All posts by megabicicleta

Bikes! I'm an expert blogger at TheRoar.com.au This site is a collection of my writing and photography, some which is published elsewhere and some which is original. I tweet at @megabicicleta Tim.

Rowdy.

This is the story of my father David, a man with a lifelong passion for cycling that was so strong, it actually led to him missing the birth of his first child.

This was before the times of mobile phones, of course, and he was squeezing in a few days’ cycle touring and camping somewhere along the Murray River. When I decided to make my appearance into the world a month early, it was several days before he could be found and informed that he was now a father, and that he should get back to Melbourne to face my mother, who had driven herself to hospital and spent several days trying to convince the nurses that she did actually have a husband.

I forgave him for missing my birth, but he can’t have been too repentant: I (much) later found out the old bastard missed my first birthday for the same reason. In fact many of my childhood birthdays involved driving to meet my Dad in country Victoria, where he’d be touring around the backroads with a bunch of schoolkids, showing them the beauty of the outdoors on two wheels. As a result, I had Great Victorian Bike Ride souvenir t-shirts for most years in the 1980s. He was a teacher, and along with some of his colleagues and parents he would take groups of kids on cycling expeditions a few times a year. When I was old enough, about 12, I was allowed to come on a few trips, fully loaded with a tent, sleeping bag and clothes in panniers on my heavy steel mountain bike.

David, universally known to his students as ‘Rowdy’, rode his Bob Jackson touring bike to work every day for 25 years, with students’ assignments for marking in his Carradice saddle bag (he’d order a new one every decade or so). This was a time when riding to work was a pretty weird thing to do, and he was regularly shouted at from passing cars, had bottles thrown at him, and even the occasional egg. His disdain for fashion and preference for utility over appearance probably contributed.

His other bike was a Jack Taylor tourer, in Reynolds 531. He didn’t ride it as often, preferring the cheaper Bob Jackson for reasons he never fully explained to me. He’d bought both bikes while living in England in 1976-77 after his parents had passed away. He lived in Cambridge, a paradise for the bicycle tourer, worked in a bike shop, and toured the countryside with the local touring club. At one point he did the John o’Groats to Land’s End (the length of Great Britain) ride.

In 1991 he introduced the family to the Tour de France. It was Indurain’s first Tour victory, and the 30 minute highlights package on SBS every night captivated me and my sister for the next decade. As you can see, I’m still captivated.

Never a racer, in his forties he discovered Audax, starting off with 100km rides and quickly building up to longer rides in pursuit of brevet cards. Audax clearly captured his imagination with its spirit of determination, independence and mental and physical challenge. A wiry man with a strong mind, he was well suited to long distance cycling. As his rides got longer he realised his old touring bikes were holding him back, and he finally treated himself to a new bike.

His Vetta road bike was a beautiful Italian machine made right at the zenith of steel framebuilding, just as carbon fibre was beginning to appear in the pro peloton. It was beautifully hand-painted in the Italian way, with ovalised tubing, plenty of chrome and Campagnolo components. The thing wasn’t just pretty, it was stiff and smooth and comfortable and fast. Once or twice he let me ride it, and I felt a million dollars, the impression of effortless speed and that intangible feeling of a quality steel frame left an impression on me that remains today.

By this time, I was old enough and strong enough to go on some big rides with him. We rode up Falls Creek together, my first big mountain climb. We did the Audax Alpine Classic (I did the 130km, he did the 200km) and I shot off at the start like the teenage idiot I was, virtually collapsed over the finish line in Bright, and saw him fly effortlessly past on his way to Mt Buffalo, looking as fresh as a daisy.

With his kids growing up, and a new bike to enjoy, Rowdy now had the time to really test himself. He finished the Audax Alpine Classic 200km several times (he wasn’t fast but he knew how to pace himself all day) and stepped up to really big rides, including the Fleche Opperman, a 24-hour team time trial where the team designs its own route covering at least 360km. His best attempt netted a 430km route.

IMAG1501
David (in blue) with his Vetta on an Audax ride.

In 2001, he decided to skip the Alpine Classic and stay home for the long weekend. On the Sunday morning, the 28th of January, he went out for a ride with two friends, the regular ride down Beach Rd to Frankston and then back to St Kilda, and home.

He never came home.

At 9:30am he was hit by a car in Brighton, and died instantly.

The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel on her way home from an all-night party, drifted across four lanes of traffic and collided head on with the three cyclists, killing my dad, putting his friend Hugh Lowy (the father of one of my closest friends) into intensive care for a few weeks, and barely touching the other rider.

That was 15 years ago today.

The driver of the car, Lynette Satalich, was charged with culpable driving and spent 18 months in prison. I bear her no ill will, I know she has suffered from her mistake ever since. In court it was clear to us that her life had been broken just as profoundly as ours had, or more. Over the years since she has gone out of her way to campaign for greater care from drivers, giving a number of interviews on TV and in print imploring others to take care on the roads. I respect her for that, it shows great courage.

I barely touched a bike for five years after Dad was killed. I just couldn’t really deal with it, the fun of cycling was gone. It was 2006 before it began to return, an impulsive purchase of a Fuji road bike rekindling my enjoyment. Carbon fibre! Dad would have marvelled!

I moved to London in 2007, following the footsteps of my parents who had both done the same in their 20’s, before they’d met, and the bike became my transport, my sport and my network of friends. Slowly my passion for the bike returned, through repetition as much as anything else.

Today, I am still reminded of David every time I step over a top tube, which is often. My own love for cycling came from him, but I express it in my own way.

I know that he affected others, too. I’ve met many of his former students over the years, who remember him fondly. My surname is not common, and he taught hundreds of people over the years. Several have told me they went on his bike trips. Two of them are fathers of kids at my cycling club. I am never sure if they know he is dead, or how he died.

I am still angry that he is gone, but thankful for what he taught me, and I know that paradoxically his death made me a better person.

I am angry that fifteen years later, cyclists are still killed unnecessarily on the roads, and that virtually nothing has been done about this. I am incensed by the cavalier attitude of too many drivers, who don’t give a moment’s thought to the responsibility they owe to others.

His loss still affects me, my sister and my mother profoundly. My daughter, who will be born any day now, will never know her grandfather. My sister is distraught that Dad will never meet her son, but is determined that her little boy will grow up knowing about his missing grandfather.

Of course his life was about much more than cycling, but I suppose it has become the most salient way I connect with his memory.

Today I hope that David would be proud that his bad luck has not destroyed the love for cycling he spent twenty years diligently building in me. I honour his memory every time I race, every time I push hard up a climb, and I give a silent nod of thanks every time I ride past the place on Beach Road where he fell.

Today, I honoured his memory in a simple way that he would love: I rode to work.

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When Froome comes to Melbourne…

Chris Froome is coming to Melbourne to race at the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour.

This is massive news for the race, and for the profile of cycling in the Australian media. It’s a promoter’s dream, the reigning Tour de France champion, in a humble Victorian stage race!

The Jayco Herald-Sun Tour is the oldest, but least prestigious (according to the UCI) of the three big races in Australian cycling’s summer.

It starts on February 3rd, just a couple of days after the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (January 31) which itself follows the Tour Down Under (January 19-24).

Froome’s Team Sky will be racing both the Tour Down Under and the Cadel race but the the Tour champ will sit them out, saving himself until the last.

But why would the Tour de France champion travel halfway across the world to roll around with a bunch of Continental teams, in a (relatively) lowly race?

Don’t get me wrong, the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour (or just the Sun Tour, if you’ve been around a while) is an important race on the Australian cycling calendar, and it has a great history going all the way back to 1952.

2015 winner Cameron Meyer (OGE) in the Prologue
2015 winner Cameron Meyer (OGE) in the Prologue

History aside, in the present day it’s a UCI 2.1 race plonked at the very beginning of the UCI road season. A useful shop window for up-and-coming local riders like Nathan Haas or Calvin Watson, whose victories in 2011 and 2013 provided a springboard into the World Tour. An ideal chance for local riders to test themselves against a smattering of internationals.

But the Tour de France champion? Surely he’s above all this? Wouldn’t the Tour Down Under be a better race?

Not necessarily. Froome generally likes to show good early-season form at the Tour of Oman, which he has won twice, and which comes just two weeks after the Sun Tour, but four weeks after the Tour Down Under. Four weeks’ gap is too big to provide a proper tune-up for Oman.

The Tour Down Under also brings an undeniably higher intensity than the Sun Tour, and more international scrutiny. Far better to ease back into racing, away from the attention of the global cycling press (most of whom will be in the Middle East covering the Dubai Tour in the first week of February).

The prologue, which starts in Federation Square and finishes at Southbank, returns in 2016.
The prologue, which starts in Federation Square and finishes at Southbank, returns in 2016.

The race route for the Sun Tour will present enough challenges, particularly Stages 1 and 2 which both roll through the beautiful hills around Warburton (the area will be very familiar to any Melburnian rider worth their salt); and Stage 4 with its three climbs of Arthur’s Seat. And yet the stages are short, by World Tour standards.

The warm weather will be a much better preparation than training in Europe, the scenery and food will be a highlight, and with Team Sky likely to spend half the year at altitude in the bored seclusion of Tenerife, I’m sure he’s in no rush to go there.

Team Sky will have no Australian riders on its squad for the first time in its history, but a visit from Froome will more than satisfy the local branches of the team’s sponsors. Jaguar dealers around the country will already be shaving down in preparation.

Chuck in a couple of weeks seeing the sights, training in the hills around Adelaide, perhaps a trip to the Victorian Alps for a look at our best climbs, and it’s easy to see how a visit to the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour strikes a perfect balance between training camp, easing into early-season racing, and pleasing the team’s backers and fans.

The bigger picture is that cycling, our humble little sport, now has a fighting chance of holding its own in the nation’s sports bulletins and newspapers for a solid three-week block at the height of summer.

This is great news for sponsors, TV broadcasters, team owners, racers and even your average recreational rider who just wishes more people understood.

It means casual fans who watch the Tour but not much else will come down after work in Melbourne’s CBD to watch the prologue, see one of their heroes up close, and see some great bike racing in person. They might even make the trip down to Arthur’s Seat for the finale, to see him climbing and soak up the atmosphere with the local cognoscenti.

With Team Sky racing, it won't be a toss-up between Aussie cycling's two biggest teams, Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac.
With Team Sky racing, it won’t be a toss-up between Aussie cycling’s two biggest teams, Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac.

It means that every NRS rider with ambitions of making the leap to the pro peloton will be licking his lips at the prospect. If Froome sometimes rides like a man fighting an octopus, wouldn’t you love a chance to be the octopus?

It’s fantastic news all round. The race director, John Trevorrow, must be pinching himself.

Should we expect Froome to arrive in top form and blow everyone away? I wouldn’t count on it, he’s obviously got much bigger octopuses to fight, but just having such a global superstar on the start list is one of the best things ever to happen to the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour.

Don’t miss it.

The Turbine: review

I reviewed the Turbine, an Australian-invented gadget that goes up your nose and claims to increase airflow and improve performance, for Techly. Click through to read the full catastrophe. WARNING: gratuitous snot references abound.

The Turbine makes pretty big claims about improved airflow, and celebrity endorsement from the likes of Tour de France champion Chris Froome, but Techly isn’t convinced that the fairly messy trade-offs are worth the marginal gains.

Read the full review at Techly.

Update: The crew at Rhinomed have contacted me with a research paper showing that during high intensity exercise, nasal breathing accounts for ~27% of all air intake. If we take Rhinomed’s claim that the Turbine can increase nasal airflow by ‘up to’ 38% at face value (and I will) then we’re looking at an increase in your overall airflow of ‘up to’ 10%.

That’s all well and good, but I’m still skeptical that it would result in much of a performance increase given that we still haven’t accounted for cardiac output, haematocrit, and peripheral factors (getting oxygen from the circulatory system into the muscle cells) further down the chain. There’s a reasonably clear summary here, but to summarise further, “some researchers have concluded that 70-85% of the limitation in VO2max can be attributed to maximal cardiac output“.

In other words, even if you can get a 10% boost in overall airflow, your aerobic capacity is probably being held back by your heart’s ability to pump enough blood, and your blood’s ability to absorb and transport oxygen. Getting 10% more air into your lungs is meaningless if your red blood cells are already saturated with oxygen and your heart can’t pump blood any faster.

And that’s before we get into efficiency and lactate threshold.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 21 I can’t believe it’s over edition

Looking forward to some sleep, actually.

5. Van der Breggen wins the best race of the day

Yes, the women’s race La Course by TDF was on as a curtain-raiser for the remains of the men’s peloton, but it was a better race. The weather was ordinary and the cobbles were clearly a death-trap, forcing riders to corner in a manner familiar to Melbourne commuters who have to cross tram lines in the wet.

And yet there were plenty of spirited breakaways, not least from Aussies Gracie Elvin, Lizzie Williams and Amanda Spratt trying to soften the race up for Orica-AIS teammate Emma Johansson.

Apart from all the cheering, there was much waggery on Twitter about this:

Of course the Rabo-Liv hegemony would not be denied, and Anna van der Breggen went off solo with a lap to go, and held on to win in an absolute thriller as the bunch sprint unfolded a few metres behind her.

4. Another top ten for P. Saggy

I am genuinely disappointed that Sagan couldn’t add to his tally of 11 top-five finishes this Tour, but 7th is still pretty handy.

You just know that Sagan will be hungover for days, and I’ll just assume he’s never heard of Bon Scott.

That’s his fourth consecutive green jersey, at the age of just 25, and you could make a fair argument that Sagan was the most involved rider in this Tour, despite not winning a stage.

3. Look, not much happened, can we skip #3?

OK, OK, I’ll mumble something about champagne and Team Sky in special kit with yellow accents that made them look like a team of European wasps.

2. Froome didn’t stack

When I saw the weather and general mayhem of La Course. I thought to myself, “Gee wizz, this men’s race is going to be full of crashes if the conditions don’t improve. That’s not ideal if the yellow jersey has an accident and breaks his collarbone and can’t finish the race” and stroked my beard.

The organisers must’ve thought similar things, in a more Gallic fashion (perhaps stroking their baguettes) and so the GC was neutralised virtually as soon as the race was onto the Champs Elysees (i.e. the racing was just for the stage win, with no risk of late scratchings from the Big List).

That meant there was no panic when Froome ended up out the back behind the cars in the final laps, and it meant he could enjoy the last few corners with his teammates, safe in the knowledge he couldn’t lose even if he stayed out there all night.

1. Greipel

Hey, I like Greipel. He seems like a quality dude. And he’s had a flaming amazing Tour, winning four out of the five stages available to the pure sprinters (and coming 2nd on the one that Cavendish won). He was easily better than Cavendish, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Sagan, Coquard, Matthews, Demare, Bouhanni…

He beat everyone handsomely all Tour. It’s his first win on the Champs Elysees and his 10th Tour stage in total.

Chapeau.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 20 Alpe d’Huez edition

What happened? What didn’t happen, more like.

5. Chris Froome didn’t lose the Tour de France

It was never the most likely outcome, but as I said yesterday Froome hasn’t been looking all that fresh over the last few days so there was an element of risk.

When everything went a bit psychedelic on the Croix de Fer (Stage 20 remix) and attacks were going up the road like firecrackers, anything seemed possible. When it all came back together in the valley to Bourg d’Oisans, it was clear that Sky had things well in hand.

Froome should buy Wout Poels a very nice Jag as a thank you gift, as without his perfectly executed tempo riding in stages 19 and 20, Froome might’ve been in deep trouble. Today, Froome also had Richie Porte doing a big job of work (#sherliggettisms #drink etc) making sure Quintana didn’t get off the leash until it was too late to change the final outcome.

When Quintana did attack, the team didn’t panic. Instead they reverted to their training and rode at threshold to the finish, knowing that it would be enough to secure victory.

Exciting for the fans? No. Effective? Extremely. Yes, Froome dropped more time and another day in the Alps might have been enough to cause real palpitations. But there isn’t another day in the Alps, so.

4. Nearly Nairo just adds to the expectation

Nairo Quintana is a freak. Not just because of the way he climbs (a lot of guys can climb like him on their day) but more because he always looks far better in the third week of a Grand Tour than in the first.

He’s done it in two Tours and a Giro now. Probably he’s just better at maintaining his levels as everyone else is slowly collapsing, but that’s the trick with Grand Tours.

After what felt like an eternity of waiting for him to attack, it finally came, but too late to change the overall result. The assault on Alpe d’Huez was one to remember though, even if he fell just short of catching Thibaut Pinot for the stage win, and a bit further short of stealing the Tour from Froome.

Fairly or not, this will still be remembered as a Tour of ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ for Quintana.

Woulda won if he hadn’t dropped 1’24” on stage 2. If he hadn’t lost 1’04 on stage 10 to La Pierre-Saint-Martin. If he’d attacked earlier on stage 19.

Whatever. That’s racing. Froome was better over the duration. But the sensation of Nairo’s unstoppable rise shows no sign of abating. He was 4’20 behind Froome in 2013, and only 1’12” in 2015.

The anticipation for next year has already started.

3. Nibali’s puncture hands Valverde his first Tour podium

You may think that a puncture at the base of Alpe d’Huez is karma’s punishment for riding off on Chris Froome yesterday, but Vincenzo Nibali is likely to argue it just goes to show that when the race is on, there are no favours.

Whatever your point of view, there’s no doubt that the flat tyre came at the worst possible moment for the Astana man. It crushed any chance of attacking Alejandro Valverde’s third position on GC.

This meant Valverde will earn his first Tour de France podium – which seems odd after more than a decade of the Spaniard lighting up the race. It was a consistent performance from Movistar’s number two man, demonstrating that dual leadership is not necessarily a problem for the team, if managed well.

Movistar director Eusebio Unzue has been in the game for over 30 years, and has managed seven overall wins at the Tour (including the difficult transition from Pedro Delgado to Miguel Indurain in 1991). He knows what he is doing.

So does Valverde, and he shadowed Froome up Alpe d’Huez like a perfect team player, guarding his own place on GC without doing anything to the detriment of his young leader up the road.

2. Vintage Pinot

Redemption for Thibaut Pinot, whose Tour has been one of misfortune and missed opportunities. After a shocking first two weeks, he recovered some form to claim top-five finishes on stages 14, 17 and 19.

His effort on on Alpe d’Huez, the most prestigious of all summit finishes, was something special. Ducking through rabid crowds wielding costumes, flares, beers and flags like weapons, attacking Ryder Hesjedal repeatedly until he was finally alone, riding on adrenaline and fumes in the knowledge that Nairo Quintana was coming up fast from behind.

It was a victory to savour, and for the third consecutive time a French winner on the famous Alpe.

Start the debate: was Pinot or Romain Bardet the better French rider of the 2015 Tour de France?

1. The Alps

The Alps smashed the Pyrenees for excitement this year. Perhaps it was due to their placement so late in the schedule, with riders exhausted and many climbers knowing their GC chances were finished.

In any case, the winners on stages 17-20 (Geschke, Bardet, Nibali and Pinot) all won with rides of huge daring and strength, while the GC battle finally sparked into life behind them.

In the end, the GC battle was much closer than it looked for the entire Tour. Perhaps one more day in the Alps would have changed the result. We will never know, but for my money the four days in the Alps elevated the Tour above this year’s Giro, the first time I’ve said that since 2011.

BeardysCaravan.com is now live for stage 19 featuring 3 big climbs from yesterday’s stage. #BeardysCaravan #Tdf #tdf2015

A photo posted by Beardy McBeard (@beardmcbeardy) on Jul 25, 2015 at 4:04am PDT

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 19

Gadzooks, what a stage! Attacks, bonks, controversy and the return of the former king.

5. Is the Sky falling?

The famously indomitable Gauls of the Asterix stories had only one fear: that the Sky would fall on their heads. Last night, Team Sky fell on their heads in France.

It was a short stage of only 138km, but it was on like Donkey Kong immediately on the Cat 1 Col de Chaussy, with no opportunities to warm up into it. Quite a lot of riders suffered.

The biggest loser was Geraint ‘Super G’ Thomas, who started the day sitting 4th overall, but was dropped on the Croix de Fer, losing 22 minutes and 11 places on GC.

Super G’s statement on Team Sky’s website simply said “I was just empty today. It was always going to happen and I was hoping it was going to come on Monday but it came today. I just didn’t have it, and as they say, sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail. I was a cheap nail today, terrible, but there you go. There’s only one mountain stage to go.

“It was such a tough start, and when you’ve got nothing in the legs there’s not a lot you can do.”

The deeper problem for Sky is that by the halfway point of the stage, with most of the day’s climbing still ahead of them, the only Sky rider able to stay with the leaders and support Chris Froome was Wout Poels.

Richie Porte, Thomas, Leopold Konig and Nicolas Roche were all nowhere to be seen.

Peter Kennaugh went home sick a few days ago. Has lurgy spread through the Team Sky squad?

With another massive stage tonight including another climb of Croix de Fer followed by arguably the most famous of all Tour climbs, Alpe d’Huez, they’ll need to lift again.

4. Nibali commits a sporting faux pas?

The defending champion appeared to deliberately attack the maillot jaune just at the moment Froome suffered a mechanical problem with stones stuck in his brake calipers.

The defending champion looked back at Froome as he attacked, which angered the probable 2015 winner:

“He did see what he was doing, I’m pretty sure he looked around, saw I was in trouble and attacked. In my opinion you don’t do that to the race leader, it’s not sportsmanlike. He had the whole climb to attack and he waited until I had a mechanical. You certainly wouldn’t find me attacking a race leader like that.”

Nibali was unimpressed, replying,

“When I looked back, it was to look at [his Astana teammate] Kangert. We did the race on the Col de la Croix de Fer and were planning to make a big attack,”

“Lots of things have happened to me too, but that’s cycling. When Contador crashed on the descent (to Pra-Loup) we didn’t know until three or four kilometres after. It happens a lot of times in races. I can remember when I crashed at the 2010 Giro d’Italia, at Montalcino. There was the incident when Andy Schleck was attacked by Contador at the Tour the other year. There are no rules….”

His next comment is more revealing of his real reasons for giving zero fucks what Chris Froome thinks of him:

“Froome, Valverde or Quintana always came after me when I moved, but I was down in eighth overall. Perhaps if Nibali rides well, it scares people”

Nibali clearly doesn’t feel like he owes Froome any breaks. To sum up his argument:

1. Correlation is not causation

2. Fuck you.

3. Nairo

The world has been waiting impatiently for some fireworks from Nairo Quintana, who needed to find nearly 3 minutes to take the lead of the race. Stealing that much time will take something daring, an epic long-range attack to really crack the leader and put him in the box.

It’s a tantalising prospect.

Nairo did eventually launch, but by waiting until the last 5km he could only gain 30 seconds – handy, but he needs another six of those and there’s only one more opportunity.

Should Nairo have gone earlier, with Froome isolated and not looking good? I think so.

Perhaps the anticipation of stage 20 tempered his ambition for today, but surely there’s no way he can gain 2:39 on one stage.

Even with Valverde providing support, there’s no reason for Froome to mark anyone except Quintana, unless things get really crazy.

I feel like this was a missed opportunity for the Colombian, even though he finally managed to reveal some cracks in the race leader’s armour.

2. Froome

Froome had a relatively bad day (even though he managed to take more time from Valverde and Contador).

He looked awful on the bike,

But he survived. Just. He virtually had to be carried off to the team bus as he crossed the line. He went really deep and with another very hard stage ahead, and a team that appears to be suffering badly from nearly three weeks in the lead, there is still the possibility that everything could be lost.

I still think he will win the Tour de France, but to my eyes there are a few riders looking stronger than Froome at this point, which might be a worry for the Team Sky brains trust overnight.

1. Nibali

Well, the defending champion has found some form, FINALLY. It’s as if the Tour came 10 days too early for the Italian, and he’s looking stronger as the race goes on.

This was a victory full of panache and guts. Yes, he was given some rope due to being far enough back that he wasn’t a threat to Froome or Quintana.

But he was a threat to Contador, whose Tour finally jumped the shark when lo Squalo jumped him and into 4th overall, with the podium in sight.

It was classic Nibali: aggressive, tough, pivoting off a rapid descent, then a sustained climb at tempo.

The emotion on his face at the finish showed what the victory meant after a very difficult Tour for the Italian.

He rides for a team that does his reputation no favours, but when he is on form he’s one of the most exciting racers in the world. Can he attack Valverde on stage 20 and salvage a podium finish from what looked like an impossible position a week ago?