You know who I really feel for right now? The press officers and sports directors of the Jumbo-Visma WorldTour team. By letting, or being forced to allow, the top three riders on their team, their riders, this year’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France champions and most talented super domestique, race against each other until Madrid, they’ve unleashed the mother of all PR disasters.
I won’t lie. It’s entertaining. Usually by September I start to feel a certain lethargy towards bike racing, desperate for the off-season to have a break and restore my passion come the new year. But this Vuelta, ho boy. It has POPPED off. We thought it was getting tasty when Jonas Vingegaard kept launching himself up the road and chipping away at Kuss’ race lead, but then Primož Roglič decided he might as well have a go too if his teammate was getting away with it, and towed them both away on the Angliru.
Eight seconds now separate Kuss from his own teammate, Vingegaard. Kuss has finally said he wants his shot at the title, Vingegaard has said he also wants Kuss to win (funny way of showing it, mate) and Roglič is saying he wants Kuss to win but also he has a responsibility to win himself too. Maybe the altitude is getting to him.
Words aside, because you can’t wholly trust the things that come out of these guys’ mouths when there are cameras and recorders around with the world watching and listening on the other end, what did we actually see in between the margins on stage 17? What deft hints did we uncover of what’s truly going on behind the scenes? We don’t have all the answers, obviously, but we’ve picked out a few scenes that in the moment made us sit up and ask ourselves – is what we’re seeing real?
First up, after Roglič’s attack, both Vingegaard and Kuss momentarily caught back up to their teammate. Perfect, you would think, with Mikel Landa (more on him later) and his Bahrain-Victorious team dispensed with (thanks for the ride halfway up the climb by the way, fellas) we can now do another 1-2-3 holding hands across the line, providing another display of dominance as we teeter towards the mega holidays we’re going to be taking with the huge bonuses we’ll be collecting at the end of the season. WRONG. Kuss starts dropping with Roglič so hell-bent to just ride as hard as he can. Vingegaard can’t bear to leave the wheel (weird, insecure beef over team leadership, we reckon) but the Dane does have a quick glance to check where his teammate in the red jersey is and after seeing him off the back just turns around carries on as if he’s seen an errant carrier bag floating through the wind on a training ride. Utterly fascinating stuff here.
The (lack of) celebration
So the unchivalrous twosome forge ahead while Mikel Landa picks up the pieces behind and helps pull Kuss back to within enough time to salvage his red jersey. But on the road at that time, no-one really knows what’s going on. It’s foggy, it’s all happened so fast, back in the team car Grischa Niermann (he later said) can’t hear what’s being said on the radio or see anything on the TV. Maybe he’s just letting out one gigantic long fuuuuuuuuuuuck and closing his eyes and pretending him and his surfer necklace and haircut are in Bali. Maybe he can feel the sand between his toes. He rubs some wax on his board and paddles out into the break … sorry, back to the Vuelta.
Roglič crosses the finish line as if it isn’t even there, with Jonas Vingegaard in his wheel. Actually, correction, Roglič does one of those little finger flicks off the side of the head things. Like when a pilot is saying goodbye to the ground crew before taking flight. I assume its origins are as a ‘cool guy thing’ back in the 1950s or something.
But come on, he’s literally just won a stage on the Angliru and that’s all he can muster up? My guess is that he’s so proud/appalled at what him and Vingegaard are doing that he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. You know what really reveals that his mind is elsewhere? He doesn’t even take the time to stop his Garmin on the finish line! Can we really believe this is the real Primož Roglič? Maybe it’s Tom Dumoulin in disguise, back to exorcise some demons one last time.
The whole thing screams, “Oh God, we’ve really gone and done it this time haven’t we?” Like when you and your childhood friend were seeing how hard you could punch the wall, and then you actually punched a hole in the wall, and then you tried to fix it but just made it bigger. And the only thing to do then was wait until your mum got back from wherever she was, and she would find the hole. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day she would find the hole and you would be in big big trouble. That’s the vibe that those two troublemakers had as they crossed the line. That they’d been caught doing something really naughty and the fact of it only dawned on them once they’d come up for breath within sight of the finish line.
A hug for Roglič
Ok now we’re getting into the nitty gritty of it. Once the three (maybe) friends have found each other Kuss comes pretty much bounding over to Roglič, who is facing the right way to be greeted, and he’s got a big smile on his face. You would guess that Kuss is very happy for Roglič to have won the stage. It’s a nice moment and it looks as if any potential tension has either been defused by this moment or simply didn’t exist in the first place and was in our heads all along (narrator: it wasn’t just in our heads).
Mid-hug, Vingegaard stretches out an arm to Kuss …
A pat on the head for Vingegaard
… and it comes at sort-of the natural end point of the Roglič hug. An arm on your shoulder post-stage could be anything. It could be a soigneur trying to offer you something, a press officer telling you what you need to be doing now, maybe someone from the race organisation trying to drag you off before you’re ready to get on the podium.
Vingegaard changes his pat to a friendly shake of the shoulder and Kuss realises it’s his other teammate. The American breaks into another smile, it looks like he readies for himself for another embrace, but just as soon as Vingegaard has shared a thimble of some of the famous warmth usually reserved for just his immediate family members, he’s turned back around and is chugging on his cherry juice. Kuss, left with no teammate to celebrate another day of domination with, has no choice but to simply pat him on the back of the head. Thank you, Jonas.
We’re not here to judge personality types (okay, we kind of are). And maybe it’s worse to be all pally-pally after putting the red jersey to the sword rather than Vingegaard’s more frosty, ‘Yeah, I wish I’d taken those extra eight seconds.” But it’s all just mad and honestly even if you’re getting bored of this madness and think we’re sticking the boot in I don’t even care! This is mad and I won’t be gaslit into not thinking it’s wrong to attack your very loyal teammate when he’s in the red jersey and on the cusp of victory. Anyway, on to tomorrow! Bet we’ll have another very normal stage!
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