What is it about the solo win that so endears it to our sprocket-shaped hearts? The French call it, simply, to win with ‘no one else in the picture.’ It’s the pinnacle of our sport, in a sense, a victory achieved by a display of unanswerable superiority, by a ride of such strength and sustained power that quietly builds with each successive pedal stroke.
It culminates, second by second, stroke by stroke, in perfection. It is, without question, art. Quiet it may be as it develops, the solo ride to the line, but there is a point at which it reaches a crescendo that cannot be ignored, a moment of crisp and deafening clarity, when the uncertainty of the endeavor tips over into the definite.
Into the absolute, from fiction to fact, out of a dream, and into reality.
‘Yes, he’s going to do it!’
That is always a delicious moment, for the rider, spectator, team director and, well, everybody involved. It’s all about the risk involved, beating the odds, putting yourself on the line and pulling it off.
And so to Adam Hansen went the spoils after a ride that will live long in the memory, especially in his. You sensed it on the run-in, when he was still accompanied by Sella, you could see it in those long thighs as he cranked up those hills. From those first few images you had a sense that this might just be his day.
But surely the more diminuitive man would prevail on the climbs?
Yet whereas Sella pushed and strained to get his big gears turning over those small, vicious little climbs – which in reality should have suited him – the big Aussie got out of the saddle and just looked very much up for it. And was he ever.
So yes, a great display by the Lotto-Belisol man, but it was not one simply of brute strength, but one of maturity and a great depth of experience, not to mention skill.
First off, he had to get into the break, something that involves many more elements than you can discern from watching on television. In fact, as Hansen rightly said after the stage, “Getting into the breakaway is one of the hardest things in cycling.”
If you’ve never raced that statement may seem a little fanciful. After all, you just have to go to the front and then go fast for a bit, right? Well, in essence yes, but when you consider that on any given day there are another 30 to 40 guys who also want to get away, then it gets a tad more difficult.
Factor into that the various competitions going on within the race, for the overall lead, for the sprint jersey and the KOM competition (and for new, better contracts for the following season) and then you have riders marking each other and not wanting to let the ‘wrong guy’ get away.
Added to that you have the inter-team rivalries as well as inter-peloton rivalries, and weird, random dudes who just hate your guts, or your shoes, or your haircut, and take that as justification for messing you up – not to mention friends who would like to get away with you but you’d rather sometimes they didn’t – and it gets even messier in there.
That’s Adam at kilometer zero trying to get in the break. He wouldn’t succeed until more than 25km later of attacking riding.
Hansen, once in the break, worked hard to keep it away then began to turn it up, sensing his legs were good and knowing that the best policy, with a group coming and hills ahead, is to simply push on. On flat roads you need the others for the slipstreams more, but on ups and downs that benefit is negated somewhat.
There, it comes down to who can go the fastest and for how long.
Hansen had his doubts, that much was obvious, especially when he called up the Commissaire’s car to get a time check to the chasers after Sella crashed. He had the option to strike for the line but instead eased up to allow the Italian back on, thinking he had a better chance with him than without. Yet by the next hill he knew the small man was more hindrance than help and calmly despatched him.
It was brave yet something he had little choice but to do, so much better were his legs than his companion’s.
The maturity and experience came in the way he climbed from then on in, pushing a high cadence and keeping the pedals moving, avoiding the lactic acid build up and the onset of tightness that a heavier gear would have risked. In the position he was in, many guys would have lost their heads and started going for power, thinking about the gap and the chasing pack bearing down.
But not Hansen. He stuck it in a nice gear and kept his power in reserve for those dips and the last flat few kilometers where he knew it best serve his bid for victory.
Heavier riders, even the pros, sometimes make the mistake of trying to fly up an incline, driven by the fear of losing time, but then suffer over the top and then suffer on sections where they should be able to go hard. The muscles contract and get heavy and they begin to hurt, whereas they should play to their strengths and max it on the sections that truly suit them.
On a 2km climb, going steady and conserving energy, you might lose 15 or 20 seconds to a chase group but on a 10km flat, with heavy legs and a stressed head, you can lose a minute or more, and with it the victory.
We should also note the conditions in which Hansen and the pack finished the race. The wet roads brought down several very accomplished bike riders, none more so than Vincenzo Nibali, and of course Bradley Wiggins, who will have to light up the tarmac today if he’s to have a realistic shot at the overall.
Hansen rode within his limits, pushed when he knew he could and eased off when he sensed the risks unwinnable, and put on, it has to be said, one hell of a display.
“The whole time I didn’t believe it,” he said at the end. “I thought the bunch would come back. When I heard my lead was still 2 minutes 30 seconds with 6km to go, I thought: ‘it’s real, this time I’m bringing it home.’”
Brilliant, beautiful, and very big. Great ride, Mr. Hansen.
Lee Rodgers leads a double life as a pro racer on the UCI race circuit with the Lapierre Asia Cycling Team, competing in the UCI Asia Tour as well as some European events and the likes of the Tour of Qatar and Oman, rubbing shoulders with the best the WorldTour has to offer, whilst keeping up a day job as a cycling journalist. The highlight of his cycling career so far was winning the Singapore National Champs – road race and ITT – as well as claiming the Green Jersey at the 2.1 Tour de Taiwan in 2012, and naturally, writing for PEZ. His writing appears in several magazines and websites and you can catch up with him regularly on his blog, http://crankpunk.com/