Fun in the sun, after a lot of rain
With stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia heading towards the seaside town of Bibione it was very much a race to the sun, with rain teeming down in Noale when the riders set off.
Bob Jungels’ pink jersey was nowhere to be seen, because it was stashed safely underneath an Etixx-Quick Step black rain jacket for the vast majority of the stage, while thick gloves were the order of the day elsewhere.
Most amateur cyclists would have sacked off a ride in such conditions, especially a 180km pan flat one along very long, straight and quite uninteresting roads.
But the professionals didn’t have that option and so they just got on with it. Two riders got out in front even though they had absolutely no chance of staying away as the peloton kept them on a tight leash until they could be bothered to reel them in.
Luckily, though, the rain eased up as they reached the coast and the finale was able to be played out in the sunshine by the sea.
The general classification was neutralised on the finishing circuit
There was a lot of consternation before and during the stage by riders and members of the media about the challenging, and possibly dangerous, nature of the eight-kilometre finishing circuit – especially if the rain hit Bibione.
The perfectly smooth roads, with an abundance of road markings, would have made the technical circuit pretty lethal in the wet, but even in the dry the race jury decided to neutralise the general classification on the penultimate crossing of the finish line.
This meant that the team leaders only had to sit at the front and mix with the fast men for the first lap and three-quarters before peeling off and easing to the line, letting the sprinters battle for the stage win.
Of course, the GC men couldn’t ease off completely – they’d run the risk of getting lapped if they spun to the line at 10kph and who knows what would have happenend then.
It was a safe decision, meaning that the sprinters could go full gas on the final lap and not worry about a GC team getting in their way in order to keep their man safe. In the end it probably wasn’t necessary, but it potentially avoided a nasty and race-changing situation.
Still no luck for Ewan
Caleb Ewan was a pundit’s favourite to walk away from the Giro with at least one stage win, but instead he leaves empty handed, finishing second to Andre Greipel on the line.
At one stage on the sprint it looked as if the little Australian might blow past the hulking German, but Greipel used his vast experience to ease Ewan towards the barrier and block him off without changing his line.
Rather than sprint straight at the start line, Greipel aimed at a slight angle towards the barriers on his inside having sensed that Ewan would try and go that way. Had he made a sudden movement towards the barrier he would have been demoted for impeding Ewan, but Greipel knows better than that.
So instead of having a situation like we saw with Ilnur Zakarin and Nairo Quintana at the Tour de Romandie, where Quintana was belatedly awarded the stage after making a protest, Ewan had no complaints and rolled over the line in second place.
Caleb Ewan discusses his sprinting technique
Where are all the sprinters going?
Kittel, Greipel, Ewan, Viviani, Sacha Modolo, Arnaud Démare, Giacomo Nizzolo…all of them were present for stage one, and now unless you’re Italian (or French, in Démare’s case) you’re on the first plane out of here after stage 12.
To be fair it’s not a good time to be a sprinter, with some huge mountain stages coming up in the next few days, including Sunday’s mountain time trial, but the organisers will surely be disappointed that their red jersey competition is being devalued.
Greipel had a pretty strong lead in the classification after his third win of the race, sitting 31 points clear of Nizzolo, but the German will depart the race tonight and hand over the jersey to the Trek-Segafredo rider.
Nizzolo’s 26th top 10 finish without a win
One of the best stats to come out of stage 12 is that Nizzolo is on a great run at the Giro d’Italia without actually winning a stage.
Twenty-six times he’s finished in the top-10 on a stage in his career but he’s never actually won a stage in his own right. That could change now, though, that most of the sprinters are heading home.
The Italian is now the overwhelming favourite to win the sprint classification – inheriting the red jersey from Greipel – for the second year in a row, but I’m sure he’d love to add another trip to the podium to pick up some champagne to his list.