Unexpected day for the GC contenders
The 2020 Giro d’Italia continued with its erratic pattern of stage winners, as day 13 turned into a sudden opportunity for the general classification contenders.
While 90 per cent of the route from Cervia to Monselice was pan-flat, the two categorised climbs in the final 30km made the result an unpredictable affair.
But with 12km from the foot of the final climb (Calaone, 2km at 9.9 per cent), it looked as though the win would be taken by a versatile sprinter, most probably Arnaud Démare based on his form in the race.
Then on the foot of the first climb, Roccolo (4.3km at 7.8 per cent), the tides turned and Démare was dropped early and the race exploded into life.
At first Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers) kept up with the pace and were still in with a shot at victory near the top, with Bora riding to set up their man.
Things took another sudden turn however as the climbers and GC contenders started to pull clear of the rest of the field, and thanks to the pace set by Deceuninck - Quick-Step, the result came down to a reduced group sprint between those still in contention for pink.
Despite a formidable chasing effort from Sagan, Swift, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck), it was Diego Ulissi who sprinted to his second stage victory in the 2020 Giro, and his eighth career win in the Italian Grand Tour.
The result only cemented the unpredictability of this year’s Giro route and served as a reminder that there are no safe days in the race for pink.
Pink jersey in a three-way photo finish
Race leader João Almeida found himself in an unlikely position on stage 13 of the Giro, as he was among a freight-train front group of GC contenders heading for a sprint finish on the flat, with plenty of support still around him.
His Deceuninck - Quick-Step team kept him safe throughout the stage and then when the front group began to split, it was time for them to go to work.
Climber James Knox put in an outstanding performance in support of Almeida, leading the group for almost entirety of the flat run to the line and setting his man up with a great shot at the victory.
Almeida did himself proud in the sprint against some far more experienced competition, but the 22-year-old had to settle for second as he couldn’t quite match the speed of stage winner Ulissi.
While it was another outstanding GC ride from Almeida and Quick-Step, the Portuguese rider may be disappointed on missing out on the stage, coming within inches of winning in the pink jersey.
With an individual time trial on stage 14 followed by a tough mountain day on stage 15, this would possible have been Almeida’s best opportunity to take a stage in the prestigious leader’s jersey.
But however Almeida’s Giro goes from here, he can still be proud of this stage in particular.
Démare finally finds his limits
Arnaud Démare has been the stand-out sprinter so far in the Giro, winning three bunch sprints and comfortably tackling some challenging terrain to keep himself in the fight, particularly on the road to Matera on stage six.
But the Frenchman finally found his limits on stage 13, when he was dropped early on the first climb of the day and was never able to rejoin the front of the race.
Démare wasn’t the only challenger to slip back on the tough pair of climbs late in the stage, as even Ben Swift and Peter Sagan lost touch eventually, but the stage proved the Frenchman is not entirely invincible.
This isn’t a cause for concern for Démare however, as he still has three stages wins to his name in the 2020 Giro d’Italia and leads the points competition by 37 points over Sagan.
His next challenge is making it through the horrendous mountain stages in the final week, ready for the final sprint opportunity on stage 19.
Cofidis forced to switch to plan B as Elia Viviani struggles
We’re not seeing the same Viviani in 2020.
In years past the Italian sprinter has been the dominant sprinter, previously winning multiple stages in the Vuelta a España and the Giro d’Italia for Quick-Step, but since moving to Cofidis at the start of the season things just haven’t been so sweet.
The Italian has yet to land on this podium a Grand Tour in his new colours and on stage 13 his team suddenly decided to opt for plan B.
As the stage unfolded and it became clear the day would be too tough for Viviani (and the other sprinters as it turned out), the team switched to riding for Nathan Haas but that didn’t work either as it was climber Nicolas Edet who came in as the best-placed finisher for the French squad in 12th.
Viviani still sprinted for the line, being allowed to break clear of his group to finish 25th and take some sort of symbolic victory, but words from Cofidis boss Cedric Vasseur early in the stage proved the team are considering other options to deliver their much-needed stage victory.
Now the GC race will take shape
While stage 13 turned out much tougher than many predicted, there are far bigger challenges very nearby for the GC hopefuls - the first of which is the individual time trial on stage 14.
The 34km TT is the longest of the three solo tests in the race and features some challenging terrain, starting with 1.1km-long, 12 per cent average gradient in the first 7km.
It’s then onto more rolling terrain, including a 2.2km climb and finally a short sharp uphill to the line - we can expect some considerable time differences among the favourites by the finish.
But the tough days don’t end there, as the peloton then faces a brutal 185km day in the mountains from Base Aerea Rivolto to Piancavallo on day 15, featuring four categorised climbs and a first cat ascent to the finish, which closes out the second week of racing before rest day on Monday.
After the last rest day, it’s all uphill in the final week as the race hits the real mountains - so far we’ve not seen huge fireworks in the GC race, but it’s all still to play for.
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