Leav­ing it late

Cyclist - - Last Gasp | Felix Lowe -

The hall­mark of the best foot­ball sides, so they say, is their abil­ity to score an in­jury-time win­ner. Well, Vin­cenzo Nibali achieved cy­cling’s equiv­a­lent in the Giro d’italia in May, se­cur­ing an un­likely vic­tory with prac­ti­cally the last kick of the game, as it were. Nibali’s As­tana team have some form here: Fabio Aru pro­duced a sim­i­larly late show to win the 2015 Vuelta on the penul­ti­mate stage last Septem­ber.

Both those races were won by 50-odd sec­onds. In fact, the Vuelta’s largest win­ning mar­gin in the past five years has been just four sec­onds greater than the nar­row­est in the Tour – when Chris Froome de­nied Nairo Quin­tana by 72 sec­onds last July (which clearly says some­thing about the for­mu­laic na­ture of the Tour). Look back through his­tory and you see there have been as many fi­nal-day vic­to­ries in the Vuelta as there have been in the other two Grand Tours com­bined.

As for the Giro, while three dif­fer­ent rid­ers held the lead in the fi­nal four days of this year’s Corsa Rosa, the re­cently com­pleted 99th edi­tion was not as nail­bit­ing as Ry­der Hes­jedal’s al­most 12th-hour win in 2012, when he leapfrogged Joaquim Ro­driguez in a fi­nal-day time-trial in Mi­lan.

Only the sec­ond man to win the Giro on the last throw of the dice, the Cana­dian fol­lowed in the he­li­copter-as­sisted tyre tracks of Francesco Moser, who pul­verised French­man Laurent Fignon at the time-trial in the fi­nal stage back in 1984.

Poor, poor Fignon – to lose one Grand Tour on the con­clud­ing TT is bad enough, but five years later light­ning struck again when Greg Lemond’s tri-bars proved eight sec­onds more aero­dy­namic than a French pony­tail on the Champs-élysées.

Go back to 1968 and Dutch­man Jan Janssen per­formed a two-wheeled In­di­ana Jonesstyle hat grab by win­ning Stage 22b (a windy time-trial into the Vin­cennes velo­drome) to prise the yel­low jersey from the shoul­ders of Bel­gian Her­man van Springel, who had been sit­ting on a 16-sec­ond buf­fer fol­low­ing the morn­ing’s Stage 22a.

Janssen wasn’t the first to win the Tour with­out once pedalling in yel­low. Rewind another 21 years to the un­likely vic­tory of foul-mouthed debu­tant Jean Ro­bic, who at­tacked on the fi­nal stage to Paris to con­demn overnight leader Pierre Bram­billa to a 13-minute swing atop the stand­ings.

Gnomish Ro­bic – a man as cheru­bic as a gar­goyle whose anachro­nis­tic pen­chant for hel­mets earned him the nick­name Old Leather­head – dis­tanced an ill Bram­billa on the only climb of the day. Hav­ing promised his new wife a yel­low jersey as a wed­ding present, Ro­bic built an al­liance (al­legedly via a 100,000 franc bribe) with fel­low es­capee Édouard Fach­leit­ner (a shep­herd by trade who spoke to his dog each night by phone).

Long story short: Ro­bic and Fach­leit­ner took the top two steps on the fi­nal podium, with Bram­billa drop­ping to third. The Ital­ian – a renowned masochist who would hit him­self with his pump or empty his bidons as a pun­ish­ment – was so dis­gusted he buried his bike at the bot­tom of his gar­den.

At the time of writ­ing, the 2016 Tour has yet to roll out of Mont-saint-michel for the open­ing stage. Per­haps it’ll be a close con­test, but given the na­ture of what’s now a pro­ces­sional fi­nal stage to Paris, it’s un­likely we’ll ever see another dis­play as au­da­cious as Ro­bic’s.

Asked later by fel­low cy­clist An­dré Brulé why he buried his bike, Bram­billa joked that the wheels had wooden rims and he wanted to grow some poplars. ‘Just as well you didn’t plant your wa­ter bot­tle too,’ Brulé replied, ‘or you’d have grown a phar­macy.’

Now, I would end on another foot­ball anal­ogy – but as we know, there’s no dop­ing in the beau­ti­ful game, is there? Luck­ily, Felix Lowe has nei­ther a gar­den nor a dog on speed-dial

Long may Grand Tours be de­cided with the very last turn of the ped­als, says Eurosport’s Felix Lowe

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