“Made for TV” seems to be a buzz-phrase in pro cycling at the moment – describing a race that is something of a set-piece event designed to look good to a TV audience.
Summit finish? Made for TV. Time-trial through the grounds of a medieval castle? Made for TV. Predictable, advert friendly lulls in the action? Made for TV.
Stage 9, at the Vuelta Espana of 2017, ticked a couple of those boxes.
A long, flat trundle down the Costa Blanca, followed by a double ascent of Puig Llorenca; a steep, picturesque climb, to a summit finish.
Made for TV.
And made for race leader Chris Froome who, despite having already won the Tour de France and led much of the Vuelta this year, took his first Grand Tour stage win of the season.
I imagine that was a relief.
To win two Grand Tours in a season would be mightily impressive. Do it without winning a stage, and he’d have that loud, shouty part of the internet swearily debating his worthiness.
He’s probably done us all a favour today by shutting down that line of questioning
As a made for TV stage, though, Stage 9 had me mildly concerned throughout, for potential other events that might unfold on our screens.
As one hundred and eighty-odd of the finest cyclists on the planet rattled along through resort after resort of the Costa Blanca, I nervously feared an outbreak of televised Brits abroad. Were we about to be greeted by the sight of Benidorm’s finest out in force to see what all the fuss was about?
I half expected to see lairy lager connoisseurs, in support of a fellow Brit, beerily chanting Froooomey, Froooomey!
I feared a gaggle of hens and stags might create an impromptu road-block as they unthinkingly followed up on rumours of free Jaeger-bombs in the bar over the road.
I thought, for a brief moment, that the roadside fans in black and white stripes were Geordies, on the lash, and no doubt about to proudly reveal beer-bellies and man-boobs to the rest of the continent.
Thankfully not. Just fans of Team Sunweb.
By the time the race hit the big double-climb at the end of the stage, the TV pictures were well out of range of any lobster-pink British holidaymakers, and I could relax.
And what unfolded was, well…kind of exciting, but in a really predictable way.
Froome had his Sky teammates well marshalled, and they controlled the pace on the climb, while letting other guerrilla attacks burn themselves out. It wasn’t until the final kilometre that Froome actually attacked.
Contador knew it was coming. Chaves knew it was coming. Aru knew it was coming. Even a group of hungover lads and lasses from Doncaster, recovering on a Benidorm beach, got wind that it was coming.
The attack came, only Chaves and Michael Woods could respond, the second attack came, and Froome rode clear to win.
Is that Froome’s fault? No.
Do I ocassionally like to ask and answer my own questions, for effect, like an evasive politician on a prime-time news report? Perhaps.
Today’s stage may well have been made for TV, but it didn’t quite live up to it’s billing.
(Top Image: by Jaguar MENA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)