Sagan finishes the job after huge effort from his team
Bora-Hansgrohe pulled-off a masterclass to set Peter Sagan up for his first stage victory of the race.
Not deterred by what happened this time a week ago (when, despite having dropped so many of their rival sprinters, they failed to bring back Taco van der Hoorn before the finish) the team once again set about trying to drop the pure sprinters on today’s climbs.
These climbs were hardly severe, with only one category four and another few uncategorised rises, yet Bora managed to set such a fierce pace that threats like Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) and Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) were taken out of contention.
Giacomo Nizzolo bravely tried to catch back up on the descent with his Qhubeka Assos team-mate Victor Campanaerts, but once Bora-Hansgrohe received some help from Israel Start-Up Nation, who were harbouring hopes for their sprinter Davide Cimolai, he too had to sit up and give up the ghost.
The concern now for Bora-Hansgrohe was whether they had burned too many of their domestiques, and wouldn’t have enough for the lead-out, but a great turn in final kilometres from Maciej Bodnar kept Sagan well-positioned.
It still wasn’t a done job, and Sagan had to be top sprinting form to get the better of Cimolai, Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Cofidis), who had all survived the climbs. But the Slovak handled the pressure like it was nothing, and sprinted for victory to claim a second career Giro d’Italia stage victory.
All change in the points classification
By distancing so many of his rival sprinters on the climbs today, Bora-Hansgrohe succeeded not only in delivering Peter Sagan to stage victory, but also putting him into maglia ciclamino as leader of the points classification.
Tim Merlier had been in the jersey after inheriting it from Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) following the Australian’s abandonment a couple of days ago, but he scored no points today after being dropped; neither did Nizzolo, who had been second place in the classification.
Sagan leads now, but it remains tight at the top, with Gaviria and Cimolai moving up to second and third, both just 17 points behind Sagan.
Whether or not Gaviria and Cimolai challenge for the jersey may come down to a question of intent. Neither contested the intermediate sprint today, indicating that the classification isn’t their priority, but might show more interest now they have moved up the classification, especially as a stage win has so far eluded the pair.
Despite getting his sprint at the end of the stage wrong today, Viviani, too, can’t be discounted from contesting the jersey, and is just 12 points behind that pair. He’s shown more desire to compete for the jersey, winning the sprint for points in the bunch today at the intermediate sprint.
But as we know from his multiple green jersey victories at the Tour de France, Sagan is a master of winning these classifications. Now he’s got the jersey, it will be very difficult for anyone to take it from him.
Resilient Gaviria’s nearest miss so far
Fernando Gaviria’s ongoing attempts to win a stage has been one of the subplots of this year’s Giro, and today was his narrowest miss yet.
It was also one of his more conventional approaches towards trying to win. Having been blocked by his team-mate UAE Team Emirates Juan Sebastián Molano in the first bunch sprint of the race, and not quite being up to speed in the following sprints, the Colombian tried to catch everyone off guard on stage seven by launching his sprint very early, and, when that too failed, even got himself into the breakaway on a climbers’ stage the following day.
Even in the sprint today, he took an unorthodox method. Rather than follow his lead-out man Molano, Gaviria held back and waited, choosing instead to follow Sagan’s wheel.
It looked as though it might have been a clever ploy, as Sagan was forced to close the gap to Molano and start his sprint early, but Gaviria didn’t have the legs to pass him on the finishing straight.
In hindsight perhaps the finish line was closer than he anticipated, and he’d have been better off following Molano’s wheel, but their lead-out has been dysfunctional all Giro, ever since the incident on stage two.
On the bright side, this was Gaviria’s best performance so far of the Giro, and a sign that he’s got the legs to win a stage — but he’s rapidly running out of chances to do so.
Evenepoel and Bernal battle for bonus seconds
This was not a day for the GC contenders, but that didn’t stop Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) from fighting for every second at an intermediate sprint 18km from the finish.
With the day’s breakaway already caught, and no ciclamino jersey points on offer at this particular intermediate sprint, Ineos Grenadiers and Deceuninck-Quick-Step decided to lead it out in the hope of earning their GC leaders an extra three seconds.
And what a battle it was. Ineos’ Filippo Ganna put in a huge acceleration to open up a small gap ahead of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step riders, but Evenepoel managed to close the gap himself, then put in his own acceleration as the line approached.
Ineos Grenadiers then responded by having Jhonatan Narváez emerge from Bernal’s wheel sprint and pip Evenepoel at the line — although in hindsight that might have been a tactical error from Ineos, as in denying Evenepoel one second, they also denied Bernal a second too.
But are we really going to be talking about single seconds come the final in Milan? It seems very unlikely. Still, this was nevertheless a fun bit of drama that demonstrated what great engines both Bernal and Evenepoel have on the flat, and a tantalising prelude to the battles to come between the pair after tomorrow’s rest day.
Should the peloton have been made to wait at the rail crossing?
Rail crossings are a rare but tricky variable in bike races, that can be a nightmare for both race organisers trying to preserve safety and avoid controversy, and riders trying to race in the heat of the moment.
Just think of Paris-Roubaix, and the alarming scenes in 2015 when the riders recklessly scrambled to ride through as the barriers were coming down on a crossing, and in the 2006 edition, when Leif Hoste, Peter Van Petegem and Vladimir Gusev were demoted from second, third and fourth for riding through one.
Although there were no such dramatic scenes today, the breakaway quintet might have felt aggrieved at having to wait at one for almost a minute as a train passed through halfway into the stage, while the peloton experienced no delay when they reached the crossing shortly after.
It certainly didn’t seem fair that the peloton wasn’t made to wait the same amount of time, but, according to the rules, the fact the peloton didn’t catch the break during the wait means it was deemed a mere ‘racing incident’, and therefore no action was taken.
Perhaps those rules need a rethink, as they could lead to a real sense of injustice in different circumstances, but the incident didn’t have any substantial effect on how today’s stage played out — the break was always very unlikely to succeed anyway, especially after Bora-Hansgrohe laid the hammer down on the climbs.
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