“Shake hands with him and you’d better count your fingers afterwards,” said Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby of Spaniard Omar Fraile. “Gentleman off the bike, absolute VILLAIN on it!”
But villainy, in the end, was beaten by the big heart of Canadian climber Michael Woods; because good guys, contrary to received wisdom, do win. But how on earth did Woods and Fraile find themselves duking it out at the finish in Villanueva de Valdegovia, across the Basque border and into Burgos, I hear you ask?
Well. You’ll be familiar with the standard first week Vuelta Espana breakaway: a couple of plucky Spaniards from BH-Burgos or Caja Rural; a wily veteran; maybe a young buck on the up or an unheralded Scandinavian with a rumoured fast finish.
Today was different.Embed from Getty Images
This was, as breakaways go, a supergroup. A breakaway-deluxe. A luxury escape-away. Alejandro Valverde, Sepp Kuss, George Bennet, Rui Costa, Guillaume Martin, Davide Formolo, Woods and Fraile, of course, and more. Names, almost to a man. The chasing peloton slightly edgy at the thought of a GC contender pulling back big time.
The group, and the circumstances, made for a super-fast day. Rugged, windy, and autumnal.
With ten kilometres to go and with the last of the climbs ticked off we had five of our A-listers clear. Valverde and Fraile; stone-cold killers. Guillaume Martin and Mick Woods; thoroughly lovely chaps, climbers who must attack long to win. And Nans Peters; the big bruising Frenchman, hanging on a bit, if we’re honest.
Come the business end Fraile was cold and calculating in his moves. Following mini-attacks, letting others go, sizing things up like an assassin on a bicycle. The street-smart wise-ass to the goofy chancers around him. Valverde, of course, possesses that same, ice-cold heart, but carries it around now on middle-aged legs.
The ageing Movistar man surely two years out of date.Embed from Getty Images
And then, from a kilometre out, Woods launched himself. Long, and straight. Fraile blinked inopportunely and looked up to see the pink of EF Pro Cycling twenty metres clear. Kicking himself, he whipped out his sniper’s rifle, took aim, and…missed!
He lost, is what I’m saying.
Woods too far gone and helped by a mild climb to the finish line. The Canadian former runner outsmarting the fast finishing Spaniard. There’ll be (virtual, Covid-safe) handshakes all-round tonight, but next time they meet on the bike Woods better watch his back.
(Top Image: Konstantin Kleine, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)