John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) was the favourite to win today’s Giro d’Italia stage to Matera, but the way he did it was surprising. After a crash with his lead-out Luka Mezgec in the last corner, he chased solo and topped Angel Vicioso (Katusha).
“More memorable? It’s similar to my first victory in the WorldTour, in the Critérium du Dauphiné in Lyon. Same weather,” Degenkolb said in a press conference. “Every victory is special, but it’s another Grand Tour victory and it’s really a big thing for our team.”
Since Degenkolb’s Dauphiné victory in 2011 with HTC-Highroad, he has only improved. Last year, when the team was still known as Project 1t4i, he won five stages in the Vuelta a España.
Eyes were on him to win today’s fifth leg, a hilly uphill final with a final bit uphill to the city in the rocks in Italy’s south. From the homes burrowed in the hillsides, you could see the riders sliding on the wet road at 1.2km out. First Mezgec went down, then all the others. Once a rider touched his brakes on the wet left-hander, his tyres slid from under him.
Only Marco Canola (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) was left ahead. It became a pursuit to catch him: Degenkolb slowly approaching metres behind and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) trying on his own further back.
“I was just behind the crash, the road was pretty slippery and wet. They went a bit too fast in the second to last corner and luckily I had a small gap behind them so that I could brake and come through,” Degenkolb explained.
“I tried to sprint to him. I saw just Viviani behind me. I had to give everything to make it. It was a sprint of almost one kilometre. It was hard and I was suffering. I probably a lactate of 35, so it was really hard.”
Mezgec, according to a team press release, is OK based on the initial examinations. He remained on the ground for some time and received 67th for the day.
“I’d be happier to have him to 500m to go so that he can lead me out, but at least I was able to finish it,” Degenkolb added. “It was just lucky for me.”
It was what Degenkolb needed after a below-par classics season.
“Now I’m happy to be back in the business of winning races,” he added. “For a sprinter and classics rider, every month and every week that you don’t win, it’s not a nice feeling. You’re always waiting, and the team was waiting. I’m happy I’ve proven that I’m a coming along. To give my team mate back what they gave me.”