The Suicide Mission

Tour of Andalusia – Stage 1

Stage 1 of the Tour of Andalusia seemed deliberate in its bid to make us all feel like if only we could get out on our bike we could ride up a mountain for 9km and then spend 20 km free wheeling down the other side to the finish line.

This is what viewers saw, switching on Eurosport to watch the last 30 kilometers of the opening stage of Alberto Contador’s first race of the season. Not for him the outback in Austrlia or the desert dreariness of the middle east. This was a debut on home turf, up hill, and the kind of race that would get his 2017 off to the start he wanted.

The task at hand seemed simple. A glorious ride up the side of a big profiled pyramid, followed by a 20km descent at 50mph to the finish line in Granada. That’s the race we all dream of in our heads, on the fantasy basis that we can go up mountains breathing through our nose rather than our eyes, and go down the other side on the top tube, and not with our hands on the break saying “whoa, bloody hell” when we misjudge a hair pin.

Of course that theory crumbles into asthmatic make-believe when compared to what the best in cycling put in on opening day.

There was Alberto Contador, out of the saddle, dancing on his peddles to get a lead, only to be chased down by Alejandro Valverde and Mikal Landa. Each of them attacked repeatedly, defying science and the power meter, fooling those watching into thinking that such moves were within the realm of human capability.

This, along with beautiful weather, an even tempo, and on bikes more expensive than most family cars, gliding effortlessly uphill, were enough to persuade any cyclist that it’s possible to do such a thing without commitment to a mental health establishment.

Instead what we saw was a masterclass of a breakaway, first ascending then descending like the champions they are, albeit the kind of champions who now must have a line through some of their results. It hardly mattered that Valverde knew how to sprint better than the others, particularly Sebastien Reichenbach of FDJ who decided, appropriately, heroically, and futilely, that with 1.2km to race his only chance was to go for a lone break at such a difference.

But that’s what we would have done too. In our heads at least.

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