of a Directeur Sportif sitting in a team car, to attack.
Full gas. Drill it. Ride.
Movistar, four domestiques and two leaders, smelt blood and a chance to cause damage to Roglic.
And the debate begins. This is not right…it’s underhand. Or perhaps it’s just a race situation? We all need to get real…this is high stakes, win at all cost.
Let’s be clear…this is not how to race.
At the time of the crash the race was controlled by the bunch, in a neutral phase. And then BLAM…crash happens…and suddenly NOW the race is on?!
Movistar knew what they were doing, we knew what they were doing, and judging by the exaggerated shrugs from Valverde for the benefit of the TV cameras he knew that we knew what they were doing.
For ten kilometres the race was in the balance. Riders in dribs and drabs up and down the road. Roglic isolated without teammates. Official race vehicles, it seemed, offering a slipstream to affected riders.
Really? Is that what’s happening?
And then the penny dropped. Movistar stopped riding, it all came together, and the mid-peloton inquests began.
From there came the small matter of crosswinds. Once, then twice, the integrity of the main field hung by a thread as the wind carved off groups of riders and deposited them up and down the road.
Until, with twenty-five kilometres to go, a block headwind put paid to the shenanigans.
Remi Cavagna, the French Deceunicnk Quick Step powerhouse, decided that to attack, alone, into a headwind, would be a great idea. We laughed knowingly, whilst secretly admiring his guts.
He was doomed.
Twenty-five kilometres later, having scaled the steep cobbled finish in Toledo, Cavagna had the last laugh. Grand Tout stage win number one for the young Frenchman, in awesome style. Teammates Stybar and Gilbert taking third and fourth. A game and disappointed Sam Bennett trailing in second.
Post stage, some were diplomatic: Jumbo-Visma team boss Addy Engels suggesting the Movistar tactic ‘wouldn’t have been my decision as a DS.’ Roglic himself took the Arsene Wenger approach: ‘didn’t see it, can’t comment.’
‘Superman’ Lopez, meanwhile, gave it the Latin ‘pfffssshht!’ and called out Movistar as delivering ‘a stupid move,’ suggesting ‘it’s always the same stupid people who do this.’
Words, not minced.
Movistar manager Jose Luis Arrieta suggested that his team had always planned to attack at that point, and it was nothing to do with the crash. ‘They always play dumb,’ said Lopez.
He said nothing.
Top Image: Jeremi Kubicki [Public domain]