If you watched the men’s World Championship road race on TV recently, 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 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.