awesome stage 7, what a ride by the very big Adam Hansen, read my take on it here.
awesome stage 7, what a ride by the very big Adam Hansen, read my take on it here.
Marco Canola rode the longest single kilometer of his life on Stage 5 and almost won the day. so close but so very, very far away…
read all about it here on PEZ through the rheumy eyes of crankpunk…
or, read it here below:
“I was about to realise a dream and I almost made it.”
He would have made it, had he had a Guardini on his wheel, or a Cavendish. Unfortunately for the trusty domestique, the man chasing him down with a merciless gleam in his eye and fire on his tongue was John Degenkolb, who can, unlike say the Manx Missile, hold it down for more than just 300 meters.
And, unlike a non-sprinter, he has that initial force to get up to speed and get away from the other chasers. A great combo of talents for the German, a winning one in fact, but a bad mix as far as the Italian was concerned.
Degenkolb was charging like a bull down the finishing straight, no doubt propelled forward by the positive thoughts of his Argos-Shimano teammate Luke Mezgec, he who was the first to go down on that corner and must have been working out his excuses for later on the team bus, even as he first felt his front wheel slip out from beneath him.
Must be the strangest sprint win of the German’s already decent career.
“In the end I couldn’t see,” said Degenkolb, who usually rides with a Labrador Retriever and a note from his optometrist.
“I was so empty. It was a great job from my team. We had the confidence and we took the responsibility. It was really hard in the end. It would have been not that hard but I had to suffer a lot to get to the finish today.”
You were cheering the Italian on though, right? I know I was.
Forza! Forza! Forza! He’s gonna do it! He is! He… oh… nope. He’s cooked. Get the protein shake ready.
Oh well. I mean it’s not as if freaky things like that last gasp crash by the man second in line at just about the last kilometer mark don’t happen every day. If he is a religious man he will be mightily confused – ‘why did God strike down the pack, offer me a glimpse of the Promised Land, only to put all that lactate in my already burning thighs in that last 400 meters!’
Canola now must be wishing that he’d done way more threshold training. Repeated one kilometer sprints after 203km in the saddle, that kind of thing.
I’m teasing him I know, but really I have bucket loads of sympathy for the lad. Anyone who has raced and been in sight of a win and felt the legs turn into marshmallows with expensive shoes on the end will know the feeling. You want it so bad, you are doing all you can with every blitzed fibre in your being, but the legs just won’t go anymore.
What was fascinating yesterday was not just Canola’s desperation but to see just how close the eventual winner also came to blowing – in fact, I think he did blow, his close up in the last 75 meters were more reminiscent of a cyclocrosser pumping through a sand pit than a man on tarmac, but as the others were even more spent, he won by dint of being the best of the battered.
And, you could see, by wanting it the most. A win in the Giro, well, as Canola said, that is a dream.
Blowing up though in sight of the win, I’ve been there often, and ‘humbling’ does not even come close. Still, as bike racers we live and breathe right on the precipice of glory and failure, and I’m sure he’ll dust himself off and carry on, as we all do, time, after time, after time.
Still though – ouch.
News from the pack though says they were generally happy with the German’s win, as it means he’s won the bet and can now shave off the Errol Flynn on his top lip. Which should make him faster – take note, Mark Cavendish!
Bradley Wiggins’ sideburns have a lot to answer for. Whilst we are on the subject of hair, I read recently that the English ex-pro Chris Boardman used to get very technical about his leg hair.
“You can shave in a certain way so that you leave your legs rough down the front edge but smooth at the side, creating an aerodynamic effect,” said Boardman.
Ah, time triallists, they really should get out more…
Speaking of time, the ITT comes tomorrow. Can Paolini ‘do a Voeckler’ and hang on to Pink for a few more days? Very unlikely, has to be said. The accounts of Wiggins’ demise will be either confirmed by the end of Stage 8 or thrown out on their collective ear. It’s a longish one, almost 55km, and though not flat it is very much a course suited to power.
A guy with a high cadence, a smooth stroke and a pedigree in the big ones will be relishing the prospect. Know anyone that fits that description?
whatever your take on Rapha & Sky, they do make some cracking films, like this short on Wiggins and the Giro…
yes, he really did look like that… read all about it on PEZ
or read the whole thing here…
The big news from Stage 4 of the Giro weren’t the boos that arose in the coffee shop where I watch the race when Danilo DiLuca took off up the road, but the look on Wiggo’s face as he crossed the line in Serra San Bruno, where he did a very good impression of a constipated turtle.
(Also love the image of the Lampre rider behind, he’s probably gasping for air in reality, but it looks for all the world that he’s having a good old laugh at the 2012 Tour de France winner – and while I’m on the subject, I will again nominate that Lampre kit for inclusion in the top ten ‘Worst Kits of All Time’ list…).
Well, the big news wasn’t so much the bunged-up reptile look, remarkable though it was, but the reason for that look: yes, Wiggo is misfiring.
Surely he and his DeathStar team have him honed to perfection, as tight as you like and ready to go off on another British Blitzkrieg once again, no?
Well maybe not, but why not? Isn’t it obvious? He really does have a dark and sinister master plan: namely – Le Tour!
Look out gloomy Froomey, your tilt at the stars is about to be given a very definitive jolt. It’ll be Hinault vs. Lemond all over again, but in that peculiarly English way, all handbags at dawn, grand gestures reduced to the rolling of eyes and heavy tut-tuts, breaks for tea and all the painful stoicism.
But yes, no doubt about it: whereas Nibali, that Ryder fella and even – gasp – the aging, Cadel I-thought-he-was-dead? Evans are all chalking their cues and casting Paul Newman-style glances through the fug of the pool hall, Wiggo’s powder looks to be decidedly damp.
And I do think, seriously, that it’s because he is waiting for July. Maybe even he didn’t know it til yesterday. I think that his body may have become a little ‘locked in’, due to the fact that he’s been preparing for the Tour so hard for the past few years.
Whatever it is, he didn’t lose time just because of the crash, but because he got gapped on a pretty tiny hill.
Of course, he’ll probably smash the TT and get Pink and leave me all red-faced.
Now, is it just me or is anyone else tired of seeing this Old Guard still popping up? Yes, Di Luca served out his ban and yes by the laws in place he is allowed back, but I don’t know, seeing him and, if I’m honest, some of the Garmin-Sharp team rolling back in like nothing ever happened, it all leaves me a little nonplussed.
I’ll probably cop it for saying that, but there it is. Perhaps if the UCI were addressing all that has happened in a responsible and thorough manner, one that let the fans feel ‘Heck, they’re really doing something about it this time,’ it would seem a little less like ‘business as usual.’
As it stands it kind of feels like yesterday’s fish still out on the market stalls.
Onto Cadel! Not literally of course, not sure the old man could take it. Now as a journalist it is my job, as we journos are all sworn to do, to react to everything with a massive knee-jerk and to cut people down just as quickly as we build them up.
So yes, I did write recently elsewhere in the Ethernet that I thought the grizzly wee Aussie was done in. Washed up. Ready for the glue factory.
And then faster than an Aussie can down 24 beers whilst sat astride an emu (the record stands at 3.8 seconds), back up he pops and takes second on stage 3 and takes 6th on stage 4.
Evans should have that great Mark Twain quote stitched into his jersey:
‘Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.’
Suits him perfectly. Never write off a good man. Still a long way to go in the Giro, thankfully, because it’s been very good so far, and the wheels may come off for the former World Champ in those high hills, but it is great to see him doing well.
He may not be the most liked character in the peloton but he is one of the most respected. Would be nice to see him in Pink for a bit.
A final note on Battaglin’s win. Great to see an Italian winning, that should keep the tifosi happy for, ooh, 4 minutes?
Could Nibali keep them quiet for a bit longer and grab the win? It would certainly be something to have another, serious rival to the Sky domination in the mix.
We shall see.
get your espresso hot and frothy and a little bitter, right here…
or read all about it here:
This is the Giro d’Italia, right? Cos I think I may have stumbled onto some amazing one day race that I’d never heard of before. It had it all, two cracking little climbs, one brilliant, twisting and quite frankly terrifying-looking descent just before the finish, and enough aggression to keep even those degenerate bare-knuckle fight fans stoked up on adrenaline for a week.
That couldn’t possibly have been just the third stage in a 3-week bike race, could it?
Ryder! What the hell man, this isn’t Liege-Bastogne-Liege, not ‘merely’ some classic you’re trying to set up for Mr. Martin. This is The Giro! Patience, they will tell you, is the watchword, ‘dullness’ its sidekick. How dare you bring such breathless and near darned senseless attacking to one of the world’s greatest multi-stage races?
Just who do you think you are, defending champion or something?
Yes, it was brilliant. Made not a great deal of sense. He sensed a little nick in the flesh of his rivals and heck, didn’t he go for it. Who said Canadians were boring, eh?
There’s two possible conclusions to be drawn:
a) Ryder is bluffing.
b) Ryder is not bluffing.
But let me tell you, it ain’t a). You don’t go out like if you haven’t got the legs, because well, you can’t go out like that if you haven’t got the legs. I’d suggest that Mr. That-Canadian-Guy is rocking and wants to cement his position at the Big Boy’s Table. No more high chairs and bibs and plastic spoons, thanks very much, gimme the silver baby!
Soup spoon, dessert spoon, fish knife and that third fork no one knows what the heck is for, break the lot out.
Yes, foolish maybe, a tad un-smart, but didn’t that make you smile? The temerity of it all!
And who else had the cheek to pop his slightly wombat little nose into the fray and all? None other than everyone’s favorite prickly Antipodean, Cadel ‘Cuddles’ Evans. Past his best? Possibly. No good anymore? Watch your tounge lad, this boy is one hell of a bike rider, and we haven’t seen the back of him yet.
All sorts going on during Stage 3, more highlights than a showreel of Lance’s greatest (needle) hits. Luca Paolini ripping up the roadl there was an example not only of great timing (his attack), but also incredible bikemanship. See those corners? Well, the Blanco boys certainly didn’t, it was like Man vs Juniors that one. Definitely one they won’t want to see again.
Only downside was that now we are going to see even more of those ugly-ass helmets. I hear that raise the watts – the ‘Watt the f*** is that’ count maybe… It’s 1988 all over again!
Last point was the way Sky rode. They were in an interesting position, with the unheralded Salvatore Puccio being in Pink after the TTT. Now, being in the leader’s jersey brings with lots of accolades ands no little pride, but also an almost ceaseless host of hassles.
The night before Stage 3, Sky would have been planning not to really defend the jersey as they wouldn’t have wanted it so soon – at least not unless it was on Wiggo‘s shoulders. Yet simultaneously, if a break goes up the road and gets 8 minutes, all the other teams look to the race leader’s team to chase.
It’s a delicate situation, if you don’t want to defend, because though you may want to lose it you could very well get badly caught out it the break stays away and has a big lead with a decent rider or two up there.
Of course teams want the race lead but, if possible, I’d wager that 90% of team managers would take it on the last day if they could, and not before. Not only do you have to be physically immensely strong across the team to defend a race lead, you also have to be smart, know how to play two-wheeled chess like a master, and be able to deal with the mental stress and ever-fluctuating realities of the on-road situation.
As it was, it worked out ok for Sky. Wiggo looks good, as does Ryder and Cadel too.
This is shaping up, already, to be a proper little battle.
they’ve sponsored the Tour of California since its inception in 2006, and that must be a good thing, right? the sport needs sponsors and here is one willing to provide financial support for an entire race for several years, one that, briefly, looked to be on the edge of challenging the Giro d’Italia as a destination for the world’s top bike road racers.
but exactly what does Amgen do?
well, Amgen is an American-based multinational biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California. located in the Conejo Valley, Amgen is the world’s largest independent biotech firm. Epogen and Neupogen (the company’s first products on the market) were the two most successful biopharmaceutical products at the time of their respective releases.
(gotta love Wikipedia…)
they also hold – and you’re going to think, if you aren’t actually aware of this, that I am making this up – the patent for artificial EPO in the USA.
let’s hear from Kathleen Sharp of the New York Times, who wrote a great article on Amgen and EPO:
“After patenting its artificial EPO [in the late 80s], Amgen formed a partnership with the marketing mavens at Johnson & Johnson and boomed into the world’s largest biotech company.
“Before long, Amgen and Johnson & Johnson were selling two EPO brands — Epogen and Procrit. (Those who biked the short races called criteriums joked it was for “pro-crit riders.”) By the ’90s, in addition to cyclists, runners, skiers and other endurance athletes were injecting the stuff regularly — and illegally. All they had to do was pay a black-market dealer in Amsterdam or Marseille, France.
“But it wasn’t until 1994 that the marketing of these drugs burst into the mainstream. Amgen and Johnson & Johnson began trying to expand the uses of their energy-boosting drugs to include treatment for fatigue, depression and quality-of-life issues. Commercials depicted old, slow-moving people who, after a shot of Procrit, displayed a zest for life, and a young cancer patient, who after an EPO injection happily returned to work.
“The aggressive marketing worked. Soon, exhausted but otherwise healthy people were begging doctors for a shot of what one Amgen executive called “red juice.”
“And many doctors went along with these off-label promotions, even though regulators hadn’t approved them. Indeed, in March 2007, Congressional hearings revealed that many oncologists were profiting. The drug makers paid doctors to prescribe the blood booster in high doses to unwitting patients. Some earned honorariums for speaking to their peers about the unapproved, off-label uses; others pocketed “education grants,” or joined marketing studies that never quite addressed the safety of high doses even as they recommended them.”
yup, that is right. the drug of choice of Vande Velde, Leipheimer, Hincapie, Hamilton, Vaughters and the great Lance Armstrong, the drug that fueled that particularly twisted, mangled form of the American Dream that ran roughshod over the sport for nigh on 20 years and then some, is licensed by the same drug company that just happens to be the sponsor of America’s biggest and most important bike race.
brilliant, right? like, genius, on a Herculean scale. I mean, really, why the heck shouldn’t a drug company, which by the very definition promotes health by helping the sick get better, promote an event that is full of fit young men riding around on bikes, this being the very definition of ‘health’?
in fact, it makes damn good sense.
or would, if the world we actually inhabit made any actual sense.
but it just so happens that (if you really need it spelt out), a great majority – yes, a great majority – of those guys riding about on those bikes in that race were (and some probably still are) doped up to their fluttering eyelids and bursting hearts on the very product that Amgen produces.
OK, so maybe I’m being too cynical. maybe Amgen is that hitherto unseen leopard that actually did change its spots.
let’s hear from Elliot Smith, Amgen’s scientific director, speaking back in 2008 in response to criticism of Amgen’s sponsorship of the tour.
“It’s such an alien concept – we show up to work every day and try to find these medicines to treat this disease your friends, family and neighbours might have, and you’re so consumed with that that it never occurs to you that somebody is going to go out and abuse this medicine. It’s so disturbing when that happens.”
well, sounds plausible enough. they seem shocked too, and aghast at their products being abused.
but… wait. weren’t they called out by the US government itself on counts of paying “doctors to prescribe the blood booster in high doses to unwitting patients”?
so who exactly was abusing who? but I guess that’s all in the past, right?
erm, well, no.
cos guess what! (are you ready to put on your mock shock! horror! face? yes? good).
they are still at it!
just a few short months ago, news arrived that stated that federal prosecutors had found that Amgen “had marketed its anemia drug Aranesp for unapproved uses even after the Food and Drug Administration explicitly ruled them out.”
they were “pursuing profits at the risk of patient safety,” cited the report.
‘NOOOOOO!’ the crowd shouted back, though in a mocking voice for they were by now too drunk to give a rat’s arse, to be honest, for they had heard it all before.
corporate monster rapes people for cash?
heard it already mate, a thousand times. stuck record, that one…
the report, depressingly, continued:
“In court on Tuesday, prosecutors charged that Amgen had promoted the use of Aranesp to treat anemia in cancer patients who were not undergoing chemotherapy, even though the drug’s approval was only for patients receiving chemotherapy.
“A subsequent study sponsored by Amgen showed that use of Aranesp by those nonchemotherapy cancer patients had actually increased the risk of death, and the off-label use diminished. “
Amgen pleaded guilty.
Amgen had to pay $762 million in criminal penalties.
isn’t Amgen lovely? what sweet, fun-loving people must work there. real good folk. with kids. with mothers and fathers. with friends. with teddies in their cars, puppies in their homes, dreams in their hearts and hopes in their eyes. people just like us really, when all is said and done.
luckily for them, they still have beating hearts. bless. luckily for them, they can say ‘well, i’m just doing my job.’
and they say that all the way up the line…
appropriate sponsor for the Tour of California?
for any bike race?
really top notch photography here from Scott Mitchell, covering Sky’s Giro.
he turned me inside out, that lad, all 61kg and veins the like of which you only find on a horse’s cock streaming down his legs, raining down lashings of misery with an almost possessed concentration, whipping the pedals with a ferocity that had me gurning the whole way up the climb. it wasn’t long but it was plenty hard. 1km at something like 12%. he threw it all at me, everything he had, but, thankfully, it wasn’t enough to break me…
with a slender 14 seconds lead over the Japanese rider Kyosuke Takei and 22 over Peter Pouly, the final day of the 2013 Tour of Friendship was going to be challenging, to say the least. i had a few factors in my favor though, that might just help me swing it.
first of all, neither Pouly or Takei had teammates, though there were two other Japanese guys in the Open category that might help Takei, if it came to it. second, the stage was only 85km, meaning there would be less chances for them to attack me. thirdly, the parcours looked, on paper, to be not too hilly, maybe a max of 6% on a long drag that we’d cover twice, then a finish that was relatively flat on the run-in, also suiting me.
finally, there were the offers of help from no less than three guys on different teams, though i figured that at the end it’s probably be a three-way fight to the line by me, Pouly and Takei anyway. with 10 seconds on offer for the win i couldn’t afford to leave anything in the hands of others.
so, we start, hot from the off. no change there then. kind of getting used to the heat by now but sick of the wet feet, they’re dead white after the stage, like someone else’s stuck on the end of my otherwise brown legs, some old tramp’s dead, manky feet. so many water bottles thrown over my head and even more over the countryside, hundreds, thousands this week, one of the real contradictions of our sport. not that i care much now, it’s just survival, watch the potholes, clear the debris by the edge of the battered road, watch for those attacks.
i can’t let anything too big get up the road so i have my remaining two guys chase down an early break of about 8, but my guys are so tired after the week of racing, they’re maintaining the gap and so eventually i put in a spurt that brings it all back. i’m not in the mood for talking today, a good sign. i’m on it, i’m feeling the flow. got to minimise the movements, protect the power, cut down on waste, keep the shoulders relaxed and the head clear and down, keep the pedaling smooth, preserve every possible watt of energy for the attacks that will come, are coming.
15km in and we hit the start of a long 16km hill, a drag, it looks, on paper, but it’s obvious the profile was wrong. this is one of those rollers that paradoxically has no downhills, just false flats in between vicious little growlers, leg-sappers where Pouly will surely be compelled to attack. but first off i see Takei sidle up to one of the Japanese riders at the front. i soft pedal to within 2 meters and hear Japanese.
now maybe it’s cos he’s tired of maybe he just forgot, the force of habit, but i speak Japanese and hear every word.
‘you go on the approach just ahead, then i can try on the up and down, he will be tired.’
i wonder for a second if it’s a false play but then, sure enough, the Japanese guy goes. he;s way down on the GC but i don’t want any help for Takei up the road so i follow. legs are good. breathing long and deep. bike feels great. i catch him then Takei launches a hard attack on the right, i have to ask another rider to let me through, but it’s all calm, i know i will get him back, the guy moves and i put in ten hard strokes and i’m on his wheel. he goes again and again but never gets more than 3 meters.
then he heads back, he’s done. his confidence blown, i can feel it. then suddenly a lightning blur from the right once again, this time the green of Pouly and it’s serious, very hard up the 6% incline, and i look up and that gradient is rising way up beyond the race book’s poor estimation.
i force my way onto his wheel and he turns to see me then clicks into a harder gear and goes again, i’m burning now but amazed by his style, a pure climber – this guy has the amateur record up Alpe d’Huez, and though he’s a banned doper he has obvious ability, 5-time French MTB champion, holdr of the KOMs on various well-known monster climbs, and a soaking wet 61kg compared to my 77 – anyway he’s turning the screw and i am forcing i don’t know how many watts to get over this critical point with him.
i do it though. i hear him breathing hard. he turns to look at me again and through the pain i flash a big smile and ride alongside him, concealing my hurt and man does it hurt right now, and i say-
‘hey, how you doing?’ all casual as you like.
‘beautiful up here, huh?’
‘ah… unh’ is all he can manage.
i drop back behind him and the mask falls and my face contorts again, and thank the cycling gods of Coppi, Anquetil and Merckx that there are no more killer hills on the horizon. i had to sow the doubt in his mind for the second loop up that nasty climb, because if he attacks like this again i am not so sure i can hang on.
we’re alone, together, up the road with no one in sight behind. he flicks an elbow. i see it and smile to myself. flicks again. turns.
‘come on, come through, the Japanese guy, you can get away, he is second….’
‘i don’t have to worry about him, Peter. i just have to watch you.’
‘we work, i just want the stage.’
‘and if i blow on the second loop? you going to wait for me? no. up to you, you ride or we sit up.’
he starts to ride, much to my surprise. he’s forcing a gear that i can’t quite believe is coming from a guy so skinny, and he does it for about 8km until a small select group comes up to us, including Takei. we come back to the hills, second loop, and Pouly goes again. this time it is easier to follow, and Takei can come too, we go over the rise 200m ahead of anyone else and we are off, 25km to go now to the line, one long descent then 10km of flat.
‘come on, we work,’ says Takei, ever hopeful.
i shake my head. it would be better if they’d been dropped obviously, but i have them right in front of me and that is where i intend to keep them. i can sense that the fight has left them, they’d given their all and i was on it each time. it’s a strange thing maybe to admit to, but i feel a control over them, a power. it starts in my skull and flows down to my feet and suddenly my legs feel amazing, i forget the heat and the bike is almost a part of me. i have to grab myself to remember that there’s still 20km to go, can’t get complacent, but just for this moment it’s an incredible, strange and slightly disquieting sensation.
never had that in any race before.
Takei says ‘ok we work, Peter wins, i am 2nd, you third.’
‘no, i’m second. i need those 5 seconds, just in case.’
he looks at me then nods. ‘ok, you 2nd.’
i just am not sure if i should trust Peter though, his attempts to get me to ride may have been amateurish but they revealed his desire to fight for the win, for sure. with 5km to go i’ve still not done a turn the whole break, and i feel good enough to go. i ask them what they want to do but they seem too tired to be bothered to reply.
i don’t think i’ve ever concentrated as much on the bike as i do now, looking beyond Takei’s shoulder and watching Peter’s right hand like a hawk. one little flicker and i will go. but then with 800m to go Peter turns to offer a hand to Takei then to me, and the tension dissipates.
we trundle over the line with barely an inch between us.
and that’s it. i’ve won.
i get a big bear hug from my manager, Brandon Teo, and handshakes from the guys at the line and after a minute or maybe more the others come in, and there’s more handshakes and a beer and then it’s off back to the resort, just a short ride away.
it’s not a major race but that’s to take nothing from the guys, it was one hell of a fight with the quality of field, the route and of course the heat and it ranks up there with my most satisfying wins. hanging on to Pouly up the climbs the final day and losing just ten seconds to him over a 6km climb the day previous were similarly pleasing!
so, thanks for reading, thanks to all the guys who rode and the new friends i made, guys like Michael Troy, Dave Christensen and Matt Kinch, and to the old friends i met up with again, to my sponsors 720 Armour, Extreme Endurance, Specialized and most of all Lapierre and James Murray, and of course, to my teammates Michel Velasco, Siong Chen and Tong, and to Brandon Teo, The Big Boss.
as ever, people, do crank on!
oh, and the t-shirt of the week was…
Baby Jesus exists. how do i know? cos he was sat on my handlebars today as I rode into hell. he said at one point that i could ask him anything, absolutely anything, so i asked him where he stood on the debate over full fat fresh milk/skimmed/UHT/soy, and, much to my satisfaction, he spoke thus:
‘fella, it’s full fat all the way. you think i’m gonna go through all this crap I got ahead of me a-skimpin? no chance, Lance. full-fat, the juice, uppers, downers, peyote, whatever Moses can deliver, all washed down with the Chivas. Baby J say, you got it, I’m on it.’
he then produced a Marlboro Red from his nappy, followed smooth as you like by a double G&T.
Baby Jesus rolls, baby. he definitely rolls. and he was kind of enough to perch with one leg cocked so I could still see my garmin, which was nice.
that was probably the most sacrilegious of my hallucinations today, notwhithstanding Che Guevara doing some very Marxist-Leninist ‘re-educating’ to Mother Theresa in a mango tree. humph.
i’m not being flippant. seriously, this is what the heat does to you. I was as empty as Our Savior’s tomb with just 62 of the 161km gone, looking down and working out in my frazzled head the kilos to go and wondering why i didn’t take up something more altogether sedate, like ping-pong.
today’s stage had just over 2000m of climbing and seemed, like yesterday, to be more of an endurance test than anything else. 161km leaves you feeling like a cockroach husk, your moist innards having been sucked out by a giant gecko.
can you tell I like to complain? yeah I hide it well though I know, I’m talented like that.
anyway, to the action! (if you can call trundling along at 22km/hr ‘action’).
the day started nice and slow and kind of stayed like that for the first 49km, until we hit the start of the main hill, a 6km slog that we’d have to do twice again, with the finish coming on the third lap. with a KOM jersey at stake a few guys were up for it, but none more than the Tour of Friendship’s resident multiple ‘ex’-doper, Peter Pouly, in search of the 5 bonus seconds on hand!
step this way Pete, the peloton has a large dollop of ill-will just for you.
ok yes, I am being facetious, but it is essentially true – a lot of the guys have voiced their disquiet at his presence in no uncertain terms, and he even got booed today when he stepped up on the podium to accept his award for 3rd place. I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of former multiple-ban riders that are banned from UCI events riding ones like this, but the general consensus here is not positive on that score.
positive, get it?! get it? ach, my talents are wasted here..
anyway off went Pouly up the hill, eager to chip away at my 21 second lead over him. I followed, perhaps foolishly as there was a young Hong Kong rider up ahead, still surviving from a solo attack 10km earlier.
I tried with every fiber in my being to hang onto Pouly’s wheel but it just wasn’t happening. he took off and I decided to settle into a rhythm and wait for the rest of the race to come up to me.
on the chase down the hill, my last surviving teammate, Michel Velasco, crossed wheels and took a bad tumble, breaking, we later learned, his collarbone. get well soon amigo!
finally we caught up with the HK kid, then with Pouly a few kilometers later. his reappearance drew an interesting round of cheers and the odd cat whistle.
next lap we all took it easy on the climb, everyone knackered and dry as a communion cracker. there is a near-continuous stream of cold bottles of water being handed out by the scooter guys that follow us (and a great job they do too, despite being shouted at at regular occasions – an angry cyclist is a fearsome beast, I tell ya, about as pleasant as a large boil on the arse).
we were all waiting for the final climb, the build-up to which seemed interminable. then we hit it, which came late – not late as in I didn’t know it was coming, but late late. you know how annoying it is when you have the race distance that you’ve copied from the race book written and taped onto your top tube, but then that number passes by and you’re still fisting yourself up the backside with a rusty studded glove, hanging over the stem and wating for Deliverance at the same time?
well, that happened. I hate it when that happens.
finally though we were on the foothill. riding at the head of the group, I turned to see that my two closest rivals, Takei (16 seconds) and Pouly (22 seconds) were 20 meters back at the rear of the group. I figured they thought I would be waiting for their attack.
so I attacked.
that’s crankpunk logic for you.
boom! ka-pow! biff! I was brilliant, balletic, cutting through the air and laughing at gravity with an insouciant flick of the eyebrow, mocking fate and Old Mother Time as I danced, Pantani-like, up the 9% gradient.
that lasted for all of 14 meters.
then I groveled like an obese kid on one of those assault courses they have on those fat camp tv shows. it was unpleasant, to say the least. some would say obscene. I felt very abruptly no longer like a prancing elf, suddenly more like one of those female dogs you see in Indonesia with their teets massively stretched, swinging and ringing like ten bells when they walk, ever so slowly, on by.
‘Mama! is it church time?’
‘no little one, the pregnant dog just walked past the house. get on with your schoolwork…’
as I struggled up the hill, 4km to go now, grown men averted their eyes, women wept, children ran for shelter. it was not pretty. I have always fancied myself as a bit of a climber and do a little fist pump when I see a lumpy profile, but the truth is not often that which we believe. especially when it comes to our cycling abilities. many of you will know, I expect, exactly what I am talking about.
so, Takei came up to me followed by Pouly, still 500m of the hardest part of the climb to go but neither could go again. I got on Pouly’s wheel and settled in just as we settled onto the false flat that came before the nasty last km.
they started weaving for position, trying to get off the front of the line like kids pushing to not be first for a dose of medicine – not sure it really makes that much difference when you’re doing 12km/hr, but whatever, they seemed to be having fun.
had either of them kicked then I think I might have wilted, but as it is their messing about allowed 4 or 5 others to bridge up to us. the congregation was growing, but growing ever restless for the final sermon to be delivered.
Takei then kicked with 1km to go just as the road rose. Pouly jumped past with me on his wheel, then we got a gap, then Pouly dropped me. then I really blew and Takei passed by me again, and man, there was the line just 300m away and I was fighting for seconds. inexplicably hard, that last 300m.
the line would just not come soon enough.
in the end Pouly took 3rd and got a 1 second bonus – thankfully two guys had gone way earlier and stayed clear, taking the ten and 5 second bonus respectively.
I dropped 10 seconds on Pouly and just 4 on Takei, so am now 22 up on Pouly and 14 up on the Japanese guy.
sermon delivered, confessions made, and the penance wasn’t too bad.
Baby J popped along as I blinked the black dots from my eyes just past the line and said ‘well, could have been worse chap, could have been worse,’ then tipped his baby trilby and lit another Red, then poof! – was gone just as quick as he’d appeared.
the last and final stage coming up today. 85km, climbs look ok, not too long, downhill 10km to the line. it’s gonna be hard, but it is doable.
14 seconds, just 14 little units of time.
is it to be the wrath of Revelations? or the honey dew melons of Eternal Salvation?
all will be revealed, with religious reverence, very soon, right here on crankpunk…
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Pain. Suffering. Sacrifice.