Back in May Italian sprinter Elia Viviani lost his mojo. If he’s anything like me it’ll have fallen from his jersey pocket as he took his gilet out, or been left in some café during the traditional it’s-someone’s-turn-to-pay-I’m-outta-here exodus.
Either way, it was the Giro d’Italia, and the ability to win bike races had gone. He was confused and indecisive. Unable to pick a wheel and follow it at the crucial moment.
If the win required him to bide his time he’d jump early.
If the fastest line was left he’d pick right.
Viviani’s mojo was last seen being kicked around a car park post-stage by legendary Italian uber-sprinter Mario Cipollini; the slick-haired super-tanned veteran rolling out his usual lines on media duty, a near-promise to emerge from retirement and show them how it’s done.
Alright Cipo…put a sock in it mate!
Today, in the city of Nancy, came redemption.
It was a day of rolling countryside. The break went clear, allowing the peloton to trundle and dawdle. Pottering along the Moselle river. Lolloping through sedate villages lined with French people celebrating a Frenchman in the Yellow Jersey.
A climb with fifteen kilometres to go offered our single tactical nuance for the day; a fourth category climb, over which some teams went hard in an attempt to dislodge sprinters from rival teams.
Viviani, Nizzolo, Kristoff, Sagan, Boassen-Hagen, Matthews, Greipel – all made it safely over. Groenewegen, Jumbo-Visma’s goalscoring centre-forward, slid back through the peloton, rider by rider, slipping out of touch, to find himself nine men from the tail of the bunch by the summit.
By the skin of his teeth.
But in the mix to contest the sprint.
And it was a slugfest.Embed from Getty Images
Up a draggy finish, and into a headwind, patience was the game.
Alaphilippe, in yellow, to the fore; a kind of pre-lead-out man, if such a thing exists. Delivering Viviani’s actual lead out train into position. A new job invented by King Julian for the occasion.
Kristoff, meanwhile, had gone early. Unable to hold back, a seething mass of fast-twitch muscle, the beefcake Norwegian swung metaphorical lefts and rights to punch his way through the wind, sucking a whole gaggle of standard-sized cyclists along in his vast slipstream.
Groenewegen, in recovery mode from his stage one crash, was punch drunk, unable to follow.
Viviani, coolly, riding a blinder, waited, before swinging off teammate Max Richeze’s wheel and pipping the big fella by no more than not very much at all.
Calm, composed, and with the minimum of fuss. In full possession of his mojo. The proud owner of a Tour de France stage win.
(Top Image: via StateOfIsrael @ Flickr CC)