In a Grand Tour, the main contenders often finish on the same time on a given day. In a time-trial, no-one does. Like a shuffle of the deck deep into a massive game of snap, a TT is a bit of a faff but basically a good idea.
Our job today was to watch several dozen thin men ride through the Prosecco-producing vineyards of the Veneto, largely from behind. The qualities of their ‘wiggle’ our only guide as to their performance.
Well, that and the clock; the race organisers choosing to use this, the traditional method, to separate the riders today.
It’s a discipline that gives full reign to an often well-hidden streak of nerdy obsession that runs through Eurosport’s Bradley Wiggins; Wiggo having been the king of the TT in his pomp.
When Brad is talking you through the dimples on the shoulders of skinsuit, or the trick of Velcro-ing rear of helmet to neck-line of clothing as a reminder to keep your head up in the aero position, you remember that this is not the visceral thrill of a long-range attack in the mountains. This is high-speed stamp-collecting.
It’s insightful, and sort-of interesting, but it’s not going to get the kids hashtagging, is it?Embed from Getty Images
What a TT does do, of course, is give us a good old look at the riders. They have nowhere to hide and we can watch them closely and pass judgement on their character, style and tiredness. And what we can say, without doubt, is that rarely has a rider looked so suited to a Pink Jersey as Joao Almeida. He is the absolute incarnation of the calm, controlled, stylish, race-leading European pro cyclist.
Immaculately turned-out. Unruffled. A deep, even Portuguese sun-tan and an unchanging expression that says: “how lovely of you to join me, chaps…it’s always nice to have a group of fellow cyclists on hand to watch me win the bike race.”
Is he really only twenty-two? Is this really his first Grand Tour? Can he really make it through week three, jersey intact, serene expression on his face?
Time will tell. In finishing sixth, only Brandon McNulty of the GC contenders beat him. Almeida extended his race lead to a minute over Wilko Kelderman, and more than two ahead of Pello Bilbao, McNulty, Vincenzo Nibali, and the rest. He was seemingly entirely unsurprised by the situation.Embed from Getty Images
Beyond Almeida it was day for Filippo Ganna. Obviously. The near-unbeatable Italian TT specialist taking his third Stage win of the race. Rohan Dennis got close, but the power produced through those huge Italian pistons is a sight to behold. It’s more like watching a racehorse than a cyclist. Right now, throwing up a few fences and a water jump and denying him his evening nosebag might be the only way to stop him.
Much though they’ll have enjoyed another Stage win Italy will, of course, be hoping the veteran Vincenzo Nibali can eat into Almeida’s position in the final week and win the whole shebang. Slightly slower of leg these days, he will delve into his big bag ’o’ pro cycling tricks and attempt to prize Almeida away from Pink like the shell of a shucked oyster.
But in 2020, the year of the youngster, we’re no longer surprised by children winning bike races. For Almeida to win would be entirely in keeping. To have a man in his thirties do so would be something of a novelty.