It was a tale of four sprinters. Also one fewer Pink Jersey contender; Geraint Thomas having bailed out with yesterday’s (as it turned out) fractured pelvis. As excuses go, it’s a good ‘un.
Stage four ran from Catania to Villafranca, our final day in Sicily before a mainland pilgrimage, and featured a single category three climb, Portella Mandrazzi, slap bang in the middle. Whichever sprinters ascended this obstacle in contact with the main field would gather for a bunch sprint finish.
Fernando Gaviria, a man who favours a pan-flat parcours, up against it.
And I have to point out that, at some point in the last few years the Colombian got hairy. Really hairy. Thick brown locks now flow luxuriously from his helmet, he has the densely stubbled chin of a Canadian lumberjack, and he wins less. He’s getting slower. It’s a clear case of reverse-Samson; while that biblical hero of the Israelites drew power from his hair Gaviria grows weaker with every additional inch upon his head.Embed from Getty Images
Never a man for the hills, though, he could’ve shaved himself bald as a coot pre-stage today and still struggled.
With the climb done, and Gaviria duly dropped, the teams of the other three, Sagan, Viviani and Demare, hit the front and drilled it; because even a hairy Gaviria is a threat in a sprint. Better that he be cut loose decisively and dispatched before it came to that.
Peter Sagan cleared the mountain with ease. But, having not won a bike race since early 2019, he lived in hope that his mojo was awaiting discovery somewhere on the descent. He’s searched high and low across most of the rest of Europe, so who knows?
Worth a look.Embed from Getty Images
Elia Viviani has also misplaced his killer instinct. Having left Deceuninck Quickstep at the end of 2019 as one of the world’s premier sprinters, hasn’t won a race since. As we often see, any rider to leave that all-conquering team immediately becomes somewhat less-conquering. Or perhaps it’s the curse of Cofidis; you join the French team and you immediately inherit their inability to win.
Which left Arnaud Demare. Confident, resplendent in the tricolore, winner in 2020 of the French National Championships, Milan-Torino, and a small flock of other races in this truncated season. Call it a mojo, a killer instinct, or even a lucky streak, he knows where it is and isn’t afraid to use it.
With teammates in full formation, like a French TGV rattling unstoppably through a provincial station, Demare was the final carriage on a good old-fashioned lead-out train through the streets of Villafrance.Embed from Getty Images
Riders peeled off. Sagan hopped from wheel to wheel. Viviani floated, innocuously, never quite there. Head to head, neck and neck. Sagan and Demare, a dive for the line and a photo finish.
And it’s the Frenchman by a tyre tread. To shrugs, and eyebrows raised, and “I dunno…did I get it?”
Ten more psi in his tubulars and Sagan would’ve won. If it’s not your year, it’s not your year. And when it is, it is.