Half-way up the final climb of the day and Aussie Ben O’Connor made his move. Casting thoughts of a resigned roll to the line from his mind, he chose to inflict pain upon himself. Deserting his companions, digging deep, exploring the depths of his lungs in search of race leader Jan Tratnik.
And it was third time lucky.
Our circuit in and around the town of San Daniele del Friuli taking us three times up the slopes of the Monte di Ragogna. Just shy of three kilometres, averaging nearly eleven percent, designed, cunningly, to hurt cyclists who attack. Tratnik, in the lead, measuring his effort while chaser O’Connor bust a gut.
By the summit the catch was made; but what damage had O’Connor done?
Fifteen minutes back and the peloton were cruising. The decision made two hundred kilometres ago that the break would have its day, and Quickstep sat visible on the front in service of their man, Almeida, in Pink. ‘An easy day,’ we pronounce, dismissively glossing over the distance and the four thousand metres of vertical ascent of this Stage 16.
It’s all relative.Embed from Getty Images
Tratnik had launched on episode two of our three-part Ragogna mini-series. The break broke into three; our leader, a motivated chase group (British champ ben Swift to the fore), and a final group of (by now) hand waving, head-shaking, former companions turned grumpy rivals.
Finger-pointing for the cameras, the win riding off down the road.
Into town came Tratnik and O’Connor, and the Slovenian – and I apologise in advance for the technical terminology – did him up like an Antipodean kipper. With a kilometre-and-a-half to go Tratnik calculated that the gap back to the chasers was unassailable. He located O’Connor’s rear wheel and sneakily glued himself there.Embed from Getty Images
On the final steep ramp, the lanky climber had no choice. From the front, he gave it the beans for two hundred metres. All or nothing. Now or never.
His legs piped up: remember that effort back on the Ragogna? Well, we’re done mate.
Tratnik, with impeccable timing, summoned all that energy he’d saved and dispatched him. To the line. Grand Tour stage win number one, just two hours down the road from his Slovenian home town of Ljubljana. Brawn, brain, and breakaway win.