But what's in the can? Some kind of flat Fanta? Photo: Getty Images

Tin foil hats at the ready for Vuelta a España’s moment of madness

False flats and melted goo on the Grassy Knoll in Spain.

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Stage 16 was the sort of Vuelta a España stage that the Spanish designed siestas for.

Flat, two riders from wildcard teams up the road, and a couple of bumps towards the end to ensure the day isn’t a total washout. But when the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič are the race’s protagonists, there is rarely ever the prospect of a truly quiet day.

Almost as soon as Evenepoel had flatted and Roglič had crashed, cycling was transported into a Jason Bourne-esque world where deceit lies around every corner, where the UCI have traded their Aigle headquarters and set up shop in Langley, where the peloton rides over grassy knolls daily, and Dave Brailsford eventually promises to actually take humanity to the moon for real this time in a marginally more efficient way.

After Roglič unleashed all of the pent up sadness from many nearly-than reaches for the Tour de France yellow jersey, looking to fill that very specific hole with a fourth Vuelta a España red jersey, Evenepoel flatted. The race had gone bananas, groups all over the world and the race leader waiting patiently within the sanctuary of the 3 km banner for a new wheel.

From a couple of images, on first inspection, the wheel didn’t necessarily look as flat as a flat tyre could look. From these few angles, this flat tyre would not be getting a nomination into the Hall of Fame for Flat Tyres™.

It is fine to think this, to question what you see and ponder whether it is true. The caveat for people in possession of a Twitter account is the overwhelming urge to transfer every and any internal thought into a published brain fart that will exist in the online ether forever and ever.

Having been out of position on the climb as his nearest rival soared off the front to tear into a precarious 90-second lead, accusations started flying that Evenepoel had faked his flat tyre, to take advantage of the 3km rule. As far as objects of mass exerting a gravitational pull on cycling’s online conspiracy theorists, Evenepoel is bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and Birds Aren’t Real all rolled into one.

GCN’s Adam Blythe, in the heat of the battle that is immediate post-race analysis, also took the plunge.

“It’s just all a little too convenient that right at the bottom of that climb, and we never saw him up towards the front. As you can see, both wheels are pumped up and he’s pedaling fine, so what is the problem with it?” Blythe said. “He can pedal on the bike. I don’t understand what the problem is. His handlebars are fine, he’s not hit the deck, so I would like to know.”

Soon, footage emerged of Evenepoel’s bike with a clearly flat back tyre. Adam Blythe on his walk to his hotel from GCN’s studio quickly issued a clarification.

“I had a puncture on my rear wheel and I wasn’t in the best position,” Evenepoel clarified after the stage. “I was a little bit scared in the last 4-5km. I wanted to move up on the steep bump but my rear wheel just went off so I felt like I had a flat tire. I am happy that the 3km rule exists, otherwise, I would have lost a lot of time today.”

Evenepoel will compete for headlines this evening with Roglič’s finish line crash. Taking care to ensure the Slovenian didn’t miss out on any attention from the two-wheeled tin foil hat brigade, journalist Daniel Friebe, like an impish Spanish false 9, floated the idea that a multi-coloured smudge on the road had perhaps put paid to the three-time champion’s quest for a fourth title.

Alas, Roglič was about a meter further to the right when he went down.

“Before it all gets a bit Grassy Knoll,” Friebe followed up, posted a reply debunking his offering to the chemtrail gods, “seems there are better sleuths out there than me.”

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