Crosswinds- Fashion- The mountains of Andorra
“Today the wind is 4!”... he said in his strong Dutch accent and we all stopped, looked at him and looked at each other with no idea what he was talking about whilst we ate our weight in white bread smothered in the delicious Dutch spread Speculaas. The old friendly Dutchman who was involved in the race in some way, continued to talk about how Boonen had once dropped Kittel on the cobbles we would be racing over in just a few short hours. The measurement of “4”, referencing an old scale of measurement, meaning the wind was blowing at a moderate breeze of 25-30 kph, like that of the winds we saw yesterday in stage 2 of the Vuelta. I remember our race in the Netherlands in the Spring of 2013 was split to pieces within the first 40km and it was like a handicap race for the next 140km to the finish, riding as fast as you could in whatever group you found yourself in.
A style of racing that can be only understood properly through experiencing its displeasures. Long story short - if the wind is coming from the right, riders will take cover to the left side of the rider to their right (this is called an echelon), this pattern takes place until there is no more road for riders to take cover and they find themselves flapping in the breeze like a woeful pair of bootcut jeans your Uncle Tony undoubtedly dons with his white New Balance trainers (407's to be precise) - are you Steve Jobs? Are you the billionaire owner of Apple computers? Alas, you end up getting spat out the back of the group you once found yourself in.
In stage two of the Vuelta Espana all the pre-stage talk was wind wind wind. It means one thing, all day stress….. GREAT. No doubt in the race meetings in the team bus' before the stage, all riders would have been told by their Team Director “its important to stay at the front huh guys” in a Northern European accent and “huh” would be said even if English was their first language. 200 bike riders all-vying for 20 maybe 30 good positions in the front is a recipe for a casserole of madness. We didn’t quite get a stage that it was built up to be but we sure got an exciting one.
Nibali and Contador's sicarios half-heartedly tried to create a split in the peloton with 75km remaining in the 203 km stage but created no real headaches for the other GC contenders. The next 40km was highly uneventful, the most notable event was the peloton coming to a screeching halt to stop for a TGV train that was passing over the parcours. However, the last 30km was a real treat for those who enjoyed watching echelon racing. Katusha created the first major split with 30km remaining taking the bull by the horns in a cross-tail wind section ramping the speed up to 70 kph, eventfully to no avail with most of the peloton coming back together. Team Sky threw their hat in the ring also but it wasn’t until Quickstep went BANGGG with 3 riders in the final 2km that saw the race-winning move develop. The trio were joined by stage favourites Adam Blythe and Edward Theuns who finished 3rd and 4th respectively. In the end the stage was won by Quicksteps Yves Lampaert and in doing so he seized the leader's red jersey off the shoulders Rohan Dennis who was caught out by the late split.
Today is the first showdown in the mountains for the men who are aiming for the top spot of the podium in Madrid. With a 20km (averaging 4.8%) climb commencing not long after the drop of the flag in Prades Conflent Canigo, it’s a good platform for a strong breakaway group to from. In saying that there are 2 notable climbs in the last 40km and a 7km descent into the finish leads me to believe we could see the GC favourites battle this one out. With all the heads of state playing catch up to Froome, expect to see punches thrown in the finale, although it is early in the race, if the legs are good you must take the chance to test your rivals. The Orica-Scott trio of the Yates twins and Chaves, Aru, Zakarin and Contador all have a reason to attack and with a downhill run into the finish Nibali (the shark) and Bardet will be looking to show a clean pair of heels on the final plunge into Andorra La Vella. With this knowledge in mind, I’ll be tipping the Shark for the win today and the Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, who has had an injury-plagued season, is my Smokey for stage success.
I’ll see you back at the social club