Blazin' Saddles

Blazin’ Saddles: Matteo Montagutted

Blazin' Saddles

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Whatever he did on Thursday stage 18, Italian Matteo Montaguti found himself thwarted and chastised by his fellow escapees.

His primary target for the day was quite simple: pick up as many points over the summits as possible to keep Frenchman David Moncoutie under pressure in the KOM competition.

But somehow he ended up being the poor boy bullied by everyone in the playground.
Not only did Montaguti have to cope with the physical battering he took at the hands of Moncoutie's expert Cofidis team-mate Nico Sijmans, he also found himself the butt of an assorted barrage of feisty admonitions from the likes of Sergio Paulinho, Robert Kiserlovski and, most of all, Joaquim Rodriguez.

Presumably they were having a pop at Montaguti for not contributing to the longevity of the break - but that's ridiculous. The leaders, none of whom were a threat in the GC, had more than 10 minutes on the peloton - there was no way they weren't going to stay out till the end.

What's more, Montaguti had no interest in winning the stage - he was only ever going to contest the summit crossings. Why would he, then, feel the need to pull on the front?

He was like an ugly bloke in a nightclub filled with beautiful women: he knew he was never going to pull, but he wasn't going to help any other random punters get their end away - especially when he knew that his best mate was waiting in the queue outside.

As it was, the Italian's chief critics would have probably smirked when Sijmans repeatedly picked up maximum mountain points over all but one of the summits.

Still, Montaguti started the morning 22 points down on Moncoutie, and he's now just seven shy of the veteran Frenchman's spotted jersey. As there are still 34 points up for grabs in the Basque Country, Moncoutie is far from assured of winning that fourth successive KOM title.

Saddles thought it was a bit rich for an irate Rodriguez to admonish Montaguti for essentially doing his best to win mountain points - when 'Purito' himself was going about his business to ensure he won both intermediate sprints and move back into the green jersey.

Could Rodriguez have felt a little threatened by Montaguti - worried, perhaps, that he might go over the Cat.1 Puerto de Alisas and then stay out ahead to take the sprint points at the bottom?

What's more, why would Montaguti contribute to a group in which two riders - Kiserlovski and Rodriguez - were a threat to the GC position of his Ag2R team leader Nicolas Roche?

Roche was obviously concerned enough about the situation to launch his own counter attack from the peloton - along with Dutchman Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) - and as it turned out, Kiserlovski did move above the Irishman in the overall standings.

So, in summation: Montaguti was trying to conserve his energy so he could take points to win the polka dot jersey and thus stand on the podium in Madrid - a feat no one except Moncoutie has achieved since 2007.

It was a 10-man group and so there were ample other rider who could chip in.

Rodriguez wanted Montaguti to help him win the intermediate sprints needed for the Spaniard to take back the green jersey.

Rodriguez also got rather cheesed off when Montaguti refused to help extend the lead of the break to the detriment of Roche, who was actually actively trying to cut that deficit himself.

Um, call Saddles silly, but did 'Purito' et al have any legs to stand on? Their bickering was risible - and once Paulinho pinged off the front (in yet another display of the pot calling the kettle black) it almost thwarted any chance the chasing riders had to reel in the lone Portuguese.

What the whole subplot of Thursday's stage did prove, however, is that the real drama of three-week Grand Tours often lies beyond who wins the day's stage or who leads the GC.

A great a win as it was for the yellow-toothed Francesco Gavazzi, his break in the last couple of kilometres was not the most exciting thing on the road - while despite all the pre-stage natter about Juanjo Cobo's slender 13-second lead, that proved totally irrelevant in the end.

As it was, it was the fight for the two other main jerseys, plus a series of spats between unnecessarily but understandably hot-headed riders that saved the rugged stage 18 from being a non-event.

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