Elia Viviani lives up to expectations
Heading into the Giro, Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) was facing the kind of expectations that he will not have been used to.
Despite having only won one Grand Tour stage in his career up until now, a combination of great form and the lack of any major sprinting names in the race meant that he was the overwhelming favourite to dominate the bunch sprints.
Things appeared to be going awry in the finishing straight as he lost the wheel of his Quick-Step Floors train.
However, he stayed calm under pressure, managing to smartly follow wheel to keep himself well-placed, and followed the explosive acceleration of Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia).
From that point it was a question of whether he had the legs, and, true to recent form, no-one could get near him as he coasted to victory.
With one stage win now in the bag, Viviani will now have his eyes on collecting as big a haul as possible.
Rohan Dennis takes pink
What would otherwise have been an uneventful sprinters’ stage was enlivened by Rohan Dennis’ (BMC) unlikely but ultimately successful plan to take the pink jersey.
The two seconds Dennis lost to Tom Dumoulin (Subweb) by in yesterday’s time trial might have seemed agonisingly close on the day, but, in the context of today’s pan flat stage, looked now like an insurmountable gap.
Undeterred by the odds, BMC targeted the bonus seconds available at the stage’s intermediate sprints as a way of gaining those two seconds, despite Dennis’ lack of pedigree as a sprinter.
They upped the pace at the front of the peloton on the approach to the second sprint, managing to rapidly bring back the early three man break and thus put into play the time bonuses.
Still, the hardest part was still to come. How was Dennis to get the better of the specialist sprinters, especially considering that the apparent quickest, Viviani, had earlier signalled his intent by sprinting at the first intermediate sprint?
Somehow, BMC set such a searing pace that not even the Italian could bridge the headstart Dennis had in the run-in to the line, and the Australian gained the seconds he needed to overthrow Dumoulin as overall leader.
It was a sterling effort by the whole BMC team and Dennis himself, who has now earned the rare honour of holding the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours.
Viviani’s rivals emerge
The first bunch sprint of a Grand Tour is always exciting in the sense that it reveals who the likely top sprinters of the race will be, and today several names stood out as potential stage winners and rivals to Viviani.
Jakub Mareczko may not have won the stage, but his acceleration from far back was perhaps the most impressive performance of any of the sprinters. The 24-year old looks as though he has taken another step forward since showing signs of his potential at last year’s race, and will be a serious threat to Viviani if he can position himself better next time.
Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) put in a solid performance for third behind Viviani and Mareczko, suggesting he’ll be a feature in bunch sprints this race – though the way both accelerated past him suggests he’ll have to find something extra to achieve his target of winning a first ever Grand Tour stage.
Italians were well-represented with Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) and Sacha Modolo (EF Education First) finishing fourth and fifth respectively, but one fancied rider, Danny Van Poppel, was nowhere to be seen, despite good work from his LottoNL-Jumbo team at the front of the bunch at the end of the stage.
Dumoulin happy to lose jersey
Tom Dumoulin made no secret of his reluctance to remain in the pink jersey from now all the way to Rome, explaining yesterday how his team ‘aren’t planning on defending it every day’.
The work required to defend the jersey for a whole three weeks is enough to strain even the strongest of teams, let alone one with the comparatively limited resources of Team Sunweb, and Dumoulin’s ideal situation would be to take ownership of the pink jersey later on in the race.
Therefore it will have come as a relief to Dumoulin and the team to see Dennis sprint for the seconds necessary to take the pink jersey of his shoulders for now.
The change in leadership also altars the dynamic for how upcoming stage will play. Whereas the lumpy parcours of stages four and five in Sicily might have been a free-for-all for the pink jersey had Dumoulin still led at that stage, with BMC eager to maintain the jersey for Dennis for as long as possible, they may now be a lot more controlled.
An open bunch sprint
With Quick-Step Floors not exercising control at the front of the peloton in the finale, the bunch sprint was a messy affair.
In the final few kilometres, a new team could be seen taking over at the front every few moments, with no single train able to string out the bunch and bring order to proceedings.
The disorganisation was exemplified by the fact that so many late attacks were attempted, mostly by Katusha-Alpecin riders.
This is perhaps unsurprising given how few major sprinters are present, and may be a sign of things to come.
If there aren’t enough powerful lead-out trains to take command in the final few kilometres of sprinter stages, then there might be some surprise candidates in the bunch sprints, and perhaps even some successful late attacks.