Predicting bike races is often a fool’s game. Lot’s of variables, see. Form, tiredness, and fundamental talent being but three. Factor in everything else – terrain, sleep quality, wind direction, star sign, favourite colour – and it becomes a guessing game.
And then sometimes, all those hours you spend watching bike racing fall into place. The details, perceptible and imperceptible, gather together like pixels to complete the image of the winner-to be.
As with Tim Wellens today.
With twenty kilometres to go the peloton had clocked off. Spread wide across the road, displaying the internationally recognised symbol for ‘sod it chaps…let the breakaway have it today.’
The winner would come from our six-man escape.
The GC contenders would hover, three minutes in arrears, and call a truce.
The stage was classic Vuelta. Up and down across Galicia, all day, nothing resembling a mountain and yet three-thousand metres and more of vertical ascent. Sean Kelly, Eurosport “hype-man” and Hardest Man In The World™ called it a real leg breaker. He is not a man to over-describe a bike ride.
If Kelly says it’s hard then trust me…it’s hard.Embed from Getty Images
As our six headed towards the finish town of Ourense they quietly became three, and that offered our first Wellens-related clue. Zdebek Stybar and Marc Soler clipped sneakily clear and the Belgian was the one to react. He launched off down the road, TT’ing across to the pair alone and latching on.
He made this move not in a panicked ‘shit, hang on…wait for me’ kind of way. This was a calculated effort in response to a dangerous attack.
I should mention, at this point, that this was no ordinary breakaway. It featured Wellens, Marc Soler, Zdenek Stybar, Michael Woods, Dylan van Baarle, and Thyman Arensman. Big names. Players.
To the base of our steep finale – a tough finishing ramp, Wellens-esque in length and placement – three suddenly became six again. Cat and mouse being a key component of any good bike race. Still Wellens was the pick. There was something serene about his movements among this small (yet stellar) group.Embed from Getty Images
The other five, by now, perhaps noticing that particularly winning-y aura around him. What we all saw, I think, was the fabled ‘good legs’ and experienced brain on a course that might have been accurately described in the road book as Stage 14: a celebration of Tim Wellens
With five-hundred metres to go he moved, like a lion, from sixth place to first. And then waited. An apex predator surrounded by gazelles (but gazelles on bikes…just go with me on this).
The very moment one of them twitched (Marc Soler, as it happens), Wellens stomped on the power and assumed control. Michael Woods gave chase, and got close, whilst also never really being in it.
Wellens winning, as we knew he would, with entertaining predictability.
(Top Image: filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)