On Sunday, Alberto Dainese was the last man on the road on stage 15 of the Giro d'Italia, 13 minutes behind the next person to finish in Bergamo, just 13 minutes inside the time cut. Three days later, the DSM rider triumphed in Caorle in a photo finish, in a comeback he could only describe as "insane". The story arc could barely have been scripted better.
Delivered by his team to the perfect place in the final 500m of Wednesday's stage 17, Dainese was in pole position for the sprint, but still had to put a lot of work in to catch Michael Matthews (Jayco AlUla) and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious).
The five corners inside the final couple of kilometres meant that positioning was everything, something that DSM got exactly right, and Dainese delivered on. Matthews attempted to roll back the years, launching his sprint first, but could not match the Italian's power. Meanwhile, Milan once again came from so far back to almost pip his compatriot on the line; a tyre width was what won it.
One wonders what would happen if Milan had a team capable of putting him in the right place, he might be unstoppable.
However, Wednesday was all about Dainese, the man from the Veneto, winning in the Veneto. He has battled illness over the past week, but stuck with it to get back to this point, to take his second stage win at the Giro, a year after the last.
"This is insane. The first sprints [of this race] didn't go as planned. We did a good job, but we never got a good result," Dainese explained post-race. "Today we rode an insane final with the boys. Marius [Mayrhofer] did a super job, and Niklas [Märkl] as well to finish it off.
"When he swung off, I was a bit overtaken by the guys from the left so I had to squeeze and catch Matthews. Then in the last metres I was really digging so deep, I was on the limit. I saw Johnny coming and I couldn't really throw my bike, but I got the win.
"Especially after the last five days, I was quite sick with stoamch issues and my breathing was not good. To win after such a struggle is insane. I'm super happy, I cannot thank the team enough, to keep me in the race and keep me motivated."
Wednesday's stage was largely flat (in both vibe and profile) after the excitement of the mountain top finish on Tuesday; a four-man breakaway was kept in check all day by the peloton, before the remnants were swept up within the last 10km.
"We were controlling the whole day, the whole team was riding super hard, and it was a good job from Alberto to finish it off," Mayrhofer, Dainese's teammate, said. "I was on the front there, I knew there were these two left corners coming up, so I went all in. That was crucial today."
On a day that was always destined to be a sprint finish, Dainese timed his effort right. Mark Cavendish (Astana-Qazaqstan), on the other hand, was far from the front, and could only finish 19th after not being in the right place going round the final few corners. That might be his last opportunity at a Giro stage win.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) came in with the bunch to maintain his lead in the general classification, and hold onto the maglia rosa. None of the other jerseys changed hands, either.
Results: Giro d'Italia stage 17, Pergine Valsugana to Caorle (197km)
1. Alberto Dainese (Ita) DSM, in 4-26-08
2. Jonathan Milan (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) Jayco Alula
4. Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Intermarché-Circus-Wanty
5. Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis
6. Fernando Gaviria (Col) Movistar
7. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious
8. Alex Kirsch (Lux) Trek-Segafredo
9. Stefano Oldani (Ita) Alpecin-Deceuninck
10. Pascal Ackermann (Deu) UAE Team Emirates, all at same time
General classification after stage 17
1. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, in 71-58-43
2. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 18s
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 29s
4. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain Victorious, at 2-50
5. Eddie Dunbar (Ire) Jayco-AIUla, at 3-03
6. Lennard Kämna (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 3-20
7. Bruno Armirail (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 3-22
8. Andreas Leknessund (Nor) DSM, at 3-30
9. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4-09
10. Laurens De Plus (Bel) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4-32
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