Giro d’Italia: Stage 4 – Cefalù to Etna (181km)
Amid the great pharmacopeia of athletic performance enhancement, few doses can claim the same power as that which powered Jan Polanc of UAE Team Emirates to a remarkable stage win at the top of Mount Etna.
What he was on was not injected, it did not require a trip to Switzerland, or a code name; it was not even on the forbidden list… well not exactly. But it was old as mankind itself. What was this magic elixir? It was pure adrenalin, in this case sourced from a good old-fashioned punch-up.
The eruption occurred some 90 km before they’d got anywhere near the volcanic landscape of Mount Etna. The break of four was approaching the summit of the first climb, a long winding ascent up Portella Feminina Morta. With a few hundred meters left to climb Jacques Janse Van Rensburg of Dimension Data jumped ahead towards the summit and the KOM points his team had made their own. Polanc followed.
But as they reached the line Van Rensburg (at least as far as Polanc saw it) lurched right, slamming the door closed and denying him a route past. It looked doubtful he would have got past anyway, but Polanc was furious.
Cameras picked up what happened next. Polanc went to reach out to Van Rensburg with his left hand, although he seemed to deliberately stop short of direct contact. It was the biking equivalent of capoeira, the martial art designed to mimic a street brawl so as not to catch the attention of the police. At least that’s what the Brazilians call it. The duty officer back at the station would probably call it “handbags”.
There was pushing and shoving, or more accurately leaning and gesticulation, followed by a brief but animated chat. Van Rensburg argued back… a little, but looking at the rage in Polanc’s face figured his defense would be better off mounted from distance. So he backed off, and took the still raging Polanc’s back wheel for the descent.
The outcome of the scuffle was not fight or flight exactly; it was fight and flight, which eventually carried Polanc away from Van Rensburg and up Mount Etna alone, with a permanent look of aggravation on his face, albeit one with an added tongue hanging out for the last few kilometers. But it was a winning race face, which turned glorious 200 meters from the finish, as Polanc looked back to see an empty road behind him.