Sunday, May 16, 2021

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2021 Giro d’Italia Stage 9


You don’t have to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to watch the Giro d’Italia. Come to think of it, I don’t either, but I’ve already started drinking coffee so I might as well stick with it. I’m here to give you an unvarnished, ungarnished report of what’s really going on in the race. I don’t bite my tongue, at least not on purpose.

Giro d’Italia Stage 9 – Castel di Sangro to Campo Felice

Here is the starting line:

Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Of course that’s not the start line—we haven’t seen mobs like that since well over a year ago. Just making sure you’re paying attention.

As I join the action, the riders are tackling the third of five categorized climbs, the Forca Caruso. There’s a big breakaway, over a dozen guys, with about three minutes on the peloton. The climb doesn’t look very hard, but a) these climbs are always steeper than they look onscreen, and b) who am I to say this, sitting in an upholstered chair with a cat on my lap?

Unsurprisingly, the Ineos Granadiers team is swarming at the front to set up their leader, Egan Bernal, the strong favorite for this Giro despite his being too young to shave. The name “Grenadiers” is so inappropriate … this is not a team to cause chaos by lobbing a grenade. They’re more like carpet bombers, wiping out the field through an endless, sweeping onslaught.

Eurosport is doing a little prerecorded bio sketch of the Belgian rider Remco Evenepoel (Deceunick-Quick Step) which you don’t care about, so I’ll give you a quick synopsis of what’s gone down in the first week of this Giro. The young Evenepoel sits second on GC, a mere 11 seconds out of the maglia rosa. (For those newcomers, “maglia rosa” is Italian for “maglia rosa.”) The race leader is Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) whose wife thinks it’s funny to greet him by saying, “Hi, Hun!” There haven’t been any big moves from a GC perspective, but the American Joe Dombrowski did carry off a brilliant solo victory in Stage 4 (only to crash out of the race, alas, the next day).

Getting back to the race in progress, they’re showing some super-slo-mo of some rando and one of the announcers says, “Hashtag jealous.” Either the racer is the announcer’s boyfriend, or the announcer actually meant to say “envious.” A common mistake, far less annoying than the even more common mistake of saying “hashtag [whatever]” which expression should be reserved solely for embarrassing one’s teenage children.

Were now at 57 kilometers to go so the break has got to be close to the top of this climb. Their advantage is up to 3:19. Leading the group at this moment is Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroen Team), who suddenly takes the sprint for the KOM points.

Bouchard has been having a great Giro, figuring in breakaways and sitting second in the KOM competition. That said, he must have blown sky-high in some stage because he’s down in 53rd on GC, over 25 minutes behind Valter.

Speaking of the GC, behind Evenepoel and Valter are Egan Bernal, only 16 seconds down; Aleksander Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) at 0:24, and, rounding out the top five, Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) at 0:38.

Earlier in today’s stage, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious) had a terrible crash on a descent … here are a couple snapshots from the replay.

Mohoric is in a bit better shape than his bike, but will not be able to continue. He is moving very slowly in the way of somebody who is not okay. As detailed here he is suspected of having a concussion, though at least he stayed awake and alert and is clear-headed enough to remember his girlfriend’s phone number. I sure hope she hasn’t been watching on TV…

It’s a little hard to tell, but I think this complicated chart on the screen (when the hell will that coffee kick in?) is saying race non-favorite Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) is all the way back in the third group and putting up pretty unimpressive numbers.

Nibali, a past Giro winner, isn’t even in the top 20 so far this year. I really admire a guy willing to continue racing far past his prime because he’s still able to command a decent salary. That’s professionalism.

It has been brought to my attention that my translation of “maglia rosa” was not very helpful. I guess fans like me are so used to these expressions—“maillot jaune,” “maglia rosa,” “bidon”—that we don’t even translate them in our heads, not even when we’re trying to be helpful. The actual translation of “maglia rosa” is “pink sweater.” I don’t know why anyone would race in a sweater, much less a pink one, but then, these are no normal athletes.

OMG, they’re showing footage of the finishing stretch of this race, on a gravel road. I just drooled on my keyboard in anticipation.

The breakaway’s lead is down to 3:04 with 43 kilometers to go as the riders descend toward the penultimate climb, the Ovindoli (which is Italian for “sweater”). Okay, the break actually has 17 riders. Besides Bouchard, it features Tony Gallopin (AG2R-Citroen Team), George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana-Premier Tech) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). These are all great riders who nevertheless aren’t in the top 20 on GC.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Fashion bulletin! I take you away from the action for a moment to report on a sartorial choice that the EF Education-Nippo team has made this year. Gone are their horrible Pepto-Bismol-pink Energizer Bunny jerseys. They’ve got kind of a weird plaid pastel thing going. I’d say it’s a huge improvement.

The break rolls through the only intermediate sprint of the day, which isn’t much of a prize for all these climbers. It’s taken by either Gallopin or Bouchard, I can’t tell … those guys are dressing alike again.

Speaking of team uniforms, the AG2R jerseys (like you see above) are incredibly boring this year, aren’t they? Such a shame, since the original white/blue/brown design was so classic and tasteful.

The gap is down to 2:18 now, with 30 kilometers to go. Not looking so good for the break. Speaking of which, the break now breaks, as four dudes attack. Not sure who they are except Bouchard sitting fourth.

Okay, it’s five dudes. I’m not sure who the EF guy is, perhaps Simon Carr.

Okay, it’s definitely Carr because now he attacks and gets his name on the screen!

It’s getting ready to start raining. Carr is getting a good gap, with Bennett leading the chase.

This would be a very long solo move for Carr, but then much of the rest of the race is uphill so wind resistance won’t be such a factor. And now Bouchard closes the gap to Carr like it was nothing and takes the front. The two are pulling away!

Bouchard is either superstitious or wants to fit in with his superstitious colleagues, given his upside-down number. Not all riders observe this silly tradition, as detailed here.

The breakaway is over the summit and because I blinked at the wrong moment I didn’t see who took the KOM points. (Okay, it was more than a blink. I just went to turn up the thermostat because watching the rain start up onscreen is making me cold.) I think Bouchard will take the climber’s jersey after today regardless of whether he was first or second in this sprint.

Ah, here’s the official KOM standings and indeed, Bouchard has the lead.

By the way, Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious), sitting second in the KOM, won solo in Stage 6, which must have been gratifying after he had a solo victory mercilessly snatched from him this year’s Paris-Nice, as detailed here.

Hard to say if this break could survive. The gap is coming down to the two leaders, and the peloton is only 2:33 back. If the GC battle picks up that gap could vanish. You can tell the peloton isn’t going very hard yet because they’re still gutter-to-gutter despite it being a windy day.

The announcer has just mentioned that there is no Sunday paper in Flanders. This will definitely be a crucial factor in how this race unfolds.

Whoah, Evenepoel takes the front, flanked by a teammate! Wouldn’t that be awesome, if they actually put the hurt on Ineos? And if there really were a Santa Claus?

Is that rain coming off Bouchard’s nose, or snot?

I’m going with snot. It could be due to the cold, or allergies, or even non-allergic rhinitis. I don’t think it’s raining hard enough yet to drip down like that.

The chasing trio—Mollema, Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma), and Michael Storer (Team DSM)—can probably just about see the leading duo. Their gap is down to just ten seconds, but the peloton is closing as well. If I had to guess I’d say the break is doomed, though one or two riders might spring from it and stay away.

Now Bouchard attacks Carr! Whoa!

Carr, suddenly going backwards, is quickly caught by the chasing trio.

The road is really twisty, with off-camber turns, so that favors the breakaway riders. The peloton will be clumsier through them, if it’s still intact in two minutes.

Movistar mass at the front. I guess they’re working for Marc Soler, sitting 13th on GC, 1:14 down.

The peloton is closing the gap to the chase group, but not to Bouchard. He’s really suffering and sneaks a look behind him, pointlessly.

Now Ineos goes to the front to do their thing.

Bouchard looks pretty miserable. You can’t tell from this still photo, but he’s doing that bobble-head thing.

Damn, he’s going fast though! His lead is up to 31 seconds!

Bouwman takes off after Bouchard and he looks pretty good. He’s still in the big ring, for crying out loud!

And just like that, the peloton sucks down the rest of the break like a cold cola.

Bouchard slogs through the tunnel just a couple klicks from the finish. I have never used the word “klick” before and had to look up the spelling.

Bouchard is out of the tunnel and still in the lead.

Bouchard is on the dirt!

But Bouwman is getting close!

And Bouwman has got him! But the peloton is closing in! Bouwman goes to the front and drills it!

In the peloton, Valter is dropped and Bernal sits second behind a teammate, poised to attack. In the last 300 meters, the gap has dropped from 40 seconds to just 18!

Now Vlasov and Evenepoel come toward the front and look ready to try something. It’s time for Bernal to show his stuff. Gap is now down to just 10 seconds.

Bernal attacks! It’s so blistering it’s sending shock waves so huge that they’re messing up the satellite linkup and making everything blurry!

OMG, Bernal is absolutely shredding it! He’s scattering the peloton to the four winds! Only Guilio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) can hang with him! Vlasov cannot hold the wheel!

And now Bernal and Ciccone totally overhaul the leading duo! How savage! How merciless! Poor guys had just 400 meters left to hang on but it was not to be.

And now Bernal drops Ciccone and is all-in for a solo victory!

Bernal is putting the pussy on the chainwax! The gap to Ciccone yawns out massively!

Bernal’s got the win! But there’s no victory salute or anything, all he seems to care about is taking maximum time!

He doesn’t even smile! It’s his first grand tour stage win but he’s decidedly non-jubilant! He’s the Nadia Comăneci of cycling!

Back in the whirling confetti of what had been the peloton, Valter falters!

He’ll lose the pink sweater for sure! Which was inevitable! But still! He’s gonna miss that big pink puffy handlebar tape tomorrow when he’s just another bike racer!

As the camera pans out, you can see Valter way back there, gradually approaching the line, with 39 seconds already having elapsed to Bernal. Valter will definitely slide down the GC today.

Here’s Valter getting some water. Does his name rhyme with anything else useful? I don’t know. The bigger question is, can Valter solder his GC ambitions back together again? Okay, sorry, that was bad … I’m just a little punch-drunk here.

At least Valter is still on his feet. Look at Bouchard, who’s so fried he can’t even stand anymore. His whole body is heaving … is it because he’s crying, or just shivering in the cold? I can’t tell.

Here’s the stage result. Evenepoel faded a bit at the end but managed to basically hold things together. The ever-dependable Dan Martin rounded out the top five.

And here’s the new GC. The top ten are all within a minute of one another, so the race is far from over.

For some reason they’re interviewing Alexander Vinokourov, the director of Astana-Premier Tech. “Bernal was the strongest today,” says the sage. Asked if the GC race is basically over, he says, “No, there are a ton of hard stages left.” Is there anything interesting about this interview? Well, yes. Vinokourov is a Kazakh but is speaking perfect French, which the British announcer is flawlessly translating into English.

Now Bernal is on the podium celebrating his stage win. He’s really struggling with the champagne bottle. He’s been untwisting the wire for over a minute now. Maybe his hands are really cold. Or maybe his bike racer arms are buckling under the weight of that magnum. It’s starting to get absurd. Surely one of the podium ladies would have come to help by now except for, of course, the need to socially distance. Bernal is on his own.

Finally he gets it but fights with the cork and then barely has the strength to spray the champagne. Not shown: Bernal’s second struggle with a second magnum of champagne during the maglia rosa presentation. Here he is pretending to be happy up on the podium. Of course it’s harder to perceive facial expressions given the masks, but look in his eyes. They’ve got that dead look to them, like they’ve seen so many horrors, he’s just kind of inured.

Here’s Bouchard getting his KOM jersey. He’s not smiling either, but then he’s just had his heart broken.

Now they interview Bernal. “I was not sure to take the stage today,” Bernal says, “but my teammates, they really like me. They tell me I’m good enough, and smart enough … so I did this big beautiful win and it’s possible I might even manage to smile about it at some point. By the way, it may look like I’m crying right now but those are just raindrops. Or maybe snot.”

(Full disclosure: I paraphrased that interview. It was hard to hear because Bernal was speaking while the announcer was translating. Okay, fine, I didn’t make out a word of it.)

Now Bouchard takes the mic.

INTERVIEWER: Are you okay?

BOUCHARD: Yes, I will be okay, but it’s never good when somebody comes flying by with 400 meters to go and ruins your life. I hear Bernal has been sleeping with my girl as well. My dad just texted me: “You’ve always been a loser, son.” My disappointment is absolute and my pride irrevocably shattered.

INTERVIEWER: Is the KOM jersey any consolation?

BOUCHARD: Well, I do like the color. Better than that bland-ass white AG2R kit, anyway.

Well, that’s about it for today. Come back to albertnet on Saturday, May 22 for my Stage 14 blow-by-blow … it’ll be epic, finishing atop the legendary Monte Zoncolan!

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