The sprinters on Friday in Olbia, Italy, lost a chance to win one of the few sprint stages in this year’s Giro d’Italia and to wear the pink jersey.
Instead, brave Austrian Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) profited from the chaos and rode free to the stage one win.
Fernando Gaviria, André Greipel and Caleb Ewan were left scratching their heads. Their teams – Quick-Step, Lotto-Soudal and Orica-Scott – came to the Giro to win sprint stages. Especially Greipel’s Lotto team, which lacks a true classification rider.
“Yeah it was a lost occasion,” Italian former cyclist Alessandro Petacchi said. He sprinted to 22 stage victories in his career.
“I didn’t see strong compact teams in the final kilometres, and to keep the sprint together at that point is hard.
“Orica could’ve made the difference,” Petacchi added. “I just don’t understand why Luka Mezgec let him go. If you are sitting on his wheel, sit on his wheel. It’s not as he attacked, he just rode free.”
Petacchi, who works for RAI television now in Italy, admitted that, like many, he did not know anything about Pöstlberger before today.
The 25-year-old Austrian led the sprint for Bora team-mate Sam Bennett but looked back with 1.5 kilometres remaining to see he had a gap after Orica lead-out man Luka Mezgec, who was sitting behind, unexpectedly eased off. Bennett yelled, “go, go” to his team-mate over the radio.
“It is,” said Orica sports director Matt White when asked if it was a lost opportunity for Ewan and the other sprinters.
“I’m confident a stage win will come, but that was his only chance to wear the maglia rosa,” he added.
The peloton faced a couple of tricky turns in the final, including one so tight at 3.5 kilometres out that brought most to a stand still.
“It was a disorganised sprint for everyone, that corner threw everyone. They came in at 70kph and came out with a split in the group,” added White.
“It showed that no teams were organised in the last 3.5 kilometres. Everyone was looking for their sprinter afterwards.”
“Narrow and with curves in the final? Yeah, it’s Italian style!” said Greipel. “Everyone saw the finish on the road map and everyone knew what would happen.”
Lotto especially brought men to lead out for Greipel’s sprint. Quick-Step brought a couple helpers for Gaviria and Orica did so as well for Ewan.
But how did such well-oiled sprint teams miss this chance at a win and take the pink jersey?
“It was quite messy until 3.5km to go and we used a lot of energy and lost each other and we couldn’t line it up with the team,” added Greipel.
“We knew it was going to be messy and narrow and unfortunately, I only had one guy, Jasper De Buyst, but then suddenly, Pöstlberger went really fast through the corners. He had a gap and no one was riding any more.
“Chapeau to Pöstlberger, he did a strong 1.5 kilometres and I think he deserved to win.”
The next chance for a sprint win may not come until Sunday when the race arrives in Cagliari. On Saturday, the race climbs to 1000 metres before dropping down to a finish in Tortolì on stage two.
On Monday the race transfers to Sicily and the riders face their first summit finish on Mount Etna on Tuesday.