Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc in the sporting world, leaving fans worldwide with nothing to look at but their phones and their pets. Lately the sport of cycling has started to get back on its feet, with all the wobble of a newborn deer. The first stage race of the season was not the Tour of Sweden, as reported in these pages, for the simple reason that the race didn’t actually happen (my coverage having been entirely fictional). But today, I return to the armchair to deliver my essentially nonfiction blow-by-blow report of an actual race.
Critérium du Dauphiné 2020 Stage 3 – Corenc - Saint-Martin-de-Belleville
Today’s race, the third of five stages in this year’s Dauphiné, could be pivotal as it ascends the legendary hors-categorie Col de la Madeleine before tackling a summit finish on the first-category climb at Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, where the heroes of the movie “Les Triplettes de Belleville” hail from. (Note: I do not have a fact-checker.)
As I join the action, the racers are way ahead of schedule, and I see I’ve missed the entire Col de la Madeleine, which was the whole point of tuning in today. Well, I guess that’s not totally true … I’m off work today and haven’t seen a single bike race this year, so I suppose I’d have turned up anyway. So they’re just descending. “Jumbo-Visma are still leading the peloton as they make their way down this descent,” the ever-insightful commentator says. You know what dude? I can see who’s in front. Tell me something interesting, would you?
Not that he hasn’t tried. He has been droning on this morning about some color-coded helmet proposal but I haven’t had any coffee yet and it’s fricking early and I couldn’t follow a word of it. So I’m pretty bitter. It’s just the one commentator and he’s not exactly a master orator. He has that kind of bored and slightly whiny voice that just sucks the excitement out of everything. Plus, his commentary is totally non-insightful and anodyne. “He’s got a punchy style, his whole body moves when he rides out of the saddle,” he declares of one rider. This means nothing. As does, “Wout van Aert continues to turn the pedals on the front.” Well what else is he gonna do? Coast at the front?
So, leading the race we have Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), who has about a five-minute lead on the peloton. Well, his lead dropped a bit while I made coffee. He’s through with the descent and has 25 km to ride.
The commentator is musing aloud about whether each rider should have the same number throughout the season, and is weaving in a discussion about Michael Jordan’s number that I couldn’t care less about. My irritation is almost absolute here.
Formolo is on the final climb now. He looks pretty bad, but also pretty young.
It’s a mountain-top finish so most of the final 14 km are uphill. Back in the peloton, Jumbo-Visma still leads the chase.
I’ll catch you up on what’s happened in the first couple stages. The first was won by Wout Van Aert of Jumbo-Visma, and was already his third victory of this very short season. The second stage went to Primoz Roglic, also of Jumbo-Visma, who is also having a brilliant season and has to be the favorite not just for the Dauphiné but for the Tour de France, which starts in a couple of weeks. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) took second yesterday, followed by Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrophe), and that’s pretty much your GC going into today’s stage.
This announcer has nobody to talk to. I guess NBC wouldn’t spring for the extra cost. So he sounds kind of lonely. I feel sorry for him. He’s asking fans questions and I think there’s only one other fan watching because it takes about five minutes to get a response, which the commentator duly relates to us, by which time I’ve almost forgotten the question.
Formolo is bogging down on the climb. It’s like a 10% grade.
The pack is still pretty huge. Team Ineos has all their riders except Chris Froome, who has struggled to regain form after missing like a year of riding due to a horrific crash during last year’s Dauphiné.
I’ve seen exactly one fan watching this race, all by his lonesome by the side of the road. Didn’t have a mask. Should he? Well, these racers are breathing pretty hard…
Bob Jungels is … well, not exactly attacking. He’s just social-distancing from the peloton. He’ll be caught soon enough. I failed to get a photo. I don’t mean I neglected to get a photo—I actually failed. I hit PrtSc and I think I needed Fn-PrtSc. I’m a little rusty here.
Wow, Formolo is really suffering.
Formolo is down to only 4:13 over the peloton and looks as tired as I feel. The difference is, I have no real reason to be tired.
“Formolo has a drink, just to prevent dehydration,” the commentator uselessly and haplessly says. Couldn’t this guy just make something up? “Formolo has a drink, due to his oral fixation. He used to suck Life Savers during races until, ironically, he choked on one and almost died.”
Here’s Jumbo-Visma at the front again. I think that young dude in the back is the American Sepp Kuss.
Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) is pretty near the front. Meanwhile, his teammate Michal Kwiatkowski is spat out the back. His directeur sportif says to him over the earpiece, “I’m waaaatchin’ you, Kwiatkowski … always watchin.’”
The gap is just under 3 minutes now, with about 8 km to go. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) goes out the back.
The gap is down to 2:30 as Steven Kruijswijk leads the Jumbo-Visma train. His teammate Tom Dumoulin is also near the front.
Poor Formolo. He’s pretty much underwater. “What the hell was I thinking?” he ponders lugubriously.
Dumoulin takes the lead. Roglic is stoked to have such kickass teammates.
We have an attack! It’s Buchmann, who sits third on GC. He isn't far back so the others will have to take this attack very seriously.
Daaaamn, Buchmann has a pretty big gap, very quickly! He’s hiding in that shaded box at the lower right of your screen. I’m not sure this actually obscures him from the chasers, but he’s gotta try.
Jumbo-Visma still has a lock on the front of the peloton.
Wow, Thomas is dropped! It doesn’t come through in the still photo, but he really looks like crap.
At some point Buchmann was caught and it’s now his teammate Lennard Kamna a bit off the front of the peloton. You know what? It was Kamna all along. No wonder they gave him some leash.
Now Kruijswijk detonates and goes out the back.
And now Dumoulin is dropped! Pretty remarkable considering his success in grand tours. Of course, due to nagging injury he hasn’t raced since like a year ago June.
Amazingly, Formolo is still off the front, with a gap of almost a minute, with less than one km to go! It looks like he might actually get this! He doesn’t radiate confidence, exactly, but he doesn’t look psychologically shattered, either. He mainly looks like he could use a little more air.
Back in the bunch, only Kuss is still there to help set up Roglic (and shell all his would-be competition). Kuss is a total badass, needless to say. He’s a former mountain bike racer from Durango, Colorado who won a stage of last year’s Vuelta. Oddly, it appears only one Ineos rider is left in this group. I think it’s Pavel Sivakov, who is also a character in a Chekov short story (no he’s not). If you look carefully you can see Roglic tucked snugly in behind Kuss. And the guy two more riders back is picking his nose.
It’s only a couple hundred more meters to the line and Formolo’s lead is still holding up! The chasers are nowhere in sight, but then it’s a twisty run-in so they could be closer than we think.
In the GC group, Roglic finally busts a move! He quickly gets a gap.
Amazing! Formolo pulls off the win! I did not see this coming. He really put the pussy on the chain wax!
A few things worth pointing out here. First, that motorcycle is a damn tricycle. Why on earth is that necessary? Second, look at the crowds! People packed in there like COVID wasn’t a thing! What the hell? What, are they all American tourists or something? And finally, what’s with all the cowboy hats? Is that supposed to stop the virus?
Behind, Roglic utterly crushes the rest of his group and cruises in to pick up the bonus points for second place, padding his GC lead. Only Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) seems able to respond, but it’s not enough.
Weirdly, the crowd is doing this synchronized clapping thing and it’s giving me the willies. It’s as if they want to show off the fact that they’re all gathered together (!) in a big mob, and the coordinated clapping is their way of saying, “We could be a super-spreader event!”
Formolo is being interviewed. “We were in the break from the start, already before the Madeleine, I said to myself maybe I get some space between the bunch, and then I was alone up and down in the valley, and on the last climb I didn’t know if I could make it, and I see there would not possible to make big time in the break, so I thought maybe I do it. My English is normally a bit better than this. I have no oxygen in my brain. Thank you for covering that mic with plastic wrap. I’m sure that will help with the coronavirus.” (Please note that these riders often talk kind of fast and don’t always articulate too well, so my account of their words is best-effort and not necessarily verbatim. Also, I sometimes just make shit up.)
Here is the stage result. Note that Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) somehow never made a move and wasn’t even in the top ten. Buchmann came in just behind Pinot to defend his podium spot on GC.
Here’s Formolo on the podium.
Oh no! His mask slipped! That could get him DQ’d!
Here is Roglic getting his yellow jersey.
And now Formolo gets the KOM jersey.
You may be wondering why Formolo has no mask in the above photo. Actually, if certain very specific rules are followed, the rider can take off his mask when on the podium. The first rule is that he has to be on the top step of the podium and the dignitaries (I call them dignitaries but one was in acid-wash mom-jeans which is hardly dignified) must be at least six feet away. The second rule is that the rider is not allowed to open his mouth when unmasked. (Mona Lisa smiles only, please.) The third rule is that the rider can be unmasked only long enough for a photo to be snapped, which (with this ambient lighting) equates to a shutter speed of about 1/60th of a second. Formolo nailed it!
They’re interviewing Roglic. “It was hard. It was a hard day. It was a hard day of racing. It was the racing that made the day hard. We wanted to defend the jersey and keep the focus and we had to go quite fast at the end. I think we showed that we have strong guys around and we can be confident and focused. I learned this word ‘focused’ just today, earlier today. Did I use it right?” It’s noteworthy that Roglic’s eyes were closed for the entire interview. This is because his interviewer was fewer than six feet away. This isn’t Roglic’s first rodeo, you know … he is well aware that COVID-19 can be spread through aerosol particles entering via your eyes.
Here’s the Froome group rolling in about fifteen minutes down.
God, again with the synchronized clapping. It’s really creeping me out. Fortunately, the coverage abruptly ends, with the closing music totally drowning out the final, mealy-mouthed and unnecessary words of the incompetent commentator (or “incompentator,” as they’re known in the business).