After the famine, the feast. Both in terms of action on stage six of the Giro d'Italia, where a dull day was followed by a thrilling finish, and Grand Tour stage wins for Arnaud Démare, as the Frenchman has now won two in a row.
It is fair to say Thursday's stage was reasonably dull, but it was enlivened by a thrilling sprint which saw a deluxe sprint train battle, multiple riders angered, and a photo finish in the end.
It meant that after 44 Grand Tour stages without a victory, Démare has now won on back-to-back days at this Giro, serving up some of his best performances in those victories. When it rains, it pours.
Who knows if the Groupama-FDJ fast man is a fan of the Bristol-based trip hop band Massive Attack, but his big wheel certainly seems to keep on turning, as they sang in the Hymn of the Big Wheel.
"We knew it was just a wheel. When it starts spinning it’s easy to let it roll," his leadout man Jacopo Guarnieri said following the stage. Maybe he likes Blue Lines.
It certainly is rolling at the moment, as Démare powerfully outsprinted Caleb Ewan, Mark Cavendish and the rest on a fast finish in Scalea on Thursday. He left it late to turn it on, showing his nous hasn't deserted him, despite the dry spell which dates back to Paris-Tour last year.
While Cavendish went early, and Ewan looked like the fastest, Démare used his power to make a gap and then come round the Australian on the finish line.
The Lotto-Soudal rider was left dejected, and Groupama were left delighted, with their second win in a row after a largely barren season.
Démare might have won six Giro stages before, but this was more impressive than any of them; the sprinting field, despite the lack of opportunities, is world-class at this race, with perhaps only a couple of names missing.
To win against such storied opponents, then, must mean a lot. He now has more stage wins at the Giro than any other Frenchman, more than Bernard Hinault, more than Jacques Anquetil, so many more than Laurent Fignon.
Cavendish was clearly frustrated at the line, but simply did not have the speed to compete with Ewan and Démare. Fernando Gaviria, meanwhile, was angry once again as he was boxed out by a pair of Team DSM riders.
"It was super hard and super messy, but Démare was just better," Ewan conceded following the finish.
After doubts about the Frenchman's true sprinting prowess, this will surely silence some of the doubters, as well as giving him a lot of confidence to keep winning. Although there are only a few more sprint opportunities coming, don't bet against Démare racking the wins up again, as he did in 2020, when he won four.
However, on that occasion the field definitely was weaker, with the Groupama rider competing against sprinters like Álvaro Hodeg and Simone Consonni, or puncheurs like Peter Sagan, instead of world-class fast men like Cavendish and Ewan.
For Guarnieri, the team was "perfect". "We were sure, when we were talking at the beginning of the Giro that we were strong, we were in shape. It’s just a matter of putting everything in its own place, and today was just perfect. Everyone was super strong, so we can be super happy."
The result meant all the more to the Italian, because he missed out on helping his teammate to victory on Wednesday, he explained.
"First of all, it was special for me because yesterday it really sucked because I was not there with the guys," he said. "It was really bittersweet for me because I was really happy for the guys and Arnaud but I was really unhappy with myself. But at the end of today I wanted to react. The team was perfect, we gained so much confidence from what we did yesterday."
The peloton finished about half an hour behind the slowest speed scheduled by the organisers; there was a breakaway of one for much of the day, poor Diego Rosa.
"With the freshness we had, it was a stroll day, it was super fast at the end," Guarinieri explained. "So I think he made the right choice in not launching his sprint first. I think it was slightly going up in the end. I think he timed it perfectly."
Delight for Groupama and Démare, while the other sprint teams will be left wondering how to beat the French train.
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