There was a minor incident in the first week of the Giro d’Italia that made me quite emotional, just because it was a bit of silliness that has almost vanished from pro cycling.
It was when Tim Wellens and Adam Hansen of Lotto-Fix All clipped off the front of the bunch in pursuit of a break.
Mitchelton-Scott gave chase. The Lotto pair got clear, only to realise that they wouldn’t catch the break. But instead of just sinking back to the peloton, they pulled off the road and hid behind a campervan.
The peloton came past, with Mitchelton-Scott in full cry. Our heroes scurried out, hopped on the back of the race, and ambled back to the front to say hello to the Mitchelton boys, who were still in hot pursuit. It was like the bit where Bugs Bunny appears behind Elmer Fudd to ask what he’s stalking.
This sort of thing is incredibly hard to get away with in a modern pro race. TV, race radio and team directors shouting straight in a rider’s ear mean that everything is seen, everyone knows everything that’s happening.
I loved Wellens and Hansen’s move because the confusion was reminiscent of small-time local road races. I remember races where I never had a clue what was going on. Was there a break up the road? If so, who was in it?
I’ve ended up in breaks myself completely by accident, and not realised for 5km because I never looked over my shoulder. I’ve even started a race not knowing whether I’ve got any team-mates in it, and spent the early kilometres looking for them.
In an amateur race composed largely of individual riders rather than big teams, there was a constant fog of ignorance, rumour and misinformation. You don’t see much from the middle of a bunch, and frequently no one rider was at the front long enough to have a full overview.
We’ve all seen one of those very occasional incidents where a rider thinks they’ve won, and crosses the line with a victory celebration, only to discover that someone else was out of sight ahead. But have you ever witnessed misplaced victory celebrations from third, fourth, fifth and sixth as well? I have.
My favourite, by some distance, was when my friend Bernard won a bunch sprint for second, and thought he’d won. The truth was that fully five minutes earlier, I’d won. I’d had time to get my breath back, and go back to the finish to applaud his arrival.
When he saw me, he thought I’d packed a lap earlier and came over, still celebrating, to say, “I’m glad you stayed around to see that.”
“Believe me Bernie when I say that I wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” I replied.
One circuit in Sussex used to have a long, straight descent into a valley and up the far side, so you could see more than a mile up the course. It was an unusual treat to be able to see that far, but on a hazy day things were not always very clear.
That was how we once saw what we thought were the flashing orange lights of a lead car, and launched a full-on pursuit of a combine harvester.
I’d love to see more of this sort of thing at pro level. So I think we should replace the more or less useless combativity awards that most races have with a jester’s jersey, awarded for most entertaining move of the day.
I see it as a red and yellow harlequin outfit. And a tricorn helmet with bells. And I’m happy to announce that for the Giro, it’s hereby awarded jointly to Adam Hansen and Tim Wellens.