Dowsett delivers Israel Start-Up Nation's first WorldTour victory
Before today Alex Dowsett had only one victory that wasn't thanks solely to his time trialling abilities. That came in 2011 at the Tour International du Poitou Charentes. Nine years later, his next one comes on a much bigger stage.
His abilities against the clock did come in handy, however, as he rode the final 17km solo, keeping his former breakaway companions at bay. He knew before kilometre zero that an escape group was likely to make it to the line, saying "a team has to actively want that breakaway to come back and be driven into putting in the work". Nostra-Dowsett therefore got himself into the day's move, and his prediction was proven right.
Dowsett has won a Giro stage before, on a stage eight time trial in 2013, but his celebration in the finishing straight was infectious, an unleashing of emotion, years of hard work paying off.
More momentously, it was a first WorldTour and Grand Tour stage win for Israel Start-Up Nation. While this year is the calm before the storm in terms of squad building, notable reinforcements are arriving for 2021, this victory marks a landmark moment for the WorldTour team with big dreams.
Stage gifted to breakaway after sprint teams refuse to chase
As the race entered the final 60km it became clear the winner would come from the breakaway, with Peter Sagan saying after the stage that no team was willing to pull on the front in order to bring the race back together.
"We already paced for three days to have a sprint, we had a sprint and we lost to Démare," he told Rai Sport after the finish. "Today was a stage in which everyone expected to have a sprint - nobody paced. Maybe the other teams don't have the balls to do the race."
Strong words, which are to be expected from the former world champion who has finished runner-up three times already this Giro as he seeks a maiden Grand Tour stage win in Italy.
With two riders in the breakaway of six, Israel Start-Up Nation had the extra card to play, and did so successfully. For the other escapees, such as Ineos' Salvatore Puccio, Lotto-Soudal's Matthew Holmes and CCC's Joey Rosskopf, they may never again receive such an opportunity to take a Grand Tour stage win from a breakaway move.
Crashes continue to whittle down the peloton
The abandons continued to stack up before the start of stage eight, with Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale), Patrick Gamper (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sean Bennett (EF Pr Cycling) and Edoardo Affini (Mitchelton-Scott) all not taking the start after being involved in a pile-up 45km from the line on stage seven.
Stage eight only brought more crashes, with Alexander Cataford (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Filippo Fiorelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè) both receiving treatment at the medical car following heavy falls on a descent, while Fiorelli's team-mate Giovanni Carboni also later paid a visit to the race doctor to get himself checked over following a tumble.
Ben Gastauer provided more woes for AG2r La Mondiale, after he was involved in a bizarre crash and abandoned the race, leaving 162 riders to take the start of stage nine. That is assuming all those who picked up bumps and bruises today feel okay after a night's sleep, with only one more stage to go before the first rest day.
Coronavirus worries return
To match the tale at the end of the day, the story at the start also involved a British rider, as Simon Yates was forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. The Mitchelton-Scott rider left for quarantine while his team-mates and all support staff thankfully having returned negative test.
However, a positive test of such a prominent rider reminds us of the coronavirus worries that plague this season. As race director Mauro Vegni alluded, all they can do is follow the protocols put in place and hope coronavirus positives are kept to a minimum.
"Nobody can consider themselves safe from this problem, nobody is immune from the coronavirus. It’s vital to have tests and to be able to get results quickly, that can prevent spreading the virus. It’s good that we have that screening capability at the Giro d’Italia. It’s a shame because we have lost another favourite and I’m upset about that," Vegni told Eurosport.
"We will have all of the teams tested between tomorrow and Monday and we will have all of the results on the rest day. We actually tested all of the Mitchelton-Scott team last night and we got the results back this morning and they were all negative, apart from Simon Yates.
"That may have been an issue for a few days. As soon as we were asked to check him, we tested him and he was positive. The most important thing is to test all the riders and avoid spreading the virus to other people."
With Thomas out after his crash and now Yates, the top two men expected to take the maglia rosa into Milan will now watch the remainder of the race on their televisions at home.
GC battle resumes tomorrow
With two category one climbs on stage nine, the day before the first rest day, it will be another day where GC hopefuls will need to be watchful. As we've seen so far in this Giro, anything can happen at any time.
But a bigger question now is who can count themselves amongst those set to trouble the upper placings of the general classification?
Of course, the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) all remain in the race, but talented riders such as NTT's Domenico Pozzovivo lurk ominously and look to be in good shape. Moreover, when will the likes of Pozzovivo have as good a chance at a Grand Tour again?
With no team looking the out-and-out strongest and able to fully control the race, we should prepare ourselves for an intriguing GC battle over the coming fortnight.
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