I’m trying to avoid direct comments on a certain race, but watching the flat stages this week has me all fired up about riders who are prone to take fliers. To tilt at windmills. Try to show what’s possible as a rugged individual.
And usually end up getting swept up by the crush of the peleton before the finish.
One of my favorite flicks of all time is Tin Cup. In it, Kevin Costner plays a golf pro who runs a driving range in the middle of nowhere, Texas. (Wait, isn’t this supposed to be cycling-related? Golf? WTF?) In true Texan style, he qualifies for the US Open to woo the always-stunning Renee Russo away from (the underrated, IMO) Don Johnson. Long story short, he’s winning the Open going into the 18th hole at Augusta – a long hole with a green protected by a giant water hazard. This hole’s stymied him the last couple of days – being, at heart, a muni-course player, he’s all about hitting the long ball and taking risks. The smart money is hitting the ball short of the water, chipping over, and tapping in for the win. But Tin Cup’s got to go for the glory – and ends up hitting ball after ball into the water. It’s only on his last ball, after he’s lost the match, that he finally gets it in the hole. And the crowd goes wild after the show of determination.
(Uh, again – wha?)
The point is that the breakaway, especially the solo breakaway, is such an unbelievably long shot for a rider to take that it’s practically futile. One or two riders cannot generate the same efficiencies as far as drafting as can almost 200. There’s the risk of puncture or mechanicals, or the risk of bonking due to increased exertion.
There’s the likelyhood that there’s bad blood between the riders in the break and at least one of the teams. Or, that one of the riders is a major contender for the race win, obliging the teams with the other contenders to chase hard. So motivation and a lot more rested riders to pull the peleton weighs against the breakaway.
So why do it?
Because sometimes it works. And when it does, it’s magical.
Absolute best example is Tyler Hamilton’s 2003 flier in stage 16, where he goes (I’m guessing here) well over 100 kilometers for the stage win, all while nursing a broken collarbone. Even with the subsequent revelations of doping, I’m in awe of that stage.
Tilting at windmills. Crazy? Perhaps. But once in a while, the pig does turn out to be a princess.
Allez, Sancho. Fetch me my mount. I can win this thing.