Tour of Catalunya: Stage 5. Valls to Lo Port (Tortosa)
There were unlikely heroes out there in Catalunya today, the kind of dauntless warriors who decided, after 160 km on the bike, that Lo Port was going to be their high point, even if only for a few glorious seconds.
Before Valverde, Froome, and Contador set off towards the finish line to compete for an inevitable triumph up what the day’s profile revealed was an almost vertical wall, there were the others, the men who took on the peloton in the foothills in the vain hope of reaching the stars.
Others like Hugh Carthy.
The 22-year-old eased slowly ahead on his short-lived expedition, following an FDJ rider, and taking someone from Sunweb with him. He shone brightly, as anyone would in Cannondale green, but his work came to nothing, the camera revealing the peloton never more than a few bike lengths away, ready to chew him up.
Then the fluorescent teams of the continental level had a crack, sending Magno Nazaret of Funvic/Brasil, and Jetse Bol, a rare Dutchman on a Colombian Manzana Postobon team, up the road from 9 km, which is the rough equivalent of 100 km on a flat stage.
They took with them hope and the best wishes of their teams no doubt, but not anything that would help them with a nine per cent gradient. They made it around a few hairpins before reality, or more accurately gravity, introduced itself.
Pierre Latour was next to try at the 7km marker. The Frenchman’s head bobbed from side to side as his legs pushed through a big gear, but like the others he found himself chained to the peloton, and eventually slipped back.
That seemed to be the fate of anyone who dared commit such crimes against the peloton, punishable by 20 minutes in the gruppeto and maybe a lowered lactic threshold. And they only had to see what was happening to Carthy, the first to go, to be deterred, watching the Englishman drop off the back of the main group, no longer able to keep pace.
But then the best of these mountain men seldom realise they’re beaten. The same impulse that tells mortals to “climb off you idiot and have some cake”, is the same impulse that prompts more effort, and the intention to arrive at the summit dead.
As Carthy was about to prove.
While Valverde was already thinking about how he would lug the enormous stage-winner trophy back down the mountain, Carthy was performing a miraculous comeback, using his bike, body and clearly-lip-readable bad language to cross the line in eighth place. “F**k,” he said, to nobody but the voices in his head too tired to answer back, as he crossed the line exhausted, but only a minute down.
A glorious minute you might call it.
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