Dainese a surprise sprint winner
More than two years after his last victory, Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) is a winner again.
While stage eleven of the Giro was always likely to be one for the sprinters it’s safe to say that few would have predicted the 24-year-old as the likely victor at the start of the day in Santarcangelo Di Romagna.
After the race, Dainese stated that the team’s original plans were to ride for their other fast man, Cees Bol. But somewhere along the road to Reggio Emilia the plan changed.
Heading into the final 500 metres, you’d still have had little idea that Dainese was even in the picture, let alone with a chance of the win. But as Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), who had gone early, began to tire and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) finally appeared to have the win that had so far eluded him at the race, Dainese used Simone Consonni (Cofidis) like a slingshot to take it on the line.
The lack of any real sprint trains was evident in the last kilometre of the race, and the loss of Michael Mørkøv (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team), who left the race due to ilness, will have surely hurt team mate Mark Cavendish, who finished the stage in sixth place, behind Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal). From here on in it's slim pickings for the sprinters and on today's evidence, it would be hard to argue there's a clear favourite for Friday's stage into Cuneo.
In the post-race interview Dainese did his best impersonation of a rabbit in the headlights, his expression encapsulating the extent of his, and everyone’s, surprise. Not only was this his first win since stage one of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in 2020, it was also his maiden grand tour victory, in his home country no less.
“I can’t believe it happened,” he said. He’s probably not the only one.
Italy finally get success in home race
The tifosi are no longer on mute.
Daniese’s surprise victory gave Italy what it wanted, some would say needs, at every Giro d’Italia. A home win.
Up until the last few nanoseconds of today the home crowds had little to cheer about. And while the numbers of the roadside were there, the frenzied fervor one normally associated with the tifosi, had been missing.
After Sunday’s stage to Blockhaus there seemed to be just as much fuss being made about the lack of atmosphere on the mountain as the action that unfolded. While the Tour de France now seemingly draws as many fans from other countries than it does France, helping to create atmosphere no matter who’s at the head of the race, the Giro is very much still a race for Italians. And therefore it relies to some degree on the native riders to inject interest into both the race and those who follow it.
Certainly the performances of home favourites Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) have been underwhelming thus far, although Nibali is still in 13th in the GC, some 3,04 back of the lead, and will surely hunt for a stage win somewhere along the way.
Likewise, home fans should be encouraged by the gritty exploits of Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux). The 39-year-old is the best placed Italian in the race, currently sitting eighth in GC, less than a minute from Juan Pedro López (Trek-Sagafredo), who leads the Giro standings in pink.
Daniese’s win will certainly light a fuse under the tifosi and both Nibali and Pozzovivo, along with the other Italian's in the race, will surely benefit from a reinvigorated fan base.
A quiet-ish day for the GC contenders
The eleventh stage of the Giro marked the halfway point of the race and the pan flat parcours provided the GC riders with some much needed respite - at least for the first 100 kms.
Heading into today’s stage the top ten riders in the general classification remained close, with just 1,22’ separating them. The small time gaps have made for aggressive racing to date with those in contention for the maglia rosa looking to pick up seconds where they can. Yesterday’s stage to Jesi, won famously by Biniam Girmay (Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux), was a case in point, with Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Mikel Landa (Bahrain - Victorious) all attacking during the final 20 kms on a stage that looked, on paper at least, to be a day off the GC.
The Giro is referred to as the hardest race in the most beautiful country and this year has proved no exception. Despite a lack of high altitude mountains and summit finishes to date, the racing has been hard and attritional, with only stage six allowing the GC contenders an ‘easy’ day in the saddle.
The fight for seconds did see Carapaz win the second intermediate sprint to move him up to second in the standing, now 12s behind the maglia rosa of López .
An upping of pace, and a fight for position at the front of the peloton, during the final 100kms meant that it wasn’t entirely stress-free. This is a Grand Tour after all, where history has shown time and again that switching off can prove fatal to one's GC chances.
However, all of the race’s main protagonists survived unscathed and will hope perhaps for two more stages of relative calm before a weekend that will likely provide a shake up, or at least a thinning out, in this tight GC race.
Threat of crosswinds impacted race tactics
Predicted crosswinds in the final 100km of the 201 km stage saw the race come to life after the peloton turned right out of the city of Bologna. The upping of pace was dramatic, with both sprinters and GC teams coming to the front as they looked to protect their charges from any potential splits in the pack.
While the crosswinds and echelons didn’t fully materialise the looming threat was enough to turn the stage from sleepy to spirited.
The two-man breakaway of Luca Rastelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè) and Filippo Tagliani (Drone Hopper - Androni Giocattoli) was swallowed up at the 92 km mark, their lead reduced by over three minutes in less than half an hour. Tagliani continued the Drone Hopper tradition of sending men into the break as team owner Gianni Savio looks to get airtime for his numerous sponsors.
A few minor splits did occur, with Ewen among those caught out at one point.
Nerves remained high with Ineos Grenadiers, Alpecin-Fenix and Groupama-FDJ pulling for significant periods. Ben Swift was a notable presence for Ineos, demonstrating the vital role a road captain plays, as he pointed out road furniture and kept his charges safe.
Alpecin’s Dries De Bondt attacked with 58 km to go and managed to get a minute on the bunch. As an attack it seemed hopeless more than hopeful, with the peloton being pulled by several teams with an interest in contesting a sprint finish or keeping GC men safe. Remarkably he held on. And on. Incredibly the Belgian rouleur wasn’t caught until 1.2km to go.
Biniam Girmay fails to start the stage
Yesterday Biniam Girmay made cycling history. Today he was forced to leave the Giro after taking a prosecco cork to the eye celebrating his stage win that saw him become the first Black African in history to stand atop a Grand Tour podium.
The impact of Girmay’s win will continue to make noise; its significance for Eritrea and for cycling as a whole is pronounced, a significant step made in a sport that has struggled to be as inclusive as it should, and must, be. But in terms of this year’s Giro, his presence will be sorely missed.
His departure had repercussions in the race for the ciclamino jersey, where he sat in second just three points behind the points leader Démare at the end of stage ten. It also robs the Giro of one of its most exciting riders who would have surely animated stage fourteen in Torino that resembles, on paper at least, a short version of a hilly Ardennes classic.
However, most important is Girmay’s health and there was some good news to balance the bad before the start of today’s stage.
"Unfortunately I won't start today, because my eye still needs a rest,” said Girmay. “I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. Thanks everyone for all the support. Things are going well now. I'll see you soon."
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