Too tough to be fun. For both riders and viewers. Three first category climbs led us to a summit finish on the fourth; the Alto de Farrapona, a great Asturian brute of a slope. This was not a day for whimsical attacks up the road. This was a grinding war of two-wheeled attrition.
No rider with GC ambitions would risk blowing up today. The mighty Jumbo-Visma juggernaut was in full flow. With five kilometres to go Primoz Roglic was surrounded by three of his teammates while Richard Carapaz, of Ineos, was alone.
The general idea was to sit on the wheels and fight like hell in the final, steep kilometres of the stage.
That’s not to say we didn’t have some enjoyment.Embed from Getty Images
Marc Soler, for example, I find to be a workable form of entertainment in and of himself: there’s something about him.
That gormless, mouth-agape; the raggedy breathe-strip across his nose; those rounded, undeveloped shoulders, suggesting a life devoted to literally nothing other than riding a bicycle; and the gazelle like pedal stroke, his body and bike following the whimsy of those long legs.
With five kilometres to go he leapt clear from the breakaway group of five and was quickly joined by David Gaudu. Soler was simultaneously on the cusp of a second stage win of this race and a nice little catapult up into the high top-tens overall, and about to be ripped to shreds by the cold calculation of Gaudu.
The Frenchman had the look of a chess Grandmaster setting a trap. Soler had wandered, queen first, into a hive of knights and rooks, and no amount of defensive pawn work would save him.
That is not to diminish a superb effort from the loveable Soler. He had made the break, driven the break, and then instigated the winning move. Credit where it’s due. And for Gaudu, stepping from the shadow of his superstar team-leader Thibaut Pinot, it was a win of absolute class. Strong, decisive, and maybe the kind of ride to give the bosses at Groupama FDJ a little something to think about, Pinot-wise?Embed from Getty Images
Tomorrow, Stage 12, is another brute.
The finale will see them hit the twelve kilometre long Alto d’Angliru. It’s final six kilometres average thirteen percent in gradient. There are ramps up to twenty-four percent; slopes so steep that simply following the wheels in front will not be available as a tactic.
It will be every man for himself. Some riders will lose minutes, hours, maybe even days. Others will scrap and scramble up the leader-board. Availability of teammates will be a moot point
To kill yourself in a breakaway today with that on the menu tomorrow was bold indeed. Possibly stupid. Suicidal, even?
Tomorrow, stuff will happen. It might not be pretty. But as long as you like your entertainment sprinkled with a little masochism you’ll be happy.