Brown, in Green, goes into red, caught by black

Tour of the Alps: Stage 1 – Kufstein to Innsbruck/Hungerburg

Team Sky look over at Nathan Brown as they sweep past

Nathan Brown looked good, probably felt good, and was going good, pedaling away to about a ten second lead over the group on stage one of the Tour of the Alps, a race for men who like arms warmers and mountains, not cobbles or crosswinds on their afternoon ride.

The attack came about 25 km out. A burst of speed, a gap, and the start of a heroic bid not only to reach the two-man (doomed) break a minute or so up the road, but to maybe even end the losing streak (and bad luck) that had plagued the Argyle team for so long.

Well, maybe. As Brown powered away, you began to wonder what would scupper this latest bid to end the dry spell.

I mean, had the gruppo, looking awkwardly at each other, simply let Brown go, figuring that as a Cannondale rider, some sort of bad luck would strike, end this bid for glory, and save them all that effort spent chasing him down?

If they weren’t thinking that, it could have been that the TV moto-camera was.

Brown, with a gap, pedals on

You wondered if he was zooming in on Brown because he expected him to fall off at any moment. Or, given that Brown was doing a good job of remaining upright, that the close up on the pedals was in anticipation of the chain slipping, or on the wheels, expecting them to puncture.

Accident free, Brown reached Tirol Cycling’s Matthias Krizek soon enough, the third man of the breakaway, who having suffered a technical himself was mid-way through a slow descent back to the peloton. Brown rode past, still looking good.

Or so we thought.

Without the time-gap onscreen Brown was making progress. With the time gap on screen, the TV showed images of the bad luck Brown was about to encounter, or at least watch ride casually past.

Team Sky was on the front of the group, riding six astern, organized, and slowly pulling everyone back, including Brown, who they afforded a brief glance as they swept past, casually removing their jackets as they did so in readiness of the last 20 km, but which you can’t help thinking was a bit of a rub down.

Brown was done, the hopes of his team quashed for another day at least. Sky meanwhile delivered their man Geraint Thomas to the top of the climb, albeit in second place, behind Michele Scarponi, who ironically locked up Astana’s first win of 2017, and his own first win since 2013.

Lucky for some then.

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Carthy turns Lo Port into High Point

 Tour of Catalunya: Stage 5. Valls to Lo Port (Tortosa)

Hugh Carthy of Cannondale-Drapac crosses the line, with expletives, in eighth place  (image taken from Eurosport player)

There were unlikely heroes out there in Catalunya today, the kind of dauntless warriors who decided, after 160 km on the bike, that Lo Port was going to be their high point, even if only for a few glorious seconds.

Before Valverde, Froome, and Contador set off towards the finish line to compete for an inevitable triumph up what the day’s profile revealed was an almost vertical wall, there were the others, the men who took on the peloton in the foothills in the vain hope of reaching the stars.

Others like Hugh Carthy.

The 22-year-old eased slowly ahead on his short-lived expedition, following an FDJ rider, and taking someone from Sunweb with him. He shone brightly, as anyone would in Cannondale green, but his work came to nothing, the camera revealing the peloton never more than a few bike lengths away, ready to chew him up.

Then the fluorescent teams of the continental level had a crack, sending Magno Nazaret of Funvic/Brasil, and Jetse Bol, a rare Dutchman on a Colombian Manzana Postobon team, up the road from 9 km, which is the rough equivalent of 100 km on a flat stage.

They took with them hope and the best wishes of their teams no doubt, but not anything that would help them with a nine per cent gradient. They made it around a few hairpins before reality, or more accurately gravity, introduced itself.

Pierre Latour was next to try at the 7km marker. The Frenchman’s head bobbed from side to side as his legs pushed through a big gear, but like the others he found himself chained to the peloton, and eventually slipped back.

That seemed to be the fate of anyone who dared commit such crimes against the peloton, punishable by 20 minutes in the gruppeto and maybe a lowered lactic threshold. And they only had to see what was happening to Carthy, the first to go, to be deterred, watching the Englishman drop off the back of the main group, no longer able to keep pace.

But then the best of these mountain men seldom realise they’re beaten. The same impulse that tells mortals to “climb off you idiot and have some cake”, is the same impulse that prompts more effort, and the intention to arrive at the summit dead.

As Carthy was about to prove.

While Valverde was already thinking about how he would lug the enormous stage-winner trophy back down the mountain, Carthy was performing a miraculous comeback, using his bike, body and clearly-lip-readable bad language to cross the line in eighth place. “F**k,” he said, to nobody but the voices in his head too tired to answer back, as he crossed the line exhausted, but only a minute down.

A glorious minute you might call it.

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