Doc­tor Hutch

What ac­tu­ally hap­pened in the men’s road race at the Worlds is any­one’s guess, says the Doc

Cycling Weekly - - Contents - Doc­torhutch_­cy­cling@timeinc.com

If you watched the men’s World Cham­pi­onship road race on TV, you’ll have no­ticed that in the last few kilo­me­tres there was a very bad case of cy­clus in­ter­rup­tus. There we all were at 4km to go, cheer­ing young Ju­lian Alaphilippe in his op­por­tunis­tic at­tack, when sud­denly the screen flick­ered, then switched from the mo­tors and he­li­copter cam­eras to some static shots of peace­ful Ber­gen streets.

The streets were un­de­ni­ably pretty — Ber­gen is the most at­trac­tive city to host the Worlds for years, with all the ex­pected Nordic charm, great fjords, and im­mac­u­late street sweep­ing. The roads we could see were also un­clut­tered by bike rac­ing.

The tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tors kept go­ing for a bit, pow­ered by their own mo­men­tum. But, like Wile E. Coy­ote run­ning off the cliff, the grav­ity of their sit­u­a­tion caught up with them even­tu­ally. “Well,” said Chris Board­man to break the silence. “This is nice. I won­der what’s hap­pen­ing?”

It was like the end of Apollo 13, where we wait to see if Tom Hanks, Kevin Ba­con and the other one sur­vived re-en­try, ac­com­pa­nied by tense shots of empty sky. The Ber­gen view, hav­ing flicked ran­domly around a se­lec­tion of fixed cam­eras, fi­nally set­tled to a shot of a gantry at 1km to go. “They’ll be com­ing round that cor­ner,” said the BBC’S Si­mon Brother­ton gamely. “Any minute now.”

Time passed. Nor­we­gians stood about, pray­ing that the first thing they’d see would be Ed­vald Boas­son Ha­gen’s Nor­we­gian-flag para­chute break­ing the clouds.

When the bi­cy­cle race fi­nally ar­rived, Boas­son Ha­gen was nowhere to be seen. On the other hand, Peter Sa­gan had mag­i­cally ap­peared. Up till this point the only ev­i­dence he was even in Nor­way had been a cer­tain ner­vous­ness among the podium hostesses.

He won the sprint, of course. How could the story be oth­er­wise? But all the same, what went on in the dark? Why did we lose the pic­tures in the first place? Had Alaphilippe an­noyed the gi­ant lizards who (I main­tain) are the real bosses of in­ter­na­tional cy­cling? Come to think of it, where was Alaphilippe? The last time we saw him he had a nice lead. Then it went dark. When the lights came back on he’d just gone.

My the­ory is that he’s ac­tu­ally world cham­pion, but the TV cam­eras didn’t see it, so it didn’t re­ally hap­pen. He’ll spend the rest of his ca­reer try­ing to put rain­bow stripes on his han­dle­bar tape, and be­ing told off by the com­mis­saires.

For foren­sic cy­cling fans, even the post-race in­ter­view with Sa­gan

“The TV cam­eras didn’t see it, so it didn’t re­ally hap­pen”

didn’t help much — it was one of those in­ter­views where the first ques­tion re­ally should have be­gun, “Mr. Sa­gan, would you mind telling the court in your own words…”

“Well, at 4km to go, the lizards turned off the TV pic­tures, and I opened the man­hole cover and got out.” Or maybe, “Alaphilippe? I think he’s a punkah wal­lah for some Ko­modo dragons in Aigle now.” And per­haps, “I’d have got away with it if it hadn’t been for you med­dling kids.”

In gen­eral there is no bike race as ex­cit­ing as one that you can’t see. Ber­gen’s race had that nice old-world feel of the days when the of­fi­cials would wave a flag to start a race, every­one would re­tire for lunch, and six hours later they’d come back and see who crossed the line first. The re­porters would make up some­thing fan­tas­ti­cal (a lux­ury de­nied them in Ber­gen by the threat of some­one piec­ing the race to­gether from CCTV). Every­one used to be quite happy with this, es­pe­cially the rid­ers, who could catch the train if they got bored.

But on this oc­ca­sion it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated.

The road Worlds reach their thrilling cli­max

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