Ackermann wins again
With a second stage win in four days, Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) has proven himself to be the man to beat in the 2019 Giro d’Italia sprints.
Although his Grand Tour debut was eagerly anticipated following impressive wins at semi-Classics like Berdene Koksijde and Eschborn-Frankfurt, the 25-year old was not widely expected to get the better of his more accomplished rivals Elia Viviani (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal). But so far, he has looked a cut above all of them.
A lot of talk heading into the race involved whether the German really merited to be selected ahead of Sam Bennett, who rode so well at last year’s race. However, Ackermann looks like he might even be able to eclipse the Irishman’s performance, needing just one more win to match his tally of three, while also currently being the front-runner in the points classification.
Things might get a little more complicated for Ackermann later in the race as he experiences the gruelling endeavour of a three-week Grand Tour for the first time in his career, so holding on to the maglia ciclamino will be a big ask, but whatever happens from here on in his Giro d'Italia is guaranteed to go down as a resounding success.
Elia Viviani looks in a bad way
This was supposed to be a triumphant Giro d’Italia for Elia Viviani. Returning after his exceptional five-stage haul from last year, and with a handful of high-profile wins already in the bag this season, the Italian looked all set to again dominate the sprint finishes, only this time with the extra honour of wearing the Tricolore colours of the Italian national champion's jersey.
However, ever since his victory on stage three was overturned for dangerous sprinting, Viviani hasn’t looked right. Yesterday he failed to make it into the front group after a split in the bunch, and today he was unable to get into the mix despite appearing to be in a good position.
This is an unusual situation for Deceuninck - Quick-Step to find themselves in, having dominated bunch finishes over the past two years, winning at least two sprints in each of the last six Grand Tours.
Their lead-out appeared to do a good job in today’s finale, as they set the pace at the front in the final kilometre, but Viviani lost his teammate’s wheel and faded away, finishing outside of the top ten.
There’s still time for Viviani to come good, but he cut an unhappy figure on the bike in the rain today, and looks in desperate need of a lift.
Fernando Gaviria comes close
There were only ever really two riders in contention for victory in today’s sprint finish - Fernando Gaviria and Pascal Ackermann.
Gaviria was first to make his move, bursting out of the bunch on the finishing straight and opening a significant gap.
Ackermann reacted immediately, but had his sprint checked when a rider ahead of him slowed and blocked his path. At this moment Gavira looked odds on for victory, but Ackermann managed to pick up his speed and reached the Colombian’s wheel, before emerging from his slipstream to pass him at the finish line with a perfectly timed final acceleration.
A couple of years ago, when he sprinted his way to four stage victories, no-one would have been able to go past Gaviria from this position, but the Colombian doesn’t quite seem to have those legs this time around. He’s found a new, formidable rival in Ackermann, and will have to rediscover his top form if he’s to defeat him in the upcoming sprints.
Tom Dumoulin abandons
One of the key storylines of today’s stage looked set to be whether or not Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) could make it to the finish.
The Dutchman plummeted out of GC contention yesterday when a crash saw him lose over four minutes, and looked in a bad way as he crossed the finish line with blood pouring down his leg.
Nevertheless, he vowed to fight on as best he could, and took to the start-line today in the hope that he could survive what was, in terms of parcours and length, a relatively modest stage of the Giro.
However, his day lasted only a matter of minutes, as he climbed off his bike and abandoned just 1km into the stage. It was unclear whether the abandonment was premeditated or if those few minutes on his bike was enough to confirm that he could no longer continue, but came as no surprise given the state of his knee yesterday.
The 2017 champion will be sorely missed, with the GC race now lacking what would surely have been a major protagonist, but hopefully he can now get into top form for July’s Tour de France.
A relaxed day for the GC riders
Clocking in at just 140km and featuring just one categorised climb, stage five always looked like one of the most straightforward stages for the GC riders.
The cold, rainy conditions did make things a little more complicated, however. Riders were forced to wrap up warm, with some - most notably the pink jersey wearer Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) - going through some hassle taking off and on their raincoats while on the move. And the wet roads presented an ever-present threat of crashes.
But even this dismal weather had a silver lining as the organisers decided that the riders’ times would be taken after the first passage of the finish line in the Terracina finishing circuit, saving the favourites a lot of stress by effectively neutralising the GC race for the final 9km.
Upon reaching the finishing circuit, it was clear the organisers had made the right call - by this point the rain was pouring even more heavily, and the road was full of dangerous standing water.
Thankfully there were no crashes and everyone came through unscathed. Hopefully the weather will return to more seasonal conditions in the coming days.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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