Rest day babies, PlayStation addicts and ice buckets: The weird and wonderful Vuelta

Tales from the bike race not about the bike race.

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The opening half of racing at the Vuelta a España has been excellent. Thrilling breakaway gambits, Remco Evenepoel stating his intent in the red jersey, not to mention Sam Bennett’s stirring comeback.

But now the spectre of Covid-19 rises once more, more than 20 riders are already out of the race with positive tests at the just-past-halfway stage of the race.

Instead of dwelling on the looming anxiety of more forced dropouts, how about some off-the-beaten-path whimsy from the opening week and a half to help us forget about the bad things?

So, on the menu this Vuelta is a rider who nearly derailed his career with an addiction to his PlayStation, the quiet indignity of the Quick-Step AlphaVinyl ice baths buckets and the most timely baby likely ever born into the sport of professional cycling.

Alexey Lutsenko with the most punctual baby of all-time

Everyone knows that Grand Tour rest days are for easy spins, recuperation and lying horizontally for most of the day. But Alexey Lutsenko is not everyone.

After a weekend of punishing summit finishes and before Tuesday’s individual time trial, Astana-Qazaqstan’s Lutsenko found the time to have a baby. Well, his partner was doing the ‘having the baby’ part, but Lutsenko managed to excuse himself mid-Grand Tour to be there for the birth of their child.

“Our family got bigger, welcome Alexey,” Alexey Snr wrote on Instagram, announcing the birth of a son that shares the same name as him. Other details are thin on the ground. The Lutsenko’s live in Monaco, which begs the question of whether the family had a meticulously scheduled labour induction planned around the two 1,000km flights for dad to come back east from western Spain before then flying down to Alicante after his son was brought into the world?

This seems the most plausible explanation. And having finished third last, 30 minutes down on the Sunday before the trip home, it makes sense that the 29-year-old had other things on his mind than finishing in the front group. A respectable 56th in Tuesday’s time trial suggests Lutsenko is back to business, and if he manages to win a stage this race, having already featured in the breakaway a couple of times, it would cap off a Vuelta campaign like no other.

The king of the mountain (and playing PlayStation until 5am)

Burgos BH’s Victor Langelotti, an early wearer of the king of the mountains jersey this Vuelta, is a man of firsts. He is not only the first Monegasque Grand Tour rider but also (probably) the first professional bike rider to have suffered a two-year long addiction to the football video game FIFA, as told by Relevo.

In 2018 he joined Burgos BH and started living on his own as he begun his professional cycling career. What began as a hobby to while away a few hours a day soon consumed him. “I broke with my social life. I played FIFA from breakfast until I went to bed at five in the morning,” Langelotti said, his girlfriend worrying about his obsession. “I became an aggressive person. Every time I lost a match, I would get angry and break things.”

In 2020, his father offered him a lifeline of the chance to race in the European Championships. This was the wake-up call he needed, losing 15 kilos and selling all of his games consoles. It felt like starting from the beginning again but the 27-year-old worked his way up to win a stage at the Volta ao Portugal earlier this month before making the squad for what would be his debut Grand Tour.

Quick-Step AlphaVinylBigBlueBucket

If you had the pleasure of hanging around the Ineos Grenadiers bus at the Tour de France, you would have spotted the lovingly-prepared ice baths set up by the soigneurs for the riders to enjoy post-stage. These were premium paddling pools that allowed the likes of Adam Yates to recline, propped up against the inflatable edges, a relaxing if bracing way to wind down after another day of racing.

A month or so later, Quick-Step AlphaVinyl have brought their own, distinctly less fashionable version to the Vuelta a España.

In a style befitting the rugged Belgian-ness of Belgian cycling, the likes of current race leader Remco Evenepoel have been seen folding themselves into big blue buckets, in what makes for a bizarre-looking scene.

It’s clear, however, as you can see in the photo above, that no-one loves an ice bath bucket as much as Pieter Serry. Just look how relaxed he is.

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