The term that I have used to headline this post may seem strange. I will explain it briefly. Since Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky discovered that a “fat-ass” rider can win the tour thanks to sophisticated specific training, the application of science on cycling has been thought as the panacea for performance enhancing. We know that some years ago science was used in other ways to make riders go faster (yes, doping existed and most of the riders used it), but this applications where more linked to medicine.
Since cycling is doing great efforts to be a cleaner sport, with the so called “modern teams” with Dave Brailsford, Sean Yates and Tim Keirrison’s Team Sky leading them, new training methods are been introduced. People in the world of cycling now talk about SRM tools, watt-counter systems and so on. Sky has turn roads into velodromes, every single movement seems to be measured. When we see Team Sky riders setting the path of the bunch they ride at the ideal speed, the one that is suitable in every moment of the stage, appropriate for their leaders strength and form. Even when the leaders attack, after having caused enough fatigue to the rest of the bunch, they focus on their little screens to check that they ride under the correct watt threshold. Everything must be always under control and thus how Team Sky has been so successful in the stage races of the last two years. This way they won last year’s Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Criterium du Dauphiné, Tour de Romandie and Volta ao Algarve. And in 2013 they have also won Paris-Nice with Richie Porte, using the same strategy they formerly used with Wiggins and Froome. It does not matter who is the leader, they always act the same way.
But suddenly, at today’s stage in Tirreno Adriatico, cycling has turned against the Team Sky’s “logarithmic cycling”. And that has succeeded thanks to 3 main factors: the meteorology, the route and, above of all, the riders’ ambition. For almost 6 hours cyclist have stand under the heavy rain that, if possible, has toughen a stage that was designed for pain. Uncountable short but steep climbs in the second half of the stage have converted the stage in a mined battle camp. With 50 kilometres remaining, some riders needed to put their feet off the pedals for not falling to the wet pavement. It was such a tough climb that riders moved in slow motion, some of them, at the back of the bunch, moving from one side to the other of the road, zigzagging to avoid losing the balance. Images of suffering and epic cycling.
In that context, and with the chase just 2 minutes ahead, the bunch has decided to fight for the victory and the main riders, considering that the stage was being so complicated, started to move trying to dismast the control that since then Chris Froome’s team had installed in the race. They found a great opportunity to become the watt counter useless and test the leader’s strength and ability in a chaotic final, take him out of the protection of data and science and carrying him to a face to face struggle.
http://video.gazzetta.it/vince-sagan-nibali-nuovo-leader/0b11e20e-8a75-11e2-bc5c-838ef8f87b52 (Click here to watch the stage’s highlights)
Nibali attacked toughly in a 20% slope and only Joaquim Rodríguez and Peter Sagan, the stage winner, could resist his pace. Froome did not manage to keep his balance and after losing many positions in the last short climbs, spent too much strength trying to get to the chase group, for the first time in 2013 Tirreno Adriatico, racing alone with many riders ahead. Without teammates around, his effort was not enough to reduce the difference between his group and the two groups that rode ahead. Thus he lost a race that seemed to be his.
Race organizers have discovered how to create a stage ideal for fans’ joy, reviving the epic of the ancient cycling, when riders reached the finish line one by one, losing minutes and provoking great changes in the overall classification.
Today we have not seen Team Sky’s boring control that desperated both fans and rivals last Tour de France. He have seen the superb all-powerful team suffering and losing the control of the situation.
Showing such superiority they have create a willingness of watching uncontrolled cycling, with attacks, attractive routes and epic movements. And that is what we have watched today, a total breakdown of Sky’s dictatorship thanks to the weather, the toughness of the short steep climbs and, above of all, the courage and ambition of Vincenzo Nibali, a man that must be regarded as the current main entertainer of cycling races.
Tylor Phinney’s great deed
In such an epic day, I want to praise Tylor Phinney the same way I have praised Nibali or Sagan. However, he spent 37 minutes more for fill in the stage. 37 minutes more under the rain. 37 minutes more of pain. And, in his case, there was no recompense in the finish line. No fight for the victory, or improvement in the overall. He only wanted to finish the stage, after been left alone by his “grupeta” fellows, who decided to give up with 130 kilometres to the finish. But he did not. He continued alone, under the rain and surely thinking “what the fuck I am doing?” I strongly recommend reading his last tweets to understand how a rider feels after doing what he has done. And a little detail must be added: his effort was useless, as he arrived out of time limit. Pure cycling.