Raging Rayane and a good natured kid trying to help

Danilith Nokere Koerse

Rayane Bouhani (in red) lying in the middle of the  road as the race takes off around him

There were crashes in the closing stages of the Nokere Koerse, but the worst came with about 10km left to race.

It certainly looked bad. A lapse in concentration from a Bora rider sent him to the ground, followed by a dozen others who were flung in all directions. Most of whom landed badly, and upside down.

That included the raging Rayane Bouhani of Cofidis, lying in the road, furious, flapping his hands in pain, and kicking out at riders who had the nerve to ride around him.

The boy in the blue with his mum as Rouhani lets off some steam

It’s never good for kids to see grown-ups at their most vulnerable. In this case Bouhani was hurt and watching the race speed off up the road without him. Seeing his helmet on the floor Bouhani he instinctively kicked it as hard as he could, sending it flying in the general direction of Milan-Sanremo, (until it hit someone’s front door), and straight past a young boy watching the race with his mum.

The kid did what any good-natured ten-year-old  boy would do when adults are close to tears – he tried to help. So he figured the best way to do that was to go get  Bouhani’s helmet, and then wait by the side of the road to give it back to him, if it would help. Bouhani though, cursing and hobbling, was already on his way to the team car.

Rayane Rouhani hobbles into the Cofidis team car and out of the race

The boy looked on as riders were patched up or pushed back on their way. He clutched his mum with one hand, and Bouhani’s helmet with the other, until a grateful Cofidis DS came to collect it before dashing back to the car.

That left the kid, and his mum, to find somewhere a little less expletive-ridden to watch the end of the race, and Bouhani’s brother Nacer go on to win the stage.

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Tirreno-Adriatico: Peter Sagan’s dog day afternoon

Stage 7: (ITT) San Benedetto del Tronto to San Benedetto del Tronto

It was a beautiful day in San Benedetto del Tronto today. The sun was shining, the skies were clear and blue, and the barometer pointed to about 14 degrees Celsius. It was the type of weather that invited a stroll along the beach, with the dog, especially given that the traffic seemed so quiet.

Sagan closes his eyes and hopes for the best

So thought one resident, who while making their way to the beach over a zebra crossing, looked left to see a high speed scarlet haze coming directly for her, stopping them in their tracks, and passing by inches from her face. Both she and the dog then watching what they didn’t realise at the time was a Peter Sagan shaped blur swing left onto the cycle path – where the woman had, to be fair, probably expected to see a bike – weave past spectators, before swinging right, back onto the road, and looking back to say something that was most likely derogatory.

Sagan looks back to check that what just happened actually just happened

You’ll find Sagan’s UCI-cycle-path-ban-defying maneuver played again and again on the Tirreno-Adriatico highlight reel.

There, in slow motion, you’ll see the woman halting mid-crossing, trying to second-guess which direction Sagan, by now wobbling hard on the brakes, would turn. Thankfully he’d already made the decision, lunging left towards a gap in the curb, leaving the lady, and the fluffy dog (which bore a passing resemblance to Peter Sagan), convinced crossing roads was no longer for them.

It was safe to say the walk was ruined. So was Sagan’s time trial. Not that he had cause to worry, having secured enough points to keep the red jersey. The same red jersey the woman will be seeing in her sleep for days.

Go to ProCyclingStats.com for the full result.

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Tirreno-Adriatico: Breakaway caught on wrong side of the tracks

Stage 7 – Ascoli Piceno to Civitanova Marche

There are plenty of things that will kill you in a bike race. A pile up in the peloton, crashing into something hard and stationary; missing a turn and riding off the side of a mountain at 90kph, sunstroke and dehydration after six hours in the saddle, or, in the old days at least, too much bad blood, amphetamine, or horse tranquilizer.

Barriers down, flags up, whistles blown

None of which ever prompted the race commissars to call a halt to things. But a level crossing was enough for the whistles and red flags to come out on Stage 7 today.

The pace had been unusually slow for the first 60km. At 38kph it was down on previous days, although having ridden a punishing weekend over mountains, the peloton was owed a recovery day, so they took it.

Not that the break considered this, two minutes up the road and featuring the green jersey of David Ballerina (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), and the ubiquitous Alan Marangoni (Nippo Vini-Fantini). But this meant the race was behind schedule. The Civitanova to Ascoli Express meanwhile, was bang on time.

With 87km to race, and the break now several minutes ahead, things came to pass.

The peloton waits

As the peloton made a right turn the whistles began to blow, the flags were waved, and the barriers of the level crossing were lowered. In case anyone had the idea of jumping the barrier, burly men in helmets and leathers had dismounted their motorbikes to stand in their way. The riders got the message. So, with neither horizon showing any sign of a train, they waited.

Meanwhile the break chugged along. Not since the doping days has a time gap ticked upwards so quickly, like a stopwatch, as the peloton ate, drank, and urinated.

Three minutes later the train sped past. Cyclists remounted ready, only to have to wait for the race directors, by now enjoying the sunshine at the side of the road, to get back into their air conditioned Hondas and drive on.

Cameras turned to Marangoni in the break, who was laughing about something. Most likely the news of their increasing advantage, thanks to a “sticky train”. The rulebook was clear, these things happen, the peloton had to wait, and the break could go on.

Or so they thought.

The commissar tells the break to stop, to the displeasure of Ballerini (in green)

Appearing in a cloud of officiousness was a race commissar in a red helmet, riding on the back of a motorbike, ready to wave the breakaway to a halt, and just 500 meters from the KOM summit.

This is easier said than done. If you’re in a break, trying to scoop up KOM or sprint points, it takes more than some loudmouth with a whistle trying to impress his boss to make you apply the brakes. At least that’s what Ballerini and Marangoni figured, who opted to ignore this buffoon and rode on.

But the commissar, perhaps eyeing a promotion, flung his bike in front of them, forcing the halt. Ballerini was careful to tell him exactly what he thought of the decision, but the message got through.

And so, in a crowd of officials and director sportifs, they waited. Three minutes, the same time it had taken the train to make its way by the peloton. Then, amid hand gestures and shrugs, designer sweaters and confusion, the riders pushed on.

Ballerini would take the KOM jersey, with Marangoni second, but the break would be caught.

For all the results from Stage 7 of Tirreno-Adriatico, go to ProCyclingStats.com.

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Paris-Nice: Contador wins… no wait

Stage 8: Nice to Nice

You had to pay attention, but I think I counted something like eight moments that said Sergio Henao was beaten today, which is all the more incredible given that he’s now this year’s winner of Paris-Nice.

The first moment was when Alberto Contador attacked with 52km to race, setting up the day’s drama.

The second came when Contador pushed ahead, building a lead of about 45 seconds over the Colombian.

Sergio Henao, alone, and forced to ride in front

The third when the two Team Sky riders dropped off in the middle of a commercial break with 21km to go, forcing Henao to the front as he rode up the Col D’Eze. Henao, and the situation, looked pretty miserable at this point.

The fourth when Contador, along with David De La Cruz of QuickStep and Marc Soler of Movistar pulled away, increasing the gap to one minute.

Then fifth when Porte went, which convinced everyone Henao was beaten, or worse, collapsing. He certainly had me fooled. But somehow Henao followed Porte, who then made way to leave Henao to do his own work on the front.

The sixth when Porte went again at 18.4km left. Again Henao followed, getting his punishing place back at the front as reward. No chicken wing would get anyone to ease his burden at the front and take over.

Then there was this period when Ilnur Zakarin, and Ion Izagirre decided to make his life even harder for Henao, attacking and forcing Henao to follow, which he did, then forcing him back to the front. Same again when Dan Martin attacked, looking to secure his podium spot, and again when Julian Alaphilippe made a similar move. If Henao wasn’t already feeling ruined, not to mention victimized, surely he was now. That was seven.

De La Cruz heads for the line, followed by Contador

But it turned out Henao knew how to descend, doing so in such a way that defied the story being told further up the road. For Contador had broken free of De La Cruz, chasing for the full ten-second bonus, to add to the two seconds he’d picked up at the intermediate sprint. Having just climbed an actual mountain, Henao now had a proverbial one left to climb.

And so, while the Contador story was unfolding at the front, the Henao story was about to finish within two seconds of being an after thought.

De La Cruz, nudging past Contador, took the win, and four seconds that Contador was counting on. Henao, somehow, had done it, defying Contador, and everyone who thought he was done.

Including me. Eight. I lost count after eight moments he was supposed to be beaten.

Go to ProCyclingStats.com for all the results from Paris-Nice.

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Tirreno-Adriatico: Breaking the fourth wall with Alan Marangoni

Tirreno-Adriatico: Stage 4 – Montalto di Castro to Terminillo

It takes a certain quality in a rider to repeatedly join doomed breakaways, and somehow make it fun to watch. Alan Marangoni has this quality, bike racing’s ultimate breakawayeur.

The signs were there earlier in the season.

Marangoni waving to his colleagues in the Tour of Oman

On Stage 1 of the Tour of Oman Marangoni was in the break, on a parcour that doubled back on itself. It meant Marangoni could see the peloton coming at them on the other side of the road. So as they rode by he ditched the usual demeanor of intense focus, and instead waved to them. I like to think he called out a cheeky comment about their manhood as he did so.

It’s for these reasons that Marangoni doesn’t fit the head-down-tongue-out stereotype of the pro cyclist. He likes to break the fourth wall instead. If he’s going to suffer for 180km in a doomed break, you’re coming along too.

He knew the odds were against him, literally in the case of Stage 4, which finished on an eight per cent gradient. While others will push on, able to read clearly the handful of seconds scribbled on the timer’s blackboard, but not the writing on the wall, Marangoni –never shirking the work – talks to the camera, gestures, grins, shrugs; yesterday he raised a bidon to viewers as he took advice from his team car, assuming (rightfully in my case) you’re watching at home with a beer.

Marangoni with an update on the situation for the viewers at home.

It helps that he rides for Nippo Vini Fantini. Their Pro Continental status means the UCI requires they employ as much fluorescent colouring in their uniforms as possible*. For Nippo Vini Fantini (who also have a name that is enjoyable to repeat) it means a blur of garish orange, which only serves to make Marangoni stand out even more as he fights for screen time.

Marangoni might be without a pro win in a career spanning nine years, but if that’s something that bothers him it doesn’t show. Instead his attitude on the bike suggests he’s relaxed and having fun. If he didn’t have to consume all those gels during the day he’d probably be chewing gum.

His value is not just in crossing the line first. He knows how to hang out front for vital sponsors air time on a Saturday afternoon. For viewers watching from home, it means we get our money’s worth too. Doomed to fail? Who really cares? Marangoni is bike racing’s textbook breakawayeur.

* This is not true. 

Go to ProCyclingStats.com for the results from Stage 4.

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Paris-Nice: Alaphilippe, Martin, and the value of teammates

Paris-Nice Stage 6: Aubagne to Fayence 

As the race reached the second ascent of the Mur de Fayence Julian Alaphilippe knew one thing – to find the wheel of Dan Martin and stay there until he’d safely

Simon Yates takes the win in Fayence

crossed the finish line. But with that job done, and the yellow jersey safe for another day, Alaphilippe found he couldn’t let him go of Martin, even after they’d reached the finish.

The superlatives of the day rightly belonged to Simon Yates, who with every win guarantees an exciting talent to cheer home for the next decade or so; but behind him was another battle, the one between Alaphilippe and himself.

With Yates up the road, Alaphilippe knew he had more than two minutes on the Bury man. And when Porte went he knew the cross winds of Stages 1 and 2 meant the Aussie’s efforts were for pride more than anything. But Sergio Henao was different, trailing on GC by little more than a minute.

Julian Alaphilippe in yellow, follows his teammate Dan Martin up the climb in Fayence

Alaphilippe, couldn’t follow Henao, but didn’t panic. Neither did Dan Martin, slotting in ahead of his teammate and pulling him up what, even on TV, looked like an unforgiving climb. Martin, who only last month was leading the Volta ao Algarve, was now demonstrating cycling’s egalitarian side, putting in the work for his teammate.

Alaphilippe knew what to do, and followed Martin all the way to the summit. Martin, in one of those moments that really sticks, swung wide as the finish line appeared, waving Alaphilippe through ahead of him while he kept watch on those chasing behind. Watching the footage you’d guess Martin assumed there wer

Dan Martin waves through his teammate Julian Alaphilippe

e still bonus seconds to be had, or maybe wasn’t sure and didn’t want to risk it. But the gesture, waving Alaphilippe through just in case, stuck.

Post race the cameras picked out Yates. A few feet away Alaphilippe had his arm around Martin. Both were smiling. Martin had done his job and Alaphilippe had too, keeping the lead for another day. Instinctively Alaphilippe then embraced Martin a second time, the thanks and gratitude all too obvious.

These moments encapsulate the best of cycling. Here we had a race leader showing his gratitude, acknowledging his frailties, and his dependence on others for his own

Alaphilippe and Martin embrace after crossing the finish line

success. It’s moments like this when you understand what makes cycling such a compelling story, as well as such a human one.

Attention will rightly be on Yates tonight, and the performance that reminds us of what we have to look forward in the future. But Alaphilippe keeps yellow tonight, thanks to his own grit, and that of an Irishman who left everything on the Mur de Fayence for a teammate.

For full results from Stage 6 of Paris-Nice, go to ProCyclingStats.com.

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Tirreno-Adriatico: Stefan Küng and the Battle of Serrazzano

Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 2: Camaiore to Pomarance

So you’re riding along on your camera motorbike, getting some nice footage of the peloton as riders reach the small town of Serrazzano, beginning their climb up the narrow streets, when you suddenly get the feeling you’re in trouble.

Stefan Kung of BMC approached the camera bike. Sensing trouble, the driver speeded up…

At first it’s not obvious, but then you catch sight of Stefan Küng, the 23-year-old BMC rider, peeling off the front of the pack, his seven team mates including race leader Damiano Caruso a few feet away, and moving towards you.

An attack? God you hope so, however unlikely. But you realize this is an attack of a different kind. Küng looks annoyed, with you, and he wants a word. There’s only one thing for it. Nudge the driver in the ribs and tell him to speed up.

These were the scenes with 94km to ride on Stage 2 of the Tirreno-Adriatico, with the breakaway some three minutes up the road, and the group riding a non-threatening tempo as they passed through this sleepy town on a hill.

Küng noticed none of the scenery, and when he failed to catch the BMW’s wheel he called out instead, showing the confidence of a ten-year road captain who might know how to box, or something. But either through professional obligation, or self-preservation, the driver kept his distance.

Küng switched to Plan B, returning to his teammates to discuss matters, and maybe get someone older to have a go. Watching this at home, from the perspective of the motorbike’s back seat, you couldn’t help but think “oh hell, what now?”

Quinziato brings his finger to bear. This time it worked.

Up the road came Manuel Quinziato, the schoolteacher ready to confiscate things and start calling parents. A 15-year pro, Quinziato didn’t see the need for diplomacy at a time like this. He pointed at the man he wished to speak with… You (me?) Yes you… his index finger, suddenly incredibly long, poking its way through TV screens and into living rooms across the land, and instructed the driver to listen and then submit to his demands.

This time the driver resisted the throttle, and any thoughts of a mad dash for horizon, and eased back. We didn’t see or hear what was said, which can only mean the camera man riding pillion decided his best chance for an easy life was to look the other way and pretend to be busy.

Whatever the message was (a reasonable request to get keep away on the descent, perhaps?) the driver got the message. Weirdly so did we.

For results from Stage 2 of the Tirreno-Adriatico go to the ProCyclingStats website.

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Tirreno-Adriatico: Team Sky run into metaphor problems

Stage 1 – Lido di Camaiore to Lido di Camaiore

Gianni Moscon in bits after the crash

I might not be the first to say it, but the wheels are falling off Team Sky. We saw proof today on live TV.

It had been a theme all day, starting hours before Gianni Moscon’s wheel snapped from under him, with a Cycling Tips interview with Paul Kimmage.

Kimmage, a former professional rider himself until the doping era turned him into an also-ran, could well be right in what he says, but his “innocence through guilt” orthodoxy makes it easier to back the targets of his vitriol, in this case Team Sky. Kimmage’s wish that Sky riders will one day soon write open confessions in national newspapers, felt more like fanaticism than holding cycling to account.

All of which has hung over Team Sky, tainting any achievement they’ve had, since last year. That burden has put the team under strain, including it’s boss Brailsford, it’s staff, it’s riders…. and now the front wheel of Moscon.

The moment Moscon’s wheel explodes

TV footage caught the moment when the wheels fell off Team Sky. Moscon pulled away from the others, his front wheel visibly wobbling before it suddenly shattered, sending rubber and carbon fiber flying across the road, and then Moscon flying across the road.

Moscon said later his three spoke front wheel had been weakened by hitting a hole in the road, which is presumably what Mikal Landa and Diego Rosa said when it was revealed their wheels were also effected. But there were questions to be asked, explanations needed, and none forthcoming. It was all too familiar for Team Sky who on top of all the other issues now had metaphor problems.

The team pressed on while Moscon, his aero-suit featuring slightly more raw flesh than it had before, got to his feet, then back on his bike, pressing on to the finish line. But the team’s GC hopes had effectively ended.

A bad start to the week for Team Sky, but a determination on display to carry on regardless. That might be all they can do for now.

Click here for the full results from Stage 1.

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Paris-Nice: Van Rensburg loses the “I’m fine” debate

Paris-Nice Stage 3 – Chablis to Chalon-sur-Saone

There was nothing of any note to report on Stage 3 of Paris-Nice. No storms, no sleet, no hypothermia. Instead a bog-standard normal day, complete with a breakaway, a chase, and a sprint finish (won by Irishman Sam Bennett). It was easy to miss all those cross winds, and all the misery.

Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg failing the “what is your name” test on Stage 3 of Paris-Nice

Not that Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg of Dimension Data was thinking that as he rolled out of Chablis. The South African champion might have appreciated weather he could at least recognise, or did until about 30 km to go when, missing the adversity of the days prior, he decided to crash.

All right, that last bit isn’t true. But after two days riding in horrendous conditions, it seemed unfitting that something as trivial as a touch of wheels or some other piece of bad luck (a discarded arm warmer?) would leave him laying on the road in the fetal position as riders and their team cars drove past him – exactly what you want to hear as your life flashes before your eyes.

Van Rensburg seemed in no hurry to move. Several men in jumpers came by to look at him, before moving on. Then two of them took an elbow each and tried to lift him.

This usually gives the first indication of what condition a crashed rider is in. Wincing and maybe reaching for the base of your back is one thing. Van Rensburg though wobbled.

If the next sign you’re looking for is the ability to walk unassisted, he failed this too. Instead, he was guided to the side of the road, leaning back as he was escorted there, as if being taken outside by sympathetic nightclub bouncers.

For his part Van Rensburg tried to politely excuse himself, intent on not only retrieving his bike from the middle of the road, but also getting on it and rejoining his teammates. He had a race to ride after all, and the peloton was getting away. Thanks for the kind words gentleman, but I’ll be on my way.

The doctors, and they carried bags so they must have been doctors, weren’t fooled. They prodded him a bit as he stood ready to remount his bike just as soon as there was a break in traffic. I’m not sure if “letting go of the patient and seeing if he falls over” is official medical procedure, but it was enough. Van Rensburg was in no fit state to ride on.

They appeared to ask Van Rensburg some simple questions… most likely his name, what team he rode for, what he thought he was doing laying on the road in the middle of France – checking he hadn’t lost his mind (although arguably the time to do that was when it started snowing on Stage 2).

In response Van Rensburg looked serious, as if trying to answer something philosophical. It’s all very well getting the answer to “what is your name?” but if it takes you two minutes it’s really a hollow win.

The man with the bag put two arms on the South African’s shoulders and thinking concussion, declared him out, as the Voiture Balai parked up ready to provide an unwelcome seat. Van Rensburg was dazed, confused, but not exactly beaten, heroically intent on carrying on. Those are no doubt the exact qualities you hope for in a teammate, and also in the riders it’s easy to like watching on TV.

Click here for all the results from Stage 3 of Paris-Nice.

Read more from Paris-Nice:

Stage 1: All the fun of an “orange alert” cross wind
Stage 2: It’ll all end in tears

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Paris-Nice: It’ll all end in tears

Paris-Nice – Stage 2 – Rochefort-en-Yvelines to Amilly

Rain jackets, sleet, and ice-cold conditions – this wasn’t the kind of exposure team sponsors were looking for.

Philippe Gilbert in the breakaway on Stage 2 of Paris-Nice

Picking up the race with 37.7km left to race, it became clear we were watching the convalescence portion of a stage, or maybe the grieving period, of everything that had come before, and off camera.

After “code orange” Day 1, riders were pedaling through a code red day 2. Grey sky, grey roads, grey faces, and puddles of water reflecting all of it. Crosswinds and four-degree temperatures split the peloton again. A small group of riders went one way, while Richie Porte went in the other, presumably south, to somewhere warmer.

There had been a middle group too, this one containing Alberto Contador. While Porte’s GC chances were being consigned to the deep freeze, Contador and his Trek team figured they might as well keep warm by chasing the lead group, which they did, catching it not long before live coverage began.

Meanwhile even further up the road, the breakaway of five riders, who might have been looking for shelter rather than the finish line, were showing signs of weather fatigue.

Behind them the peloton rode on. Luca Pibernik, of Bahrain Merida, was at the front of it, dreaming of the desert, and riding like a man who’d been informed by race radio that there was hot soup waiting at the finish line. He wasn’t leading the group so much as riding as fast as he could to get indoors while he could still see through his eyes, past the tears flowing from them. A permanent grimace had also settled on his face, unlikely to thaw until next year’s Tour of Oman.

Others took to swinging their arms around, in conditions that could have made this a primitive breaststroke, to move blood, previously busy keeping vital organs beating, back into the hands.

Meanwhile even further up the road, the breakaway of five riders, who might have been looking for shelter rather than the finish line, were showing signs of weather fatigue.

Philippe Gilbert, riding his tenth Paris-Nice, had by now set out on his own, and showed no signs of being bothered by the cold, possibly because his hands, wrapped in fingerless gloves, had frozen a great many kilometers ago.

He’d managed to get half a minute on the pack, but with nine kilometers to go sat up, figuring there was no point killing himself alone out front in the cold – far better to kill himself with company back with the others in the cold, who were possibly too cold to notice he’d gone anywhere in the first place.

Tears of cold during the race, tears of a different kind at the finish line. Not just from those who’d survived to Day 3 (Nacer Bouhanni, Niccolo Bonifazio and Maxime Bouet were among those who didn’t), but from Sonny Colbrelli, who defied the sprint opposition, and what was by now a strong rip tide, to cross the line first.

Tears certainly, but of joy this time.

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