Alocada Odisea Ciclista en Javalambre – Etapa para Kuss en Javalambre, rojo para Lenny, el día del gran festival del Jumbo en la Vuelta a España
Roglic and Vingegaard attack in the final kilometers against a isolated Evenepoel, who concedes half a minute and yields the leadership to the French climber
Desolate terrain, unforgiving lands, dusty air like something out of a Wim Wenders film. The peloton advances towards the Pico del Buitre, shattered and worn. Small groups of survivors. Everything seems slightly uphill. Deceptive slope. True headwind. Supersonic speed. Nonstop. More than 40 kilometers per hour on average on a mountainous and rugged terrain. The cyclists who have sweat, even the weaker ones, the rookies who will never forget this experience, have fallen behind. The peloton is deserted, just like the villages they pass through. Sarrión, Albentosa, Manzanera, Torrijas, Arcos de las Salinas. Hidden beneath this barren landscape lies the solitary wealth of black truffles. A region ripe for a rebellion that Jumbo, with its cheerful colors and its people everywhere, turns into a festival akin to Eurovision, at least. Songs and victories. Sepp Kuss emerges as the winner.
The French rider, grandson of Mariano Martínez, the Frenchman from Burgos, son of the Olympic champion Miguel Martínez, fell at the very beginning of the stage. Later, as someone who knows that this will be his day no matter what happens, he follows orders and stays at the front, attentive to breakaways, splits, and when an echelon splits the peloton forever, he’s there. In his place. He’s 20 years and 51 days old. He is 252 days younger, 20 centimeters shorter, and 30 kilograms lighter than Miguel Indurain who, since April 1985, held the record for the youngest leader in the history of the Spanish tour. Also, Ayuso is 20, almost 21, who seems like a veteran due to his composed behavior in critical moments –”it’s mental work, not physical; you have to endure,” for his control when attacking, and 20 since February, the new Belgian who arrives and perseveres, Cian Uijtdebroeks.
It’s the Vuelta a España. It’s only the sixth stage. Sepp Kuss, the dedicated workhorse of a teammate, triumphantly crosses the finish line alongside the telescopes of the Javalambre Astrophysical Observatory, reminiscent of the recent August supermoon, despite the pain and the wounded eyebrow, all part of his Jumbo team’s strategy. Four kilometers from the summit, at 1,946 meters, Roglic and Vingegaard launch a tandem attack. Mas and Evenepoel suffer, champions turned crisis managers. Ayuso shines. Differences are measured in mere seconds in the standings, in the spirit of victory, in the disposition of defeat, in fatalism, in optimism; they carry a significant weight. Ayuso loses seven seconds to the happy duo formed by the Slovenian and the Dane, the last Giro winner and the winner of the last two Tours, hand in hand. Mas trails by 24 seconds; he hangs on with them until the road rises in the final 800 meters and he exclaims, “they’ve cracked me, but I’m content,” granting them 24 seconds and allowing his teammate Oier Lazkano to cleverly muse about Rajoy’s philosophy, the former president’s reflections on the possibility of the impossible, the impossibility of the possible, the void.
A colder, clearer analysis would allow Evenepoel, the outgoing winner, with a face as red or even redder than the jersey he relinquished to Lenny Martínez, to think that, deep down, the day hasn’t gone too bad for him. He’s faced a crisis, “heavy legs,” he says, “watts that refused to launch” when his will and muscles demanded them, “it’s been my worst day,” he has shed the burden of the red jersey, both he and his rather limited team, and he has only lost 32 seconds. This allows him to stand ninth in the overall standings, ahead of all his rivals, thanks to the accumulated time in the team time trial and the bonuses: he leads Mas by 3 seconds, Vingegaard by 5 seconds, Roglic by 11 seconds, and Ayuso by 19 seconds. “And the best part,” he adds, “is that I recovered and was able to accelerate in the last two kilometers, and I still had something left in my legs.” Nothing that can’t be rectified on Tuesday during the time trial in Valladolid, after conquering the Xorret del Catí and Caravaca de la Cruz hills over the weekend, and weathering the threat of isolated depressions in the atmosphere and their downpours.
Summer is languor, not swatting mosquitoes, Samuel Barber said when criticized for his summer quintet’s slow pace. The Jumbo team, who warm up in the bus parked in Vall d’Uixó before the start, with the air conditioning on full blast, could limit its scope, specifying that indeed, a relaxed reverie, tell me about Ireland’s problem, but not every day in July or August. On some Tour or Vuelta day, one must emerge from the shade and strike, not mosquitoes, which are, indeed, Evenepoel’s concern, along with bonuses and such, but rather giant flies, and with cannon fire. Not a woodwind quintet, but a brass quintet. Trumpets and trombones when the wind splits the peloton and four of them are at the front of a massive group of 40, uncontrollable for the peloton: Dylan van Baarle, the man from Roubaix, who extends the solo effort but in moderation –”it was beneficial for us to isolate Evenepoel behind and maintain a sufficient lead to win the stage, but not too big because Lenny and Landa and Marc Soler were with us, and they could pose a threat to the final podium,” Kuss explains–. Tratnik, Attila Valter, as barbaric in his efforts as demanded by the name of Buda’s brother given to him by his parents. And Kuss, everyone’s friend, the climber from Durango (Colorado) married to a Catalan, always smiling, always available in Spanish and Catalan, wins the stage on his way to achieving a feat that no cyclist has accomplished before: being part of the teams that have won all three Grand Tours in the same year. He was with Roglic in the Giro. He was with Vingegaard in the Tour, and he finished both races in good positions. In the Tour, in Andorra, he was a source of frustration for Valverde for a year. And he’s with both of them in the Vuelta, the race where he first began to shine, at Acebo in Asturias, four years ago. “I don’t know if I’m the team’s talisman,” says the man who may not bring luck, but certainly brings strength.