I’ve been really enjoying the first few days of the Vuelta. It’s been a riot of attacking cycling, with Contador attempting to reassert himself after being banned for ingesting clenbuterol in ‘tainted spanish beef’. He should steer (no pun intended) clear of el vaca espanol from this point onwards.
Yesterday was great. No sooner had i switched on the terrorbox than the race exploded across the open and windswept flatlands of wherever it was in Spain. Team Sky, marshalled by Flecha and Stannard – two of the hardest, fastest riders in the bunch, massed on the front and stepped on the gas. The race switched from a meandering cyclo-tour live on telly to a total cycling apocalypse. Almost as soon as they started the forcing the pace (within 2 minutes, if that) there was a huge crash in the bunch, taking out Valverde. I have no sympathy, Movistar this year have a track record of nefarious deeds. I shall also not mention Valverde’s past record as a TOTAL DRUGS CHEAT. Besides, as I have learnt this year first hand, there is nothing remotely controversial about what happened, and any kant or polemic can be answered with the simple statement: “that’s bike racing”.
And then it happened. You wait all year for a glimpse of this rare sight, and suddenly there it is, happening in front of your very eyes: ECHELONS. The riders were strung out across the road in 4 lines with broad daylight between each diagonal as they spiralled across the landscape like waves across the ocean. Those lucky enough to be firmly in the echelon were content, working hard. Those on the outside, not on the guest list, were condemned to scrap in the gutter in an unseemly mass. It was fantastic.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Simon Clarke took the win from Tony Martin. A second group came in with Nicolas Roche and a few others. Roche sprinted in an attempt to grab a few seconds for his GC battle. David de la Fuente matched him then dug really deep to come past and take the battle for the 4th place. However, De La Fuente didn’t seem aware that he was battling for 4th place on the stage. He thought he’d taken the win.
There’s a certain glory and honesty in his celebration. For those few short moments he had in effect won the stage. He experienced the sensation unique to winners, those who manage to defy the odds and somehow take the win from 180 other bike riders. There is a purity to his gestures and excitement; the look back, mouth wide open, hands aloft in wild astonishment, the repeated wave to the sky. Afterwards I imagine he felt a little bit sheepish, maybe he saw the funny side, but it doesn’t change the fact that at that point in time he had won.