Martin’s horror crash was just one of those things, but I heard one or two suggestions around me that riding over a manhole cover on slick roads was a racing cyclist’s version of Russian roulette. Tonight, one spin of the chamber took out an entire team.
Martin goes to the hospital. Haas, Cardoso and Fernandez limped home in varying states of disrepair. The other five riders milled around waiting for their fallen team-mates until it became clear they’d just have to make their own way to the line. It’s as complete a dismantling of a team’s plan as I can remember at a Grand Tour.
Last night, the volume control in Belfast city centre put Martin on a par with Deignan, Roche, Evans and Kittel … but his Giro is over before it’s really begun. Koldo Fernandez is gone, too, cruelly time cut after getting back on his bike and hauling his battered body to the line. Even the policemen turned and watched the unfolding disaster on the big screen, reflective yellow jackets beaming discordantly through the gloom of a Belfast evening.
Incredibly, it could have been worse if the fourth rider in line had come down. Imagine trying to get five to the finish if over half your team is sitting on the tarmac.
Dan Martin’s not had a smooth preparation for the Giro, after crashing within spitting distance of doubling up at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. A story in the Irish Independent suggested a family feud with his uncle Stephen Roche, which both have dismissed as rubbish. Bad news is always supposed to be delivered in threes, isn’t it?
I was on the finish line, looking down the straight for the next team to finish when the commentators roared with horror. A group of Irish fans, and they were proper fans because they seemed to have ditched the hospitality to stand in the drizzle, were wearing flimsy plastic ponchos over their nice clothes. Somehow, the two ladies managed to pull off the look.
One, tall and glamorous, just stood with her hand over her mouth. I could make out her muttering: “No, no? He’s OK, surely? No …” The older guy beside her just looked resigned. Dreams interrupted in an instant.
The Indian author, screenwriter and speaker Chetan Bhagat said: “Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. If things don’t go as planned or if you face failure. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger.”
They built the Titanic here, just behind the area of the starting ramp. On its launch it was the unsinkable monument to ambition, and mastery of materials. No hubris in Martin’s dreams of winning the Giro. No shame in taking the acclaim of a home crowd. It’s just that real life isn’t a happy resting place for dreams.
The Titanic Experience building is shaped to resemble four giant bows facing north, south, east and west. The construction dwarfs the riders as they roll forward to put their dreams on the line. In fact, it overwhelms nearly everything else on the local skyline around Abercorn Basin. Even the famous Harland and Wolff shipbuilding cranes, Samson and Goliath, are like spindly cousins.
In every other team hotel tonight, riders will watch Martin’s accident and think: “Thank God that wasn’t us.”
The omens were that something would go wrong today. Adam Hansen was the only Lotto-Belisol rider to come round on the correct side of the barriers when we walked to the first section of the course we saw this morning.
Every race is a question of risk management. Managers, riders, directeurs, masseurs … all do the best to ensure that the outcome is more positively evaluated than the risk of the endeavour. When that subjective measure doesn’t work out, you’re left disappointed.
Everyone starts with hopes and dreams. The gauging of success is all relative. Cycling is one of those quirky sports, maybe the only one, where you can finish dead last everyday for three weeks but you help your leader win. Success. Personal yardsticks can be hours of a difference between professionals on the road. You can try your hardest for three weeks to win the Giro and come fifth. Disappointment.
One man who knows disappointment is Joaquim Rodriguez, who has had a Giro torn away from him on the final stage. Funnily enough, it was by one of the guys who survived the Garmin-Sharp sinking tonight, Ryder Hesjedal. Purito is back to try again but the rains came just as his Katusha boys got going. Well over a minute shipped to his rivals already. Disappointment.
Lampre-Merida hold an impromptu post-ride dissection in the middle of the road after losing almost a minute and a half. Damiano Cunego’s career has disappointed many, but seemingly not himself so much. The little Italian has a different point of reference to others …
Michele Scarponi has known disappointment, too, at least some of it self-inflicted. A ban here, a Giro victory there. And still he keeps going, even with young Fabio Aru sitting quietly in the wings.
There is plenty of time for those teams who didn’t live up to expectations tonight to make amends between now and Trieste on June 1st, but we’ll all apply our own judgements … success or disappointment? Dream or nightmare?
While Martin fell, others navigated the twists and turns of the city centre and the drag out and back to Stormont, the seat of the Northern Irish government. And if there was ever a symbol of dreams and disappointment, what better place for the Giro’s team time trial to turn for home?
Hopefully, once his wounds start healing and his physical aches become bearable, Martin will know that Chetan Bhagat, like so many others before him, is right. Handling what happened in Belfast tonight will make Martin stronger.