When all else fails

Tour of Croatia: Stage 6 – Samobor to Zagreb

It had been a long break, and Evgeny Shalunov had been in the thick of it all day.

It was the final stage of the Tour of Croatia, a last chance to cross the line for glory. But while Shalunov had been there all day, with 6 km to race he was faced with an inconvenient truth too hard to ignore.

Looking at his fellow breakaway riders Shalunov figured he was out-gunned, out-sprinted, and outpaced on the first climb through Zagreb, left with little to show for his efforts than a desperate chase to rejoin the leaders at the summit to do it all again. Twice.

So as they approached the climb for the penultimate time Shalunov did the only rational thing he could do given the circumstances. Throwing away any sense of what was rational, he teamed up with his brain and tried to fool his legs that they were not about to fall off.

Then, with his common sense running after him shouting “you’re about to make a terrible mistake!” Shalunov did the unthinkable, and attacked.

Surely there was no chance he could maintain such a burst of speed up such a punishing climb? But sure enough, there he was, surging forward, chewing up a 10 per cent gradient while the others gritted their teeth trying keep up.

Well… for a few seconds anyway.

Then the same voice yelled: “I told you so!” Which came at the exact same moment his legs realised they’d been duped.

But it had been a glorious move while it lasted, however brief. The others soon caught him, and then left him, and his common sense, and his legs, to be swallowed up by the peloton. But all three had earned their pay.

Still, better to shine brightly and fail, than not at all. Not exactly a marketing slogan for Shalunov’s team Gazprom, but certainly good enough for him.

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Whether or not Plan B was Plan A, it turned Plan C into Plan D

Tour of Croatia: Stage 2 – Trogir to Biokovo

For Gazprom-RusVelo rider Anton Vorobyev things couldn’t be better. He’d been in the break all day and taken points at two intermediate sprints. He’d even nicked KOM points from a dumbfounded Jonathan Millan of Bicicletes Strongman. Vorobyev was on a roll – cooking on Gazprom — and planned on rolling all the way to the finish line.

So he probably ignored the message from the team radio, or assumed there was some sort of altitude-related interference, when he heard than his team leader, Artem Nych, was breaking free of the peloton a few minutes behind, and trying to join them. Don’t be ridiculous, he must have thought. That would be crazy.

But while he thought it, the cameras saw it. Nych, 22, was breaking free of the group and was setting off up the road. It was at this point that the cameras caught Vorobyev’s reaction, having realised the radio message was true, gesturing at the team car as it pulled up alongside to explain the situation.

Artem Nych, aka Plan A (wait, B maybe?) on his way to join Vorobyev

Apparently Artem Nych’s move had been pre-planned. That made it Team Gazprom’s Plan A. That meant Vorobyev was their Plan B, even though Plan B had come before Plan A. That made Vorobyev consider that, what with all the effort he’d already put in, perhaps he should be Plan A, and Nych, the team leader, should now be Plan B?

It was a reasonable point, to all but everyone on his team. But that was okay, because they were about to enact Plan C.

Plan C involved Vorobyev leaving the others in the breakaway to press on without him, while he dropped back to rendezvous with his team leader. Having made that connection he would pace his man back to the break, and on to a memorable victory, albeit one set to destroy Vorobyev’s self-esteem.

It was a bold plan, but it would soon be a doomed plan (Plan D?).

A few minutes later Nych had caught up with the now ambling Vorobyev who without saying anything, (not to Nych at least, he muttered plenty to himself), pressed, using spite to recover the distance he’d just concede. Meanwhile the peloton loomed.

But this was no ordinary plan. This was the rarely seen Plan D. It wasn’t Vorobyev pacing Nych to the break, but Nych pacing Vorobyev back to the peloton.

They were both swallowed up soon enough, which technically made Plan D a roaring success. Just not Plan A, or was it B? Or was it really A?

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