Head in the clouds, looking for a silver lining

Tour of the Alps: Stage 2 – Vipiteno to Innervillgraten

It was the Tour of Taihu Lake all over again.

It was last November, during that part of the season reserved for those of us not prepared to accept the season proper was over, that a stage played out almost entirely inside a cloud. Which was ironic really as this had the effect of creating genuine drama, and a thrilling finale, in a race usually used by teams as a means of punishing their riders for something.

The clock ticked on we waited for the first glimpse of a bike to appear from out of the mist. When they did it was Australian Cameron Bayly, emerging alone from out of the gloop and sprinting around the final turn (dodging a policeman with a whistle) and taking the race lead.

The rest was like arriving at a crime scene. You simply took what you knew and worked backwards trying to piece together the circumstances of what had just happened, in this case using nothing more than about six seconds of murky CCTV footage.

All of which came to mind as bad weather across the Alps grounded aircraft that would otherwise take and then beam down the images we take for granted. That also meant the moto-cameras were useless, leaving only two static ones to cover 80 km of racing – one looking at the corner approaching to the finish line, and the other on the finish line itself.

And so we waited, watching the flags blowing in the wind and fog rolling down the mountains. There was also extended highlights of that morning’s signing on process, carried out 60 km into the shortened stage, riders passing a biro to each other, signing the sheet held down on an ad hoc plastic cafe table by men and women in heavy coats.

Then word came that something was happening — a five-man break on the final climb. It was tempting to sit up and pay attention, but those of us who had endured Taihu Lake knew not to get excited. And who knew what would appear next from around the corner. It might have been another of the endless stream of motorbikes, or a rider, aero suit in tatters, having survived for so long in the mountains only by eating a teammate.

When they finally appeared the speculation ended. The break, if that had been one, was no longer there. Instead Rohan Dennis was in front, on his way to a stage win, covered start to finish in glorious Technicolor, for about 13 seconds.

Double the fun of Taihu Lake.

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From out of nowhere

Or Cameron Bayly, a tragedy in 7 stages
Tour of Taihu Lake, Stage 3

This was the closing scene of another long day in the saddle. Around the final bend swept Australian Cameron Bayly, four seconds ahead of the bunch he’d just left behind. All that stood between him and his first UCI Stage win was 100 meters of tarmac and a man with a whistle frantically waving a flag in the gloom.

The limelight was rightfully Bayly’s, for about the 16 seconds the camera followed him as he powered across the finish line. Funnily enough these were the only 16 seconds we did see, and it made it one of the most exciting wins of the year.

Few realized it would come in so late in the season, in November, in China, in stage 3 of the Tour of Taihu Lake, a low key 2.1 race, made up of Belarussians and young Italians in Day-Glo, on a hill top stage played out under almost total cloud cover.

If it was hard to believe what was happening, spare a thought for the commentator. He spent the broadcast filling in for a bike race that had failed to show up. Or at least had not been able to by the conditions. We saw a lot of promotional footage about tea, and the local economy, but no bikes.

Then word came forth that the riders were a kilometer away. Who that included wasn’t clear. By the looks of the camera shot, it was hard to believe they hadn’t decided to turn back and head downhill to somewhere warm.

The visibility continued to get worse. A neutral service car drove past, and then two blokes on a motorcycle who looked like they were escaping something. But no riders.

Then Bayly appeared.

Later, with a grin on his face and with the courtesy of a man not yet bored of media intrusion, he would explain that he’d spent the entire 800 meter climb in the big ring. But emerging out of the mist he looked as though he’d raced alone, even if the leaderboard would later say he’d beaten the lead group by a mere four seconds, but minutes ahead of the others – enough to put him in the leader’s jersey.

The camera stayed in position, peering fruitlessly into the mist as indistinguishable riders slogged towards the finish line, passing the wide-eyed man with the whistle waving his flag to warn riders of the obstacle. With each passing rider, the whistling seemed to become more frantic. Or irritable. It was too foggy to tell.

But for those moments before Bayly appeared, there was genuine excitement. Not Mont Ventoux, but still. Not bad for a 2.1 Chinese race in November.

Postscript: Despite putting himself in a good position to win, Bayly would lose the Tour, falling in each of the last two stages.

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