1. Sam Bennett delivers after near misses of 2017
Rewind to last year’s Giro d’Italia and Sam Bennett was constantly knocking on the door. Four times he finished in the top three on stages, usually denied by a Quick-Step Floors rider in the maglia ciclamino – namely Fernando Gaviria.
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On stages two and three of this year’s race in Israel things looked to be going in a similar direction as he finished third on both days, each time denied by Quick-Step’s Elia Viviani.
However now the Irishman has the monkey off his back, as he produced the perfect sprint to come around maglia ciclamino of Viviani and take his first Grand Tour victory.
Bennett left it late, only coming off Italian’s wheel in 100m to go, but in the end won reasonably comfortably as he took victory by half a bike length.
2. Elia Viviani misses out
Elia Viviani was the stand-out favourite heading into today’s stage, but will surely have to hold his hands up and say that he was beaten by the better man after his team rode the perfect final five kilometres to place him in the ideal position for what would have been his third win of the race.
For much of the last five kilometres Viviani looked relaxed as he sat behind a couple of team-mates a long way back in the bunch, before the men in blue put in a big effort to move their star sprinter towards the front. That meant that Viviani was only brought to the front at the very last moment after many of the other sprint teams had worn themselves out keeping the pace high at the head of the bunch.
From there the 29-year-old was able to come around Sacha Modolo with 200m to go, but didn’t count on Bennett coming off his wheel to take the win in an impressive show of power and speed.
If Viviani can take any consolation from today, it’s that his lead in the points classification has actually only reduced by four points after he picked up fourth in an intermediate sprint midway through the stage.
3. Relaxed day after Etna
With a broken down ferry meaning that some riders were forced to spend five hours sat on the team bus getting to their hotels after Thursday’s Mount Etna stage, today – at least until the final 15km – provided exactly the sort of easy day that they would have hoped for.
The presence of Tony Martin in the first attack of the day meant that the break didn’t get away as easily as it did on stages two to five, but it didn’t take long before the three-man move of Maxim Belkov, Markel Irizar, and Davide Ballerini were allowed to escape.
With the closest of those being nearly half an hour off the pink jersey, an easy day ensued in the bunch and there was never any chance of the 159km day ending in a bunch sprint meaning that most of the riders in the peloton were able to enjoy a relatively relaxed day in the saddle.
4. Day one in pink for Yates
With two mountain stages to come at the weekend, Yates’s domestiques were given a relatively easy day as the sprinters’ teams took responsibility for controlling the gap to the break as Quick-Step Floors and Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia dominated the front of the bunch.
Meanwhile Yates, Chaves, and the rest of Mitchelton-Scott were able to sit in the bunch and reflect on the successes of Thursday – although they won’t be able to enjoy this luxury for much longer as they take a slim lead of just 16 seconds into the weekend.
5. Back to the mountains for the weekend
However if today was a relatively easy, this weekend is anything but with back to back summit finishes on the menu for Saturday and Sunday.
Both stage eight to Montevergine di Mercogliano and stage nine to Gran Sasso d’Italia feature summit finishes at the end of 200km+ stages, with the latter being particularly brutish with what is effectively a 47km climb (with a few short descents along the way) at the end of a massive 224km stage.
These stages will take place in the Apennine mountains which run down the middle of Italy, a mountain range which may lack the big name climbs of the Alps, but still pack a serious punch with the Gran Sasso finish coming at more than 2,000m above sea level.
If the aggressive racing that we saw on Mount Etna is anything to go by then these stages really could be spectacular.