Frankiny feeling the pinch

Tour of the Alps: Stage 4 Bolzano/Bozen to Cles

This is written after the tragic death of Michele Scarponi, which has added more sadness to the Tour of the Alps than fun.

How much do you really know about the rider next to you? Especially the man you’re in a breakaway with? I mean, how close do you get to the guy who shares the workload, the hardship, and the same ambition over the course of what can be some arduous terrain. Enough to work with him, yes. Enough to let him grab your ass, well maybe not.

Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) and Kilian Frankiny (BMC) were descending amid breathtaking Alpine scenery on Stage 4, with a minute on the main group and 30 seconds on the plucky Frenchman Hubert Dupont of AG2R, trying to join them. Then, from out of nowhere, we saw what appeared to be Pirazzi pinching the backside of Frankiny.

Frankiny had been riding in the tuck position, saving a little energy for the final push, and resting his legs for a moment. Pirazzi was in his slipstream, but powered by his own momentum, and the gap in the wind Frankiny was providing, he began to drift closer to Frankiny. Then the hand reached out.

Frankiny seemed to notice this disturbance in the force, a slight acceleration and an uncomfortable “those aren’t pillows” sensation towards his derriere. There was a visible “huh?” before he came out of the tuck position look back to see just what the hell was going on.

What he saw was Pirazzi’s hand on his saddle, pushing him along. Whether Pirazzi was grinning, giving him a wink or blowing him a kiss, we’ll never know, but Frankiny had the sudden urge to pedal quicker, picking up the pace with a new incentive to keep his distance.

And what about the rules? I’m pretty sure assault is a no-no, but a slight push? And how about a pinch? Nobody mentioned it, and if the race jury spent any time thumbing the rulebook for “overfriendly pats on the backside”, they likely gave up pretty soon.

Regardless, Pirazzi and Frankiny rode on, albeit in awkward silence.

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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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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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