To prepare a stage as flat and sprint-friendly as stage ten is no easy task. It requires planning and precision. This stage was not just flat, but ambitiously flat. Super-flat. Flat in accordance with the laws of physics.
Picking a start and finish town is the easy bit of course. This is Italy. Simply unfurl a map of the Republic, pop a blindfold on, have someone spin you to the point of dizziness, and jab a couple of drawing pins in at random.
Congratulations, you have just selected two impossibly beautiful and historic towns: Ravenna and Modena.
From here, it gets tricky.
You would think some kind of GPS mapping would be employed, but this degree of flatness requires the human touch. We’re talking artisan, hand-crafted flatness. Only a small bubble in an enclosed plastic window will get the job done.
Some time last year Giro boss Mauro Vegni sent out a team of his minions with a big #fightforpink branded spirit-level to recce the area, step by step, a length of spirit level at a time.
Following behind were more minions driving a steam roller, with Campagnolo gear box and painted up in Bianchi Celeste, of course, to flatten out anything even resembling an imperfection.
All of which leaves us, eventually, with a stage profile that looks like this:
It couldn’t be more of a sprint stage if you’d insisted the riders keep to their lanes and drafted in Usain Bolt as a stagiare for Trek-Segafredo.
What we are seeing here is clearly the next phase of Grand Tour one-upmanship in route design.
While the Tour largely does its own thing, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta Espana invariably attempt to outdo each other each year. Usually in the form of a wacky, cartoon-esque mountain stage of unfeasible steepness up a gravel track, or some hastily constructed wooden boards, or something.
Stage ten, today, was clearly that, but flat. Expect the Vuelta to respond in kind. With a course so smooth and level as to resemble a beautifully manicured bowling green. In fact, a course that literally is a one-hundred-and-eighty kilometre long bowling green.
And where the Giro goes from there is anyone’s guess.
All of which is my way of ho-humming and la-laa’ing my way through the opening one-hundred-and-thirty-five kilometres of today’s stage so we can concentrate on the final ten, and our sprint finish.
In fact, forget that.
Let’s jump to the final kilometre.
At the very moment the head of the race negotiated the flamme rouge Pascal Ackermann, winner of two stages in this race to date, touched a wheel, brought down a couple of sprint rivals, and removed around thirty-percent of his skinsuit through the use of friction alone.
There’ll be sleepless nights ahead for the German, tossing and turning in search of a road-rash free limb on which to rest his body weight.
Up the road, meanwhile, this left Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani, and maybe, just maybe, Arnaud Demare.Embed from Getty Images
Viviani stuck to Ewan’s wheel as per the previous nine kilometres while the Frenchman Demare launched way down the left-hand side of the road, way too early, his itchy trigger finger surely scuppering his chances.
Ewan waited a moment before diving out from behind his man to launch his sprint – Viviani still on his wheel where he’d left him – only for Demare to hold them off and bury a Roy of the Rovers style long range stoppage time winner.
The FDJ man, a sprinter known to thrive on a hilly course, winning the flattest stage in the history of pro bike racing.
Leaving Ewan, Viviani, and especially Ackerman feeling, well…flat.