It has been 11 long days at the Giro d'Italia, but finally the Italian tifosi have something to cheer about. Alberto Dainese's victory on stage 11 to Reggio Emilia was the first by a native since Filippo Ganna's time trial win in Milan last year.
The Team DSM rider seemed to surprise everyone, including himself, by triumphing over a stellar sprint field which included Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ). In doing so, the 24-year-old took just the third win of his career, and the first WorldTour level victory he has ever achieved.
Some stage to do it on, at one of the few sprint opportunities at his home Grand Tour, after coming close a few times at the Vuelta a España last year. His final burst of speed was expertly timed to round Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) and win under 150km from his home town of Abano Terme.
"Yeah it’s not really my home stage," the young man explained after his victory. "That comes a bit later, stage 19 in Treviso. It feels pretty amazing, a stage in the Giro, anywhere would feel amazing. Especially being so close to home it’s something incredible. I still cannot believe it happened, I’m super happy."
Dainese has been forced to wait his turn for an opportunity in this race, with just three out-and-out sprint opportunities before Wednesday. He has also been sharing DSM's sprinting role with Cees Bol, while also being part of a team that is pull behind a GC push for Romain Bardet, currently sitting fourth overall, and with Thymen Arensman in 12th.
"This morning the plan was to go for Cees in the sprint," the Italian explained. "But in the last KMs we swapped as he didn’t feel so good. I just tried to stay relaxed and follow the guys.
"It’s insane that Romain sitting third [sic] in GC gave me a leadout into the last corner. It shows we really work as a team. Then I was a bit boxed in in the middle and I found a gap on the left. I just went to the line. I think I had Gaviria on the right, in the last 20m I could pass him and that feels super."
Adding to the superb nature of this win is the fact that DSM have triumphed just three times this season, although they have looked a different beast since Bardet started to motor at the Tour of the Alps last month.
Dainese's key teammate Nico Denz said that the squad "deserved" the victory.
"It’s really emotional," he said. "We’ve been through a lot with him, we’ve been super close a lot of times in the Vuelta last year. This win is really deserved for him and for us as a team."
After GC contender Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) gave the winning leadout to teammate Biniam Girmay on stage 10, now it was Bardet's turn to show that he was more than just a pure climber.
Team DSM, for now anyway, seem to be balancing the needs of their general classification riders alongside their sprinters, and the win might just give them the confidence they need to go deep into this race.
"We came here also with a GC focus around Romain," Denz said. "So the last 8kms it was really important to stay out of trouble, which is why I took a lot of wind. Everyone works for everyone. Romain here with GC ambitions is doing the leadout for a sprinter guy, and this is just the cherry on top of the cake."
It has been rare for teams going for GC to have a split strategy at a Grand Tour, with smaller squad sizes meaning a decisive choice is usually made. If DSM can make it pay off, it will be a special performance.
For Dainese, though, this will be one to remember. The Italians can now be happy that they have something to celebrate, even if they might not win the race overall.
Asked to explain what his teammate is like, Denz simply said: "He's an Italian."
"I’m actually rooming with him," the German continued. "He’s really calm, and an emotional guy, and for sure he will keep this one forever in his mind."
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