Doesn’t everyone like watching Kenny Ellisonde?

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

I get excited when I see Kenny Ellisonde going uphill. It’s time you admitted this too.

The most recent example was in the Cadel Evens Ocean Race. The final loop of the Escher designer Geelong circuit – all right angles going up and up – climbed into the hills around the Bellarine Peninsula, past the driveways of middle-class Australia, which for one day were daubed in chalk with names of Porte and Evans, which will stay there until it next rains.

Ellisonde shone this day, albeit only for about 600 glorious meters.

Ellisonde burst away and led on the way up, powering forward with the size and grace of a bobble head doll, leaving the field behind and taking two camera bikes with him. It’s the kind of climb we weekend riders pretend we’re doing as we storm up a 30 yard steep bit, not far from home, and before a big lunch. Ellisonde though had a point to prove. Short in stature he might be, but he has pluck, and pluck surely counts for a lot in cycling.

The move came with 13kms to go, but alas it didn’t last long. Despite all the effort Ellisonde was reeled back in by the time he’d reached the summit. In moments like this most riders admit defeat and rejoin the pack, trying to style it out. But Ellisonde had other plans. He decided to ignore them, and lead the descent to the finish as if he hadn’t been caught at all. And so there he remained, at the front holding onto his bike for dear life, because it was moving so fast it seemed ready to go on without him, all the way into Geelong.

Ellisonde wouldn’t make it all the way, but who really cared. A show of class to his new team perhaps, but a demonstration of why Ellisonde is so fun to watch, for certain.

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Laurens De Vrees gets his day in the sun

Stage 1 of the Santos Tour Down Under

There was an odd sight at the start of the Santos Tour Down Under, the first accidental attack I think I’ve ever seen.

Rather than trying to break away Belgian rider Laurens De Vreese looked like he was being asked to leave. It’s not uncommon to see a rider drop off the back of the pack. On this occasion they managed to drop him off the front. Riding in extraordinary heat that would force organizers to trim 27km off the stage, the Peloton simply slowed down, and De Vreese was the last to notice. Next thing he knew he had a four-minute gap, 110km to ride on his own in 100 degree heat, and an almost certain inferiority complex.

Laurens De Vrees finds himself "let go" by the peloton
Laurens De Vrees finds himself “let go” by the peloton

If it was all by design the Belgian’s body language, labored and, well, sad, said that he regretted it almost immediately. Then the news came that organizers had shortened the stage owing to excessive heat. On hearing this De Vreese actually smiled. Although one can only imagine that by that time, as the temperature gauge melted, he was most likely delirious, wondering whether he’d ever see his teammates again, or his family, before he turned to dust.

The peloton finally caught him, Laurens of Down Under, this now salt encrusted lunatic who had been alone for all but 19km. If he felt the disappointment in being caught it was only from wondering what took them so long. He’d done everything he could to rejoin them without falling off, and yet they’d left him out there to dry – or disintegrate — in the sunshine, like an infectious jam-boy.

He did eventually make it to the finish, some 6 minutes 56 seconds behind eventual winner Caleb Ewan, the local man, who familiar with conditions no doubt checked the weather forecast that morning and figured it was too hot to do anything hasty.

He also earned the King of the Mountain jersey, which if it didn’t immediately burst into flames will serve as some consolation when he arrives at the start of Stage 2 in Stirling tomorrow. Either that or it will simply bring back a whole load of bad memories of his unwanted day in the sun.

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From out of nowhere

Or Cameron Bayly, a tragedy in 7 stages
Tour of Taihu Lake, Stage 3

This was the closing scene of another long day in the saddle. Around the final bend swept Australian Cameron Bayly, four seconds ahead of the bunch he’d just left behind. All that stood between him and his first UCI Stage win was 100 meters of tarmac and a man with a whistle frantically waving a flag in the gloom.

The limelight was rightfully Bayly’s, for about the 16 seconds the camera followed him as he powered across the finish line. Funnily enough these were the only 16 seconds we did see, and it made it one of the most exciting wins of the year.

Few realized it would come in so late in the season, in November, in China, in stage 3 of the Tour of Taihu Lake, a low key 2.1 race, made up of Belarussians and young Italians in Day-Glo, on a hill top stage played out under almost total cloud cover.

If it was hard to believe what was happening, spare a thought for the commentator. He spent the broadcast filling in for a bike race that had failed to show up. Or at least had not been able to by the conditions. We saw a lot of promotional footage about tea, and the local economy, but no bikes.

Then word came forth that the riders were a kilometer away. Who that included wasn’t clear. By the looks of the camera shot, it was hard to believe they hadn’t decided to turn back and head downhill to somewhere warm.

The visibility continued to get worse. A neutral service car drove past, and then two blokes on a motorcycle who looked like they were escaping something. But no riders.

Then Bayly appeared.

Later, with a grin on his face and with the courtesy of a man not yet bored of media intrusion, he would explain that he’d spent the entire 800 meter climb in the big ring. But emerging out of the mist he looked as though he’d raced alone, even if the leaderboard would later say he’d beaten the lead group by a mere four seconds, but minutes ahead of the others – enough to put him in the leader’s jersey.

The camera stayed in position, peering fruitlessly into the mist as indistinguishable riders slogged towards the finish line, passing the wide-eyed man with the whistle waving his flag to warn riders of the obstacle. With each passing rider, the whistling seemed to become more frantic. Or irritable. It was too foggy to tell.

But for those moments before Bayly appeared, there was genuine excitement. Not Mont Ventoux, but still. Not bad for a 2.1 Chinese race in November.

Postscript: Despite putting himself in a good position to win, Bayly would lose the Tour, falling in each of the last two stages.

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