pro cycling

Tadej Pogacar, the Ruta del Sol, and suddenly it all makes sense again

Tadej Pogacar pro cyclist

It’s February, and yes, there have technically been bike races to watch in recent weeks. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should.  

We’ve gazed blearily at the Tour Down Under wondering whether our skin can absorb vitamin D through a screen. We’ve had half an eye, at best, on San Juan, in Argentina. We’ve watched 180 of the finest athletes on the planet riding through a desert towards a line drawn across the road in chalk and wondered whether we oughtn’t be doing one or two jobs around the house (Saudi Tour…and yes, we ought).  

Until we find ourselves idly watching scrappy underfunded races in southern Europe and Stage 4 of the Ruta Del Sol slaps us around the eyeballs and says “oh, you want pro cycling? What, you mean like this!?” 

Because there’s a moment with each new season when pro cycling makes sense again.  

And this, for 2023, was mine.  

With two stage wins already under his glory laden belt Tadej Pogacar decided, with twenty-odd kilometres to go, and in the name of fun, to go on the attack. Full gas. Like a wild animal. He reeled in the breakaway in approximately nine seconds and took Spaniard Enric Mas, clinging to his wheel, with him. 

The pair of them, clear of the field, crested a climb, rounded a great shoulder of Andalusian earth, and our finale revealed itself. A winding snake of a descent down to a reservoir, into a town, through narrow cacophonous Spanish streets, and up a ramp to a finish line crowded with people.  

Because for a bike race to mean anything to me it must have geography. It must go from one place to another place, and pass things on the way, ideally things that bring to mind other bike-related things that happened in earlier editions of the race.  

So history, too.  

The roads must also be lined with, at the very least, a smattering of people who give a shit.  

Tick, tick, and tick.  

So Pogacar and Mas rattle down the descent, chased by a rag tag of riders in ones and twos like marbles down a run, the camera bikes accelerating on the straights desperately making up the elastic gap gained by the riders on the bends, some in the zone, in their element, distancing others who are rigid and overthinking it.  

Carlos Rodriguez of Ineos Grenadiers slides off on a tight right-hander.  

Pogacar momentarily misses an apex and skitters on gravel. 

Mas does that unreadable grimace/smile that’s swiftly becoming his trademark.  

My brain crunches the grid references and joins the dots. This looks like one of those breakneck Pyrenean Tour de France stages that finishes down some greasy road off some wild peak and into a town like Pau, or Lourdes. It feels a bit like Milan San Remo as riders roll the dice off the descent of the Poggio for the run in along Via Roma. The final kilometre, in the town of Iznajar, takes us up a ramp-y finish with just the feintest whiff of Strade Bianche in April.

The murmur of coffee and pastries in the town square at Siena.

We understand what this is. It’s like this, reminiscent of that, first happened a hundred years ago, and whatever Enric Mas does in the final K’s he will lose gloriously to Pogacar who will take a third win in four stages 

And just around the corner are the cobbled classics, Strade Bianche, Milan San Remo, and then the Giro d’Italia, and on we go.  

And pro cycling is making sense again. 

(Top Image: Tadej Pogacar via Flowizm @ Flickr CC)

2 comments on “Tadej Pogacar, the Ruta del Sol, and suddenly it all makes sense again

  1. Pingback: Watching Pogacar and sitting with discomfort – ROAD THEORY

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