Diego Ulissi's deserving victory
Of all the riders who have ridden well post-lockdown, Diego Ulissi’s performances have gone slightly under the radar. Now, everyone knows that the 31-year-old is in flying form.
He was one of the favourites to take the race’s first road stage in Sicily, and the Italian lived up to the pre-stage billing, claiming his seventh Giro win, nine years after his first, and four years since his last.
UAE Team Emirates had ridden actively throughout the 149km stage, and in the final 1,500m, his teammate Valerio Conti brought him to the head of the peloton to set up his attack.
He latched onto the move of Luca Wackermann (Vini Zabù-KTM), and even when Peter Sagan bridged across, Ulissi remained unflustered, eventually crossing the line with a significant gap.
Since the season’s restart, Ulissi has ridden 24 different race days, finishing in the top-10 on 16 occasions. His win in Agrigento was his fourth success in three weeks, having recently won the Tour of Luxembourg.
He has always performed well in week-long stage races, but lacked when it came to Grand Tours, 21st in the Giro his best result in a three-week race. Maybe this year is the one that he challenges the top-10 overall. He’s got the form to do so.
So close, yet so far for debutant Sagan
One of the biggest questions of this year’s Giro is how will Peter Sagan fare in his debut at the race. Stage two indicated that he should be on course to end his drought of wins.
The Bora-Hansgrohe rider impressively joined Wackermann, Ulissi and Mikkel Honoré (Deceuninck-Quick Step) on the finishing slopes, but his effort in reaching across to the three clearly hampered him for the final sprint.
Wisdom suggested that he would have the edge on Ulissi, but it turned out his effort was too taxing and he settled for second place with 30 metres left to race.
There will doubtless be frustration on his part for not winning and lacking the final acceleration that was needed, but equally he can be satisfied that he has carried over strong fitness from the Tour de France.
The narrative at the Tour was that he was shy of the same form we have come to expect from him, and while that certainly is true, it’s also worth remembering that a rider who finishes in the top-5 on six occasions can never be discounted.
Surely the Slovakian will record his first win since July 2019 in the coming weeks.
Astana's horror show continues
Astana’s rotten start to the Giro d’Italia became a certified nightmare on the roads to Agrigento today with the abandonment of Aleksandr Vlasov, the latest misery for the Kazakhstan team.
They had to change their team in the days preceding the race, with Yuriy Natarov and Vadim Pronskiy having been in close contact with teammate Zhandos Bizhigitov who had tested positive for Covid-19.
They were then further bruised by the abandonment of Miguel Ángel López who crashed hard during stage’s one prologue time trial and was close to rupturing an artery.
López was working for Jakob Fuglsang, who shipped almost 90 seconds to Geraint Thomas in the time trial, the Dane already at a significant disadvantage to one of his main GC rivals.
And then in the opening hours of stage two’s racing, Vlasov – one of the breakout stars of the season with three wins and a third place at Il Lombardia – abandoned, depriving Fuglsang of one of his key riders in the mountains.
There was even some school of thought that 24-year-old Vlasov could mount his own GC bid, but the Russian’s maiden Grand Tour campaign has ended with just 96km raced. Astana’s Giro can only improve.
No drama in the GC battle
Stage one’s time trial produced significant time gaps among the general classification riders, but stage two did not follow the same trend.
But none were forthcoming, largely with the GC contingent having an eye on stage three’s summit finish at Mt. Etna.
The biggest advantages today were only ever going to be minuscule, so we will have to wait for the action in the closing kilometres of stage three as the road rears towards the summit of the famous volcano.
If stage two taught us anything from the GC lot, it was that all looked comfortable, with Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Yates and Thomas all appearing near to the front.
As Ganna keeps pink
Filippo Ganna’s stint in pink will continue at least one more day, with no challenge to his race leadership.
The time trial world champion looked at ease throughout the stage, largely positioned at the front, protected by his Ineos Grenadiers teammates and also shielding Thomas, too.
His lead of 22 seconds to João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) remains intact, although if he is to keep it beyond Mt. Etna, he will require either a storming performance or a neutralised GC battle.
The chances of the former happening appear very slim, with opportunities for GC riders by-and-large limited until the final week.
Ganna, therefore, can expect one more day in pink before ceding it most probably to his British teammate Thomas. Ineos could very well have the jersey from start to the finish.
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