INDOMITABLE CAVENDISH RETURNS TO THE GIRO AS IF HE'D NEVER BEEN GONE
It might have been nine years since Mark Cavendish’s last appearance at the Giro d'Italia, but it felt like he’d never been gone.
He won the first bunch sprint of the race with the same indomitable, authoritative aura as in his heyday. Even though he started his sprint earlier than would have been ideal, none of the other sprinters ever looked like coming past him, all almost looking resigned to the same fate of fighting for second place behind him that has been the case for so many sprinters in the past.
Even Cavendish himself reacted to the victory as if it were something akin to routine, with his pleased but relatively unemotional post-race interview starkly contrasting to the tears shed at his similarly victorious comeback at the Tour de France last year.
Ominously, by winning this stage Cavendish has started better than at that Tour, and at most Grand Tours throughout his career, considering his record of normally taking at least one sprint to get up to full speed.
The early signs are that he could be set for another big haul of stage wins. He might be 36, but Cavendish still isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
DÉMARE AND GAVIRIA THE BEST OF THE REST
The opening sprint had been billed as a battle between Cavendish and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), but it wound up being a one-man contest as Cavendish stormed to victory and Ewan failed to get in the mix.
Instead, it was Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) who pushed Cavendish the closest, and even if they weren’t able to put him under serious pressure, they will be encouraged by their form.
For Démare, second place was his joint-best finish of the season so far, and a sign that he’s back to something like his best. In one respect, this was actually the first time he failed to win a Giro bunch sprint he’s competed in since 2019, having enjoyed a clean sweep in 2020 and missed last year’s race, which goes to show just how much he flourishes in this race.
Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) has been off form for considerably longer than Démare, with a whole five years having passed since his own four-stage haul at the 2017 Giro. In that time he’s been serially unlucky with multiple bouts of Covid, having earlier struggled to adapt to life outside of Quick-Step.
As only his second top-three finish at a Grand Tour sprint since 2020, it really looks as though Gaviria might at last be turning a corner, and, aged 27, might still rediscover the superb form of his youth.
VAN DER POEL KEEPS PINK, BUT OPTS NOT TO SPRINT
One of the most intriguing questions heading into today’s stage was whether or not Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) would try to sprint for victory.
We’ve seen the Dutchman win bunch sprints in the past, albeit not at quite the same level or against such esteemed opponents, and there was the incentive of potential bonus seconds in the defence of his pink jersey.
So when he remained right near the front in Alpecin-Fenix’s lead-out train heading into the finishing straight, it looked like he might indeed have been, for the third successive day, going for stage victory.
However, when he accelerated during the finishing straight, only to turn around and sit up upon not seeing his teammate Jakub Mareczko on his wheel, it became clear that Van der Poel was here to lead-out rather than sprint himself.
It was easy to see why, too, as upon working his way back up, Mareczko produced a viscous acceleration to place fifth on the stage.
Although Van der Poel does still top the points classification as well as the overall classification, it seems unlikely that he’ll try defending that lead, if the team’s plan is for Mareczko to be designated for the sprints — especially considering that he didn’t compete for any points at the day's intermediate sprint either.
That might rob us of the fun of seeing Van der Poel compete in all manner of terrain a la Peter Sagan and Wout van Aert, but may pay dividends for Alpecin-Fenix if they can put Mareczko in a position to sprint for a stage win.
EWAN'S BAD START CONTINUES
Caleb Ewan’s trying start to the Giro continued, as he drifted out of contention in the run-in to the sprint finish.
Having looked so good on the opening stage only to crash metres from the line, this time the Australian was out of contention even before the sprint started, despite this being a stage that, on paper at least, suited him much better.
He lost the wheels of his Lotto-Soudal team-mates in the final few kilometres, who will be especially disappointed considering that their whole team is based around delivering him for sprint wins in bunch finishes.
Whether or not this result was down to any lingering soreness from the aforementioned crash was unclear. Although he finished fast from far back to place eighth, sprinting isn’t just about the kick you have in the final few hundred metres, but the effort and manoeuvring required to stay in position during the prior kilometres, and it may be that the after-effects of the crash made it hard for Ewan to do so.
On the brightside, the fact he’s still in this race at all is a positive considering how hard he went down on Friday. With a day off the rest and recuperate tomorrow as the race heads to Italy, he might yet be firing on all cylinders again come next week’s sprints.
GIRMAY LOOKS GOOD FOR THE MAGLIA CICLAMINO
Competing in his first bunch sprint at Grand Tour level, Biniam Girmay once again impressed to finish fourth-place.
Having placed-second behind Van der Poel on stage one’s uphill finish, this time Girmay proved he was also a match for the pure sprinters in a flat finish
His Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux evidently had great faith in him, offering a large lead-out in the finale and keeping him well-positioned at the front of the peloton during the preceding kilometres.
And when it came to the sprint itself, though he found himself a little boxed in, the Eritrean kept composed and managed to finish a solid fourth-place.
Consequently, his prospects of winning the maglia ciclamino look bright. He currently wears the jersey in place of Van der Poel (whose pink jersey takes priority), and has a gap of over 10 points over all of his rivals (apart from Cavendish) following two high places in both the opening road stages.
He clearly intends to fight for the jersey, too, as made clear when he sprinted for points at the day’s intermediate sprint.
Riding consistently throughout the whole race, and managing to survive and finish the high mountains stages to come, will be a huge ask for a 22-year-old making his Grand Tour debut, let alone winning the points classification. But so far he has passed every test he has faced at this Giro with flying colours.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.