Diego Ulissi was quite a surprise winner of stage seven of the Giro d’Italia, so much so that the Eurosport commentator thought it was Sacha Modolo who was the Lampre-Merida rider sprinting for the line.
What happened at the end of the stage was somewhat overshadowed by what happened at the start, and that’s what most people were talking about today.
1. Alberto Contador made it to the start line
A dislocated shoulder isn’t enough to keep a rider like Alberto Contador down. The man rode part of the Tour de France last year with a broken leg for heavens sake, so it was no surprise to see him power through and get back on his bike.
The Spaniard was all smiles on the start line and looked reasonably comfortable on the bike, able to get out the saddle at various points to climb some of the hills en route to Fiuggi.
The real test could come on the sharper climbs of stage eight, where we may see some of Contador’s rivals test just how good El Pistolero is feeling.
2. It was quite slow…
Stage seven was a bit of a transition stage. And when I say ‘a bit’ I mean 264km of transitioning.
The parcours wasn’t particularly hilly but the stage was so long that the sprinters’ teams couldn’t/didn’t want to control the pace. Mix that with a bit of a head wind as the riders wound their way down to the Lazio region and it made for quite slow riding.
The seven hour mark passed with around 15km still to go – some of the riders will have had a shorter night’s sleep than their day in the saddle.
After tough stages on days three, four and five, and the carnage of the stage six finale it’s understandable that the riders just wanted to get to the end and be done with it.
3. The finale was deceptively tough
After 244km some of the riders were starting to feel the distance in their legs. Australian champion Heinrich Haussler said on TV before the stage it would be a tough one to call due to the distance.
Right on cue, with 20km left, Haussler fell off the back, as did a few of the other sprinters. If Alessandro Petacchi can’t keep up with the pace then what chance does anyone else have?
4. Ulissi’s road to redemption
Make of this what you will. Diego Ulissi failed a drugs test at last year’s Giro and was given a nine-month ban, allowing him to return on March 28 this year.
The Tuscan tested positive for an asthma drug, Salbutamol, with his urine showing almost double the allowed 1000ng/ml.
Twelve months later and the 25-year-old is back on the top step of the podium and his emotional celebrations at the finish line shows just what it means to him to be a winner again.
Movistar’s Juan Jose Lobato had been expected to contest a few sprints in the Giro’s first week, but Giovanni Visconti has been their sprinter of choice. Lobato found a finish to his liking today by sprinting for second, while former pink jersey wearer Simon Gerrans came in third.
5. The battle for the red jersey is already quite exciting
Unlike in the Tour de France, when Peter Sagan’s procession to the green jersey is apparent by about stage two, the sprint classification seems to be wide open at the Giro so far.
Andre Greipel took the jersey off Elia Viviani with his win on stage six, but the Italian snatched it back by taking points in the intermediate sprint today.
Whichever of the two riders wears the jersey it comes at a cost for fans of aesthetics. Viviani took the red look to a new level, sporting a red and white skinsuit, while Greipel simply looked looked like his Lotto-Soudal teammates for a change.
It’s all very confusing, but so far quite a good spectacle.