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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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