From out of nowhere

Or Cameron Bayly, a tragedy in 7 stages
Tour of Taihu Lake, Stage 3

This was the closing scene of another long day in the saddle. Around the final bend swept Australian Cameron Bayly, four seconds ahead of the bunch he’d just left behind. All that stood between him and his first UCI Stage win was 100 meters of tarmac and a man with a whistle frantically waving a flag in the gloom.

The limelight was rightfully Bayly’s, for about the 16 seconds the camera followed him as he powered across the finish line. Funnily enough these were the only 16 seconds we did see, and it made it one of the most exciting wins of the year.

Few realized it would come in so late in the season, in November, in China, in stage 3 of the Tour of Taihu Lake, a low key 2.1 race, made up of Belarussians and young Italians in Day-Glo, on a hill top stage played out under almost total cloud cover.

If it was hard to believe what was happening, spare a thought for the commentator. He spent the broadcast filling in for a bike race that had failed to show up. Or at least had not been able to by the conditions. We saw a lot of promotional footage about tea, and the local economy, but no bikes.

Then word came forth that the riders were a kilometer away. Who that included wasn’t clear. By the looks of the camera shot, it was hard to believe they hadn’t decided to turn back and head downhill to somewhere warm.

The visibility continued to get worse. A neutral service car drove past, and then two blokes on a motorcycle who looked like they were escaping something. But no riders.

Then Bayly appeared.

Later, with a grin on his face and with the courtesy of a man not yet bored of media intrusion, he would explain that he’d spent the entire 800 meter climb in the big ring. But emerging out of the mist he looked as though he’d raced alone, even if the leaderboard would later say he’d beaten the lead group by a mere four seconds, but minutes ahead of the others – enough to put him in the leader’s jersey.

The camera stayed in position, peering fruitlessly into the mist as indistinguishable riders slogged towards the finish line, passing the wide-eyed man with the whistle waving his flag to warn riders of the obstacle. With each passing rider, the whistling seemed to become more frantic. Or irritable. It was too foggy to tell.

But for those moments before Bayly appeared, there was genuine excitement. Not Mont Ventoux, but still. Not bad for a 2.1 Chinese race in November.

Postscript: Despite putting himself in a good position to win, Bayly would lose the Tour, falling in each of the last two stages.

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