WorldTour Wrap: slippery skinsuits, Bernie's balloons and the hipsters' hero at the Tour de France 2017 - Road Cycling UK

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WorldTour Wrap: slippery skinsuits, Bernie’s balloons and the hipsters’ hero at the Tour de France 2017

The silliest race in all of cycling is back - and what an opening weekend it was

It’s back! It’s back! The silliest race of all in a sport that specialises in sublime silliness has returned. 

Can you feel it? Let it wash over you. Ahead of us are three intensive weeks of complete chaos at the Tour de France. Drink it in. It’s time to once again open a new browser tab and click onto the live feed of your choosing. Then, as soon as your boss is looking the other way, surreptitiously insert one headphone into your ear and instantly find yourself transported into the greatest travelling circus in the world.

Thanks to the genius decision to televise every glorious minute of the Tour this year, we can now watch from eleven in the flipping morning every day. No work is being done in July. The sooner your employer accepts that, the happier they’ll be.

With just two stages under our belts, things have already got pretty weird. Here are some of the high points thus far.

The opening weekend of the Tour de France saw Team Sky’s in yellow (Pic: Sirotti)

Slippery customers

The 2017 edition of the Tour began on a rainy day in Düsseldorf. If that sounds like an obscure Pogues B-Side, have no fear, it’s not. What it is is a recipe for a TT that was at once disastrously dangerous and incredibly dull to watch. You see, most of the GC men clearly felt that it was far too slippery out on the course to really risk attacking the turns, while the relatively short length (just 14km) meant riding conservatively would not lose you too much time. So the majority of riders took it very easy. None more so than Rigoberto Uran, who got it in the neck a bit from the Twitterati.

This caution was all well and good, but it did make for some terribly boring TV. And lets not forget, every, single, minute of the stage was televised.

Hoping to bring some pep to proceedings and maybe steal a match on their rivals, some riders did go for it. And they almost all immediately crashed.

Alejandro Valverde, Primoz Roglic, Ion Izagirre, George Bennett, Nicolas Roche, Luke Durbridge and Tony Gallopin all hit the decks during their runs, with Izagirre and Valverde forced to abandon on the day and Durbridge finishing, but eventually withdrawing a few kilometres into Sunday’s second stage.

In retrospect, it might have been better to abandon this particular TT and do something a bit safer to determine who would wear yellow on the first day proper of the Tour. Here are some suggestions for next time this happens.

Tiddlywinks

A game universally beloved around the world, and virtually zero risk of smashing ones patella into smithereens a la Alejandro Valverde.

Thumb wars

Don’t ask me how you’d organise a 198-man thumb war tournament, I’m just the ideas guy.

Just how much does Tony Gallopin weigh? (PIc: Sirotti)

Guess the weight of Tony Gallopin

Now, sure, everyone in the Tour taking it in turns to guess his weight could be a little demeaning for Tony, but I’m sure he’d prefer this to skidding across the asphalt into a metal crowd barrier at 30mph.

German sausage eating competition

I think this idea really has legs because it introduces a tension between the rider’s desire to get a good GC ranking, vs not wanting to consume too much sausage and end up being weighted down on arrival in the Pyrenees.

Skinny winnies

There was some consternation among certain teams after stage one, particularly focused on the special white skinsuits being used by Team Sky for the ITT. Surprisingly, the objections were not due to white lycra’s tendency to go a bit see-through in the wet, but rather that they gave the Sky riders some kind of unfair advantage.

Team Sky’s skinsuit came under scrutiny after Geraint Thomas’ victory on stage one (Pic: Sirotti)

With Welshman, Geraint Thomas, winning the stage for Sky, plus Vsail Kiryienka, Chris Froome and Michal Kwiatkowski all in the top eight, it certainly seemed like the British team was doing something right.

The skinsuits, so the story goes, are designed for riding in the wet and could give an advantage of as much as 20 seconds to the rider over a 14km TT. The race jury did not uphold the complaint, made by FDJ, about the skinsuits in the end, proving that ‘being well prepared for the conditions’ is not against the rules of the Tour de France. Not yet, at least.

Bernie’s on balloon watch

This GIF is perhaps the most magical moving image I have seen come out of a bike race. We’ll never know exactly what was going through Bernie Eisel’s head in this moment. In truth, we don’t even know how he came to be holding these balloons. The conventional wisdom says he darted ahead of the peloton to clear an obstacle out of the path of the oncoming bunch, but some of us, we choose to believe the unconventional.

Could Bernie be carrying these balloons as a gift to his wife, or more intriguingly, a secret squeeze who lives in Liege? Did he individually inflate all of them himself as something to do on a dismally dull first half of stage two? Did the balloons belong to the Orica-Scott rider seen at the beginning of the shot and Bernie has stolen them like a playground bully?

We will never know. Unless we ask him. I guess someone could just ask him.

The philosophy of Taylor Phinney

There were more chutes in Sunday’s stage two, with the biggest pile-up coming 28km from the line when a Katusha rider near the front of a charging peloton went down, setting in motion a domino effect that brought down some of the biggest names in the race. Both Geraint Thomas, wearing the yellow jersey after his TT win and overall favourite, Chris Froome, were brought down, plus Romain Bardet, last year’s runner up, and German TT specialist, Tony Martin.

While all this was happening behind, up front in the day’s breakaway Taylor Phinney was claiming the first polka dot jersey of 2017 in his own debut Tour de France. The American rider has long been held up as the hipster’s bike rider of choice and with remarks like these we can see why. The whole vid is great, but skip to 1:25 to hear his beautifully simple reason for refusing to wear a radio when racing.

Phinney also claims to enjoy the slippery and more dangerous wet-weather conditions experienced on Saturday, for a similarly pragmatic reason.

Truly, he is the Beat Poet cycling so desperately needs.

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