La Vuelta: Release the Carrefour men in red

They appear as beautiful people; the purest of the pure, looking alike and raised on what must be a diet of alpine glacial water and soya beans. They’re fresh, and curiously single minded, as if programmed to detest fraternization (and probably procreation) in favour of purity, and service to a greater cause.

What do they call these super beings that live high up in the hills?

They’re called: “The people in Carrefour sponsored t-shirts who dash out at the end of mountain stages and catch exhausted riders”.

It’s all commendable stuff, if a little on the creepy side. But there they were again as one by one riders crossed the finish line at the top of the Cumbre del Sol.

Held first in what looks like a holding pen, they are released one by one, leaping out with unavoidable enthusiasm in time with the riders procession across the line. This is fine if there’s a gap, but a little dicey when three or four cross the line together. But the super beings ignore the dangers, and dash directly towards their assigned riders, grabbing them by the saddle, and relieving them of any need to peddle further.

With their single task complete, they return to their holding pen where we can only assume they are resealed in airtight containers and shipped off to wherever the next mountain finish might be. I’m guessing here, I can’t say for sure.

As for the riders, what they think is harder to fathom.

By the time they cross the line most of them are delirious anyway, having scaled a 20 per cent climb for longer than they would have liked, so probably welcome any kind of help. But then less weary riders might resent the arrival of a determined young man ready to grab his ass. It’s a fine line.

Not that these super beings stick around very long. Ironically they disappear after passing on the riders to their team’s soigneurs, usually of a body shape more familiar to the rest of us.

One day though, when sugar is banned and the shops sell only soya and mung beans, these super beings will be back, probably with powers of arrest, dressed in the same Carrefour t-shirts, and waiting for us at the finish line. They’ll take over the world.

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Vuelta a Espana

La Vuelta: Tolhoek hits the (invisible) wall

You imagine Antwan Tolhoek had to break through some walls to get a slot on the Lotto Jumbo squad for the Vuelta a Espana. First there was the task of getting a slot on the Roompot team in 2016, then making the leap to the World Tour this season.

So maybe he was ready for the next one, albeit an invisible one that sent him cartwheeling over his handlebars on the opening Team Time Trial in Nimes. Then again perhaps he wasn’t.

Footage showed Tolhoek’s fate. Sitting fifth wheel in the Lotto Jumbo train he suddenly came to an abrupt halt, as if someone had inserted an invisible and immoveable pole into his front spokes. Over he went in an almost perfect forward role, bike still attached to his hands and feet, until he hit the concrete. He didn’t have time to wonder what had happened before team mate Floris De Tier, in the position behind him, rode over his head, before crashing himself.

For Tolhoek it was a case of what to think about first – the invisible wall, or the fact that his teammate De Tier, whose company he’d probably enjoyed only minutes before, had used his head as a power trainer.

But at least he had shock to think about. De Tier had only the looming concrete, the now unfortunate features of his teammates’s face, and then a difficult landing on hard ground to keep him busy. Not for him the oblivious nature of a sudden crash, the “what just happened?” daze that can be a blessing. Instead he had that agonising second spent fully aware that his world was about to become very painful.

Tolhoek’s was quickly back on his bike, in the manner of a ship wreck survivor grabbing a passing life jacket first and wondering what sank the boat later. It was quite the first taste of grand tour racing. De Tier meanwhile followed some way behind, unable to pin point exactly what moment in the last two minutes to curse.

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Vuelta a Espana