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.

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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.

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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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