Ewan as quick as ever to claim stage victory
Any doubts about Caleb Ewan’s form were categorically put to rest after a devastatingly fast sprint saw him win stage five.
On stage two he was caught well out of position, and on the following day he was dropped out of contention on the climbs, but despite these problems there’s clearly nothing wrong with his finishing kick.
What was most impressive about his win today was how he recovered from coming into contact with Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix). While the clash was enough to end Merlier’s chances, Ewan not only managed to keep his balance, but also get back up to speed to in succession fly past Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka Assos).
The difference in speed between Ewan and the others was extraordinary, and suggests there could be more wins to come at this Giro d'Italia if he can again get into a position to sprint.
But whatever happens from now, it’s mission accomplished for Ewan, who’s aim this year is to win at least one stage in all three of the Grand Tours.
Landa crashes out
A largely uneventful stage burst into life in the worst possible way as crashes blighted the finale, with Mikel Landa being the most high-profile victim.
A piece of road furniture about 5km from the end brought a premature end to what was shaping up to be a very exciting race for the Spaniard.
Landa looked both in great form and eager to make an early impression at yesterday’s stage, where his attack sparked the action among the GC favourites on the final climb, and he gained time over all but four of his GC rivals.
The signs were that Landa (who has promised so much since finishing third at the 2015 Giro, but has yet to make a Grand Tour podium since) had one of the best opportunities of his career to win a Grand Tour, especially with a strong and committed Bahrain-Victorious team all-in to support.
But as four of the team’s riders who had dropped back to help him reached the finish, they were without Landa, who abandoned the race and had been taken to hospital via an ambulance to treat what was said by his DS to be either a damaged wrist or shoulder.
The team at least has Damiano Caruso and Pello Bilbao to fall back on for a GC challenge, but for Landa this was yet another bitterly disappointing end to a Grand Tour.
Nizzolo the eternal bridesmaid
What does Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos) have to do to win a Giro d’Italia stage?
The Italian narrowly missed out on crossing the line first as Caleb Ewan stormed past him with just metres to go, having also finished second in the previous bunch sprint of the race on stage two.
This is hardly a new situation Nizzolo finds himself in. Extraordinarily, he’s now finished runner-up at Giro d’Italia stages on eleven different occasions, and on the podium another five occasions, without yet ever having won a stage.
His runner-up spot today and the twelfth-place finish of Tim Merlier does at least put him in the lead of the points classification, but there’s an irony in the fact that he remains incapable of winning a stage despite centring all his efforts in trying to do so, while inadvertently leading a classification he isn't even really trying to win — he did not even bother going for points at the intermediate sprint on stage two.
His ongoing struggles to win a stage could become one of the subplots of this Giro, and no doubt the whole of Italy will be willing him to at last achieve what he’s now spent years trying for.
Blow for Ineos Grenadiers as Sivakov out of GC contention
As well as Landa, yesterday’s stage winner and current King of the Mountains leader Joe Dombrowski (UAE Team Emirates) also came down in crashes during the finale.
Unlike Landa, both were able to finish, but did so battered and bruised having lost whole heaps of time on GC.
Given his form at the Tour of the Alps, where he finished second on the queen stage and sixth overall, a high overall placing here looked on the cards, but there’s no chance of that any more now that he’s lost over thirteen minutes.
The 23-year-old had similar misfortune during his last Grand Tour appearance at the Tour de France last year, where he crashed hard and lost over ten minutes on the very first stage, but still dug deep to battle on all the way to Paris.
The best he and Ineos Grenadiers can hope for now is that he can recover from whatever injuries he sustained (the TV cameras revealed a cut on his right arm) and provide support as a domestique in the mountains.
A quiet intermission between GC battles
It’s fair to say that stage five was, apart from the finishing sprint itself and the unwanted drama of crashes, a bit of a bore. The wind didn’t blow enough to become a factor, and the absence of any climbs meant there wasn’t the same intriguing battle between the breakaway and the peloton, and between the pure sprinters and Peter Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe, that characterised the stage won by Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) a couple of days ago.
But now that’s out the way, tomorrow we can enjoy a renewal of the GC battle that burst into life yesterday with the race’s first proper mountain top finish.
If yesterday’s climb to Sestola is anything to go by, then four GC contenders are currently stronger than the rest: Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Alexander Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
But as the first and so far only uphill finish of the race, it’s far too early to draw many conclusions from that, especially given how short the climb was, and the unusually cold and wet weather.
Stage six's climb of San Giacomo should give us a better indication. At 15km long, it is the first lengthy climbing test of the Giro, and therefore more emblematic of the kind of climbs that will ultimately decide the fate of the pink jersey. If the hierarchy that formed at Sestola forms again and the same riders who came out on top there again go well here, we can really start to talk about them as potential winners of this race.
One thing is for sure: there will be far more action and excitement than stage five...we promise.
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