It’s time for fantasy cycling to become part of the club 10 car park narratives for the next month as a number of games launch ahead of the Grand Depart.
I am an addict so play the Procyclingstats star allocation game (a la Het Nieuwsblad), I also play their stocks and shares trading game Procycling-game (despite being terrible at it).
For the Tour de France 2022 though I am putting my all into the Velogames competition (sorry official Tissot Le Tour one) and would love you to do the same.
This isn’t an endorsement of the game (officially) and I am getting no benefit from promoting it… just to make that clear.
Now I am sure that each and every one of you reading would have a different view of who to pick and where to spend the 100 EUR budget. Heck reading the news I might still substitute Wout Van Aert if his knee is broken.
But the whole idea is to add fun to the three weeks of the Tour and a bit of depth of interest when watching.
So please do pick a team (its free and if you have a social media account you don’t have to go through any registering process) and join in. I am sure you will have the skills to finish above me !
My holiday had an inconvenient side effect of taking me away from wifi and 4g for the final weekend of the 2022 Giro D’Italia.
I had left for the solitude of a boat on the Norfolk broads with Richard Carapaz of Ineos looking the likely winner in Verona.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
The race had started back on 6th May in Hungary which put on its best sights and weather for the arrival of the race. A year or so late due to Covid, of course.
Mathieu van der Poel did his thing avoiding a tumbling Caleb Ewan to get the first pink jersey before Simon Yates shocked the peloton in the next days time trial.
The Brits were 2 from 3 in the Hungarian stages as Mark Cavendish kept the “will he won’t he?” Tour de France narrative going by outsprinting his rivals in Balantonfured. The debate is still raging as that was the high point for Cav with no other stages wins. He did make the finish though and has taken that form into the most recent Belgian semi classics.
Stage 4 had the first mountain finish of the race and Leonard Kamna showed his class by taking the win on Mount Etna. Juan Pedro Lopez of Trek took the leaders pink jersey at this point and despite being a relative newcomer to the top table of world cycling was able to hang on for 9 days.
As we journeyed up the West coast for a few days Arnaud Demare put Cavendish, Ewan et al. in their place with back to back wins. This was enough to win the points jersey at the end of the race.
A couple of midi montagne stages followed with typically swashbuckling breakaway wins from Koen Bouwman of Jumbo (with a massive assist from Tom Dumoulin) and Thomas De Gendt.
De Gendt won in the way only he can, dangling off the front in a group that was pretty dysfunctional but just about had enough time to win it.
A sign of things to come was shown on stage 9 with Australian Jai Hindley winning the showpiece finish on Blockhaus. He would stay within a few seconds of the race lead until the final weekend.
Jesi is a place I know so it was great to see more barriers broken down by Biniam Girmay. Let’s savour his win for now and hope the eye injury he got post stage won’t affect him long term.
After no stage wins in 10 so far, the home nation of Italy got a pair on consecutive days with Alberto Dainese winning a sprint before Stefano Oldani showed his Etna breakaway was no fluke with a brilliant win in the port city of Genoa.
Demare and Yates won more stages as Lopez finally conceded the leaders jersey to Carapaz.
The race settled into the mountainous final week with more breaks winning stages. Santi Buitrago was the standout with a thrilling counter attack after crashing on a downhill.
Perennial trier Dries DeBondt showed his ‘new De Gendt‘ credentials as we headed into the key final stages.
All eyes were on the Marmolada stage where Allesandro Covi crossed the line first to save the race from a UAE Team Emirates perspective. The drama was behind though with team mate Kamna dropping back from the winning break to set a fierce pace for Hindley.
It was too much for the pink jersey and Carapaz was dropped for good seeing a late in the race new leader in the Aussie.
The final time trial was a lap of honour for Hindley who put the hurt of losing on the last day 2 years ago behind him. It was a great win and well deserved.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and after spluttering into the mic of the friendly chap on the finish line about how most Clarion clubs share the red black and yellow colour scheme, I rode away wishing I had something profound that I could have said.
Something, that after the Rutland Border Epique could drift on the strongish wind over the nearby market in Melton Mowbray to get shoppers to stop and think “he sounds clever“.
I have thought of those words and they are the post title.
Apologies that I have been so tired that it’s taken me until the following Thursday for them to come to me though.
But now the quote has formed in my mind… how apt it is.
I know Southern Rutland well especially the area near Oakham and the south shore of the lake which are regular roads for me to shred my legs on.
This event intrigued me as it started in Melton Mowbray before heading north towards Nottingham ahead of a right turn towards Belvoir castle and Grantham. The route then headed into the stiff southerly back to Oakham before a sting in the tail heading back north to the finish.
After being part of a decent hard working group from the start, I hung back behind a car and a big group on the way up to Belvoir. I got back on during the descent, but there were a couple of riders missing having headed off up the road.
I formed an alliance with new riding buddy for the day Paul lasted over the lumps and bumps ahead of the feed. But that last 8kms before refreshment had me struggling and despite thinking I should stick with someone as long as possible, I urged him to go ahead and not wait for me.
Due to a bit of traffic and a motorcycle club run I managed to miss the feed and found myself pressing on towards Cottesmore and Greetham alone and with the wind really starting to punish my legs.
The sight of my wife and kids cheering me on from a layby got me back towards Oakham and then the dream scenario of a tail wind started to come to fruition.
But I guessed that the toughest climbs were to come when we arrived in Wymondham and took in the sharp steep drag past the bike shop and up towards the Colsterworth – Melton Road.
The family had made it across to that point but could see that I was fading fast with 80km in my legs (in one ride for the first time since 2016).
I plugged away on the last couple of climbs unzipping my jersey and snatching off my arm warmers. But I was literally and in the cycling sense cooked.
A couple of riders came flying past, Paul included after a sugar filled cake stop, but I wasn’t in a position to tag on to any trains.
Even the downhill back into town and the finish in Melton was now back against the wind so I just hung in and made it to the line as best I could.
My mind was scrambled and my legs like jelly. That explains my boring chat to the finish commentator, I suppose.
What I have to say is that this was a first class event. Brilliantly organised and marshalled. I saw no trouble from horse riders or motorists, some achievement with the start and finish in the centre of a busy town on market day.
I will be back in 2023 with hopefully more adequate climbing legs and a time to beat.
Whisper it quietly but as a result of work I am not making any midweek club 10s and despite missing that competition within myself to push hard and ride faster, I think lockdown has caused a change in my mindset. I am not missing it…yet
I am pinning on a number in a couple of weeks. That is for a sportive rather than a time trial where I will ride head up to enjoy the scenery and get the most out of my day.
I hope I can remember how to take food out of my jersey pocket and climb bigger hills than those around here.
This isn’t the first time in my cycling career that I have been minded to switch direction completely from the British obsession of riding against the clock to the continental obsession of mass participation.
I generally ride and train alone for mindfulness and headspace but I wont lie, the thought of getting in a small group and sharing the experience is appealing.
The training is strong and my motivation is good, so I am confident that despite my legs getting a beating on the day, I will be sipping a cold beer that evening with the family telling them in great detail about how so and so dropped me at this point and how I clung on to a group for dear life on this B road.
Mainly for his incredible attacking on the uphill’s and fearless descending coming back down.
See that footage from the Dauphine off the Mont de Chat for the best example of that.
Yesterday though, that deep affection for this rider moved on a step.
After his overall win in the Tour of the Alps last week, he would have been in the group of 5 star favourites for Liege-Bastogne-Liege yesterday.
But he made a decision on the road that affected his changes of winning the race but elevated him as a human.
We could talk for hours about the causes of the crash that took down so many riders but there is a positive news story among the cracking of bones and bumps and bruises.
As World Champion Julian Alaphillippe lay stricken on the forest floor after a high speed crash, Bardet chose to stay with him and seek medical help rather than ride on and try and regain the peloton.
What a gesture.
There was genuine concern for a rider who isn’t a team mate and only shares a nationality with him.
I think that somewhere in Bardet’s brain was the feelings from his Tour de France crash that gave his a fracture in his skull and concussion and a feeling that he might have recognised in Alaphillippe an urgent need for care.
If there is any chance that the Velo D’or award this season can be given to someone other than Tadej Pogacar, how about Bardet for this gesture?
After a midweek of Magnus Sheffield winning and team dominance, along with an Amstel Gold success, Ineos Grenadiers had showed they were truly on the road to being a classics squad by taking the big one.
Dylan Van Baarle proved that three attacks is too many but two just enough when he made his way across to the 2nd threatening break of the day and dropped them to head into Roubaix with a hefty winning margin.
The truth is that this was a win set up nearer the start than the finish of the race. In a slight crosswind his team put all 7 riders into a move that took until the 2nd sector of cobbles to pull back. Pre-race favourites Mathieu Van de Poel and Wout Van Aert had to use more riders than they would have hoped in getting it back.
This left the Grenadiers with plenty of riders on the front foot and at the head of the race. In their old more defensive style of riding, the travails of Fillipo Ganna would have been enough to derail their plan, but whilst it was bad news for the Italian, the mechanicals that had him dropped and having to chase alone didn’t affect the strategy. They had riders in abundance.
There were, however, riders clear at the key point in Arenberg forest and Milan San-Remo winner Matej Mohoric was proving to be no one trick pony in forcing the pace at the front. But with Ben Turner pushing on behind in the group of favourites and keeping things in check, Ineos didn’t panic.
Mohoric came back to them when hW Hs a puncture and Van Baarle made his first move driving the final selection away. This was despite the spirited Tom Devrient remaining clear from the initial breakaway.
The second Van Baarle attack was clinical and final with only Van Aert trying to respond, the rest were on their knees at this point.
But despite having Devrient, Stefan Kung and Mohoric back after his mechanical, they couldn’t get close to the Dutchman whose lead grew all the way through the final sectors and on into Roubaix.
Seeing Sir Dave Brailsford and Van Baarle embrace in the famous velodrome at the end of the race showed that despite having won Amstel and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (with Wout Poels) this was the one they wanted. And it was worth the 12 year wait to get it.
The fact that Quickstep continued their nightmare spring might have added a bit of gloss to the win and the feelings of joy perhaps? who knows?
But with the Ardennes coming up it will be interesting to see if that drought can end for the Belgian super team.