TTT The leisurely sun-drenched seaside city belies the heart-bursting effort of the team time trial thrashing through its streets. The riders seem calm enough on this opening day in spring-softened Spain, not yet carved by the sharp-end of hard miles, not yet carrying the heat and scars of furious grand tour racing. Not yet ready to accept where they’ve fallen in the overall results, numbers as meaningful to them as their names. But their legs must be coursing with blood-fire, quads as hot as supernovae, visors down to hide the wide-eyed viciousness of their test against the clock. They slice across the line by the beach, finally sitting up and drinking in the salty wind. We count the seconds. Some are short. Others, long. Survivals or disappointments, it doesn’t determine the race quite yet. We watched the teams leapfrog each other for the podium, as finished riders rush off to recover for the pedal-churning days to follow. For now, the serene sea continues to slap the sand and the spectators turn back to the sun. Stage 2 (with lines from Miguel Hernández) Carving a sinuous path through the cream-colored soil, the riders flash between dry hills under the soft sun. A swarm of blues, pinks, and yellows, rockets of purple and red and white, they make the dirt magnificent with color. Shimmering turquoise reservoirs are scattered like puzzle pieces throughout the patchwork of olive groves. With a taste of all suns and seas, Spain beckons you. But there will be no respite on the fast run-in toward the finish line. It seems absence can foster bravado, as a long-range attack flies from the front a little too far from the line. The winner of the first sprint stage will be the sharpest sword, conqueror of flowers and larks. Rival of the sun. A cool shadow of speed. Stage 3 It’s a shame we don’t see the iron-legged race beaten in shape across the blowing plains. Strong teams acting as hammers, using the wind as an anvil. The cameras are not yet flicked on to capture the ceaseless lactic-fed forge of echelon racing. We can only guess the point at which the hammer broke the molecular bonds of the bobbing peloton into the sharp nose-to-stem swords of struggling groups. We see a few dusty villages, gleaming white in the sunlight. But most TV images show short fields of powdery red and pale green, and the long ribbon of empty road unrolled between la cabeza de carrera y el grupo perseguidor. The day’s coverage unfolds without mystery. Already we know the results table will be shaken up like dice in a gambler’s cup. The unlucky will tumble from the top as if caught in a crash. The well-placed will save their race. And the strongest will rage red across the line, the wind unable to steal the wattage from her legs. Stage 4 Already deep green among the red soil, the trees and shrubs of central Spain spectate from roadsides and hillsides, waving in the breeze to the riders, rustling with gentle applause along the lonesome route. There’s a comforting beauty to the hilly day. Shadows splash across the dry road. A few breaks nose in front of the main group. The riders don’t seem to carry much stress. They steadily push big gears up to hilltop towns, power through plazas and plateaus. The team cars catch the dropped like butterflies in a net. It’s the type of day that makes the bike seem like a powerful machine, its spent fuel shining on the riders’ warm skin like the sun rays from the vast pool of sky. The type of day that makes the viewer stand at its end, stretch as tall as a pine, reach for the bike, run a hand along the cool saddle, shake the handlebars, and promise to ride. The type of day that gifts us an unending desire to pedal to new heights.The type of day that leaves us feeling as strong as the red jersey. Stage 5 If we don’t see it, did the peloton ever split in half on the mountain as if a storm-battered ship on a cold sea? The mountain rises like a rogue wave on the course profile. A single spike of red cresting above smaller troughs. It’s there, we know, a truth of tree and rock and tarmac atop an undulation of earth. But we don’t actually know. We don’t know how deeply the suffering was etched on the riders’ faces. We don’t know where the sails snapped and the wind was lost. We don’t know how desperately the pursuers clung to the hull of the race as they began to drift downwards, gasping, overcome by the climb. When we find the riders on the plains, they’re separated into the chasing and the chased. It’s slightly unconvincing now that we see it. Like skipping ahead to the conflict in a dense novel. What led us here? How hard earned were these seconds? The engines of the chasers are slowly building steam. Those at the bow of the race keep their eyes on the horizon. Another road rears upward. A small stitch of black in a blanket of greening mountain forest. Another wave that will dash apart what’s left of the groups until the riders roll one-by-one across the line as if they’re shipwreck washing ashore, indistinguishable from grains of sand. Stage 6 Some things are inevitable, I suppose. A headwind when you’re at your limit. The body’s desire for the comfort of sun, coolness of rain, or just the touch of air. That your successes will only outweigh your failures in their joy. That the world champion will dig uphill for kilometers, a sprint-like attack to shed all at her wheel. I didn’t expect such an escape. I should’ve known better. To win any grand tour, you’ll need to take every advantage you can. The power of the rainbow jersey seems back, until an unexpected bridge is made. A master and apprentice vibe persists to the line. The two lithe climbers strain at the pedals, wringing as many watts as possible from their frames for the top step on the podium. I suppose it’s inevitable, too, that the new generation will always at some point surpass the present. At the end of the stage, another inevitability: the red jersey will land on its final set of shoulders tomorrow. Anything’s possible. Stage 7 It’s a day of shadow and light among the lush mountains. Sunlight spills into the valleys and lower slopes. Fog blankets the summit’s rocky outcroppings. The clear, cold rivers are rushing toward the sea. The riders are rushing toward the sky. The peloton passes the early kilometers as if in a boiler— the heat of anticipation building and building and building. One last climb, one last attack. All that’s left in legs. The last few kilometers angle upwards into the softness of the mountain’s obscuring mist. Ears fill with drumming heartbeats. The moment can wait no longer. Rounding a corner, the red jersey loses the wheel—and it’s power, power, power up the hard percentages. The clock starts at the line— the overall victory is in the balance. One second, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…
What a brilliant report of this race!