Game faces for Gaudu and Froome. No pixels required

Tour of Catalunya: Stage 7 – Barcelona to Barcelona

Froome powers away to a 12 second lead down Mont Juic

If you’ve ever played Cycling Manager, you’ll be familiar with some of the effects the final stage of the Tour of Catalunya had on some riders today.

The game allows you to play as any rider in Le Tour, some being stronger than others.

Pick Chris Froome for example, and you can ride up mountains with relative ease. Choose any of the sprinters on the other hand, and as soon as you start the climb the controller starts to vibrate, the screen goes red, and the graphical version of Cavendish or Greipel starts visibly labouring, forcing you to slow down – or for those with a short attention span, select “exit game” and start again with someone better.

Stage 7 of the Tour of Catalunya was reminiscent of this. There were the riders who could tackle the laps up Mont Juic on the circuit around Barcelona, and those that couldn’t – or at least not on the seventh time of asking.

The latter was David Gaudu of FDJ, who suffered the indignity of bonking on live television. He’d kept pace in the break, and put great effort into keeping it ahead for so long. But with the break down to three – with Thomas De Gendt and Jay McCarthy still pedaling towards the finish – the 20-year-old FDJ rider had had enough.

Gaudu turns away from the camera as the screen goes red and the controller vibrates

With 23 km to race Gaudu blew up. One minute he was on the screen, the next he’d vanished, spotted a moment later, his graphics visibly labouring, his screen going red, and looking for a mussette bad full of pixels to cover his face before the camera passed by.

There was no shame for Gaudu, who showed talent and promise in his ability to slog, but watching from home it was time to “exit game” and pick someone else – like Chris Froome for example.

Hoping to restore some pride to Team Sky (which rolled in 27 minutes down on the race leader yesterday), Froome attacked over the top of Mont Juic with a lap and a half to race, top-tubing his way to a 12 second lead that looked like it might just hold.

He reached the climb for the last time but his lead was cut short by an effort on the front by AG2R and Alejandro Valverde – one of the riders who can keep up with Froome in the 2013 edition of the game for those moments, like now, when Froome, for some reason, doesn’t make it to the line first.

That happened, and Valverde, his graphics in perfect condition, sealed his overall win, and a third stage win.

Froome though had done something to spark the imagination. No pixels required.

Leave your thoughts about this post in the comments below. You can also follow Off The Back on Twitter: @OffTheBackBlog.

A half hour is a long time in cycling

Tour of Catalunya: Stage 6, Tortosa to Reus

Dario Cataldo and Alessandro De Marchi finally get a move on and race for the line

How many seconds lead do two riders, having broken free of the bunch, actually need to guarantee a win? I mean after you factor in all that fannying around as they pass beneath the flame rouge, and stuff. Dario Cataldo and Alessandro De Marchi had 12 of them, but they seemed to need about half an hour.

The predictable cat-and-mouse would cost the two Italians at the line as the group behind them, specifically Daryl Impey and Alejandro Valverde, rallied, and almost with enough time to excuse themselves, flew past to claim first and second place.

Interestingly enough half an hour was about what they had over the second group, the one containing Chris Froome, who for some reason was riding in a kind of unofficial grupetto 27 minutes back. While that might have been enough time for Cataldo and De Marchi to sort themselves out, it raised other questions, such as when was the last time Chris Froome crossed the line after all the presentations had been made? (Giro 2009?)

Not that organisers hadn’t tried to drag things out.

Daryl Impey: only thinking what everyone else was thinking

With one eye on the clock (for the looming ten per cent cut off), and the other eye on footage showing the group ambling to the finish, organisers had no eyes left for the actual presentation. So they handed that over to two terrifying Paper Mache caricatures, giant figurines guaranteed to have Daryl Impey checking the hotel room closet tonight, and probably sleeping with the lights on.

Valverde followed to collect the leaders jersey, then the sprint leader arrived, and anyone else who had any claim at all on a new outfit. But with everything given away, including what appeared to be some bric-a-brac, there was still no Froome.

So where the hell was the world’s most exclusive, and highly paid, club ride?

Television footage showed exactly where. This second group (there was still another some way behind them) was some miles back, timing their arrival to coincide perfectly with the outer limits of the ten per cent rule.

It took a while to come to terms with the madness of it all – Froome crossing the line so far down, and those people with the giant heads giving away prizes and scaring people. And then there was Cataldo and De Marchi, scratching their heads, wondering where it all went wrong.

Leave your thoughts about this post in the comments below. You can also follow Off The Back on Twitter: @OffTheBackBlog.

The Suicide Mission

Tour of Andalusia – Stage 1

Stage 1 of the Tour of Andalusia seemed deliberate in its bid to make us all feel like if only we could get out on our bike we could ride up a mountain for 9km and then spend 20 km free wheeling down the other side to the finish line.

This is what viewers saw, switching on Eurosport to watch the last 30 kilometers of the opening stage of Alberto Contador’s first race of the season. Not for him the outback in Austrlia or the desert dreariness of the middle east. This was a debut on home turf, up hill, and the kind of race that would get his 2017 off to the start he wanted.

The task at hand seemed simple. A glorious ride up the side of a big profiled pyramid, followed by a 20km descent at 50mph to the finish line in Granada. That’s the race we all dream of in our heads, on the fantasy basis that we can go up mountains breathing through our nose rather than our eyes, and go down the other side on the top tube, and not with our hands on the break saying “whoa, bloody hell” when we misjudge a hair pin.

Of course that theory crumbles into asthmatic make-believe when compared to what the best in cycling put in on opening day.

There was Alberto Contador, out of the saddle, dancing on his peddles to get a lead, only to be chased down by Alejandro Valverde and Mikal Landa. Each of them attacked repeatedly, defying science and the power meter, fooling those watching into thinking that such moves were within the realm of human capability.

This, along with beautiful weather, an even tempo, and on bikes more expensive than most family cars, gliding effortlessly uphill, were enough to persuade any cyclist that it’s possible to do such a thing without commitment to a mental health establishment.

Instead what we saw was a masterclass of a breakaway, first ascending then descending like the champions they are, albeit the kind of champions who now must have a line through some of their results. It hardly mattered that Valverde knew how to sprint better than the others, particularly Sebastien Reichenbach of FDJ who decided, appropriately, heroically, and futilely, that with 1.2km to race his only chance was to go for a lone break at such a difference.

But that’s what we would have done too. In our heads at least.

Leave your thoughts about this post in the comments below. You can also follow Off The Back on Twitter: @OffTheBackBlog.