Crosswinds see stage seven bookended with sprints
What looked on paper to be a fairly simple gallop to the coast on the heel of Italy, culminating in a bunch sprint in the city of Brindisi, became a very different proposition when the flag dropped on stage seven of the Giro d’Italia.
The first sprint of the day happened 10 minutes into the stage as Deceuninck – Quick-Step started pushing the pace on the front of the bunch, with Jumbo-Visma following them, looking to cause disruption for their GC rivals.
And it worked, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was immediately shelled out the back of the peloton, with Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) also soon losing contact.
These GC riders were never going to give up the chase, though, and all but Yates were back in the bunch after 30km of hard racing with 100km to go until the finish, with the pace then dropping and Simon Yates also making it back in 20km later.
There are no days off in the battle for the overall classification at a Grand Tour, and stage seven was no exception. Another coastal route tomorrow will likely offer up a head-crosswind that could set GC nerves jangling once more before the uphill tests resume on stage nine.
Arnaud Démare makes it three
The rider who swapped the tricolore French champion’s jersey for the maglia ciclamino made it a trio of stage wins at the 2020 Giro d’Italia with a simple canter to the line.
Arnaud Démare’s dominance grows with each victory, naturally, as does the question of how many stages he could have taken from the likes of Sam Bennett (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) at the recent Tour de France – don’t even mention the green jersey.
Not that Groupama-FDJ will necessarily be dwelling on that, though, the question now turning to one of how many stages they can take at this Giro having already put their Grand Tour demons to bed, at least for the time being.
The Frenchman eased past the rest of the field to take a second stage win in as many days, and if he can get over the category two climb plonked in the middle of stage eight he has a chance to make it three in a row and four overall.
Why so second place?
Shaking his head across the line, Peter Sagan is becoming accustomed to second place at this Giro d’Italia, having finished behind Arnaud Démare three times so far this Italian Grand Tour.
As he tracked the Frenchman in the finishing straight, daylight opening up behind the pair, the three-time world champion barely even attempted to get past, perhaps accepting he doesn’t have the legs to match the fastest man at this year’s race.
After a Tour de France where he was bested by Sam Bennett in the hunt for green, much of the talk is turning to whether Sagan is past it, but what Sagan isn’t doing is giving up. Should he manage to take a debut stage win some point in this year’s Giro, it will be richly deserved.
Ben Swift in and amongst it
The British road race champion’s fourth-place across the line in Brindisi was his highest placing in a Grand Tour stage since the 2014 Giro d’Italia, when Swift finished second behind Marcel Kittel in Dublin.
With Geraint Thomas back home, Ineos have been left somewhat aimless in their original plans for this Giro d’Italia. Sure, Filippo Ganna’s two stage wins and temporary occupation of the maglia rosa means they won’t come away empty-handed, but it’s hardly the redemption story they’d envisaged after their Tour de France failure.
What it does mean is that Swift will likely have the freedom to chance his arm again like he did today, having notched a few second, third and fourth places on Grand Tour stages since his first in 2009 at the Giro.
Of course, he has to get past Démare first, but if he does he would be the first Brit to win a sprint stage at the Giro since Mark Cavendish in 2013, and with Yates’ form questionable at the moment, he may hold the only chance for British glory at this year’s race.
More crashes yield further pain for the peloton
This opening week of the Giro d’Italia has been defined by the physical harm dished out to the riders as much as it has been about their prowess on the bike.
Miguel Ángel López (Astana), Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and Luca Wackermann (Vini Zabù – KTM) are amongst the riders who’ve been caught up in painful incidents and left with a DNF or DNS next to their names, and stage seven saw further riders end up in harm’s way.
With Jakob Fuglsang and Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal) caught out in a crash once the peloton was all back together with 80km to go, a big tumble then saw half the bunch come to a standstill with 45km remaining.
After the earlier crosswind exploits, riders were nervous to give up their positions, meaning the pack tried to unsuccessfully squeeze through a banner without giving each other the adequate room, causing bodies to hit the deck.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Patrick Gamper was one rider caught out, displaying nasty cuts and bruises, including a deep-looking gash to his left shoulder, as he crossed the finish line.
Nearing the end of the first week of racing, the potential outcome of the GC race is still very much up in the air, and incidences like this underline just how unexpected this opening week of the Giro d’Italia has been.