A sprint stage, after what seems like several weeks of mountains, requires a re-focus. We watch, puzzled, as this long line of bike riders hold formation. Big riders mix with little ones. Towns and infrastructure roll by. The force of gravity taking a back seat for a change.
We recognise faces, long forgotten.
We get on our high horse and ramble on about the sprinters who ducked the mountains and went home a week ago. Disrespecting the race, we say, should be a rule, we muse.
But what can you do?
Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani are sat in front of their TV’s just like me, knowing that the breakaway will be pulled back and our sprint will happen. Except they are convinced they could be there, winning, had they chosen to.
I am slightly less bullish.
Slightly.Embed from Getty Images
Our three rebels in the break – Nico Denz, Mirco Maestri and Damiano Cima – were left to dangle, and dangle some more, teetering on the edge of possibly-maybe-could-just-might-just-do-it. Three and a half minutes at thirty kilometres. Two and a half at twenty. Just above par. A chance.
The most painful place to be.
The final ten K’s and the three are fair barrelling along, digging deep and rotating in perfect unison, full commitment to this glimmer of hope. The sprinters really want a sprint, the breakaway really want to stay clear, the GC men – Carapaz, Nibali, Roglic – really happy to sit back for a grandstand view.
Touch, and indeed, go.
The kilometres tick down.
The final five, the final three, the flammme rouge, and our three start to look around. No-one wants to lead the sprint out but the peloton are rumbling into view like a herd of CGI dinosaurs on an IMAX screen. And plenty of them will happily sprint for the win.Embed from Getty Images
Denz is swamped.
Leaving Cima, by a metre or two, in a gasping, high-pitched frenzy of a finish, and with a breakaway win for his troubles.
The Italian, delighted, roars.
Ackermann, the sprinter most likely, commits violent assault against the bars of his bike – I crossed valleys, and climbed mountains, for this!?
Remember, a couple of weeks ago, when the Giro was dull?