With fifteen kilometres to go on a likely sprinter’s stage, Eurosport like to cut to everyone’s favourite Austrian: Bernie Eisel. As a recent former pro, ‘handsome Bernie’ is well placed to talk us through the finish as the riders approach it.
He describes, and explains, and clarifies, in that weird generic Euro-speak of his, and we glaze over. As when you pull over a passer-by and ask for directions, only a tiny amount of the information seeps in. The rest is merely air molecules passing across ear drum.
Yeah, nice one…cheers mate! you say, before wandering off to follow your nose and take pot-luck.
The way he explained the run-in to Matera today, on Stage 6, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the final three kilometres consisted of a maze, through which the riders must navigate, blindfolded, with a single exit leading out to a finish line.
Up. Down. Flat for a bit. Into town. Right, left, right. Headwind. Tailwind. Crosswind. Past the launderette, left at the pub, can’t miss it….
Complex.Embed from Getty Images
The city of Matera, in the Basilicata region, when it revealed itself, was a thing of utter beauty. With religious buildings perched upon cliffs; dug-out dwellings carved into the rock beneath; staircases, wending lanes, and a rocky ravine winding by. One of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, no less. It seemed churlish to sully its beauty with something so noisy and chaotic as a bike race.
Clearly the race organisers agreed.
For much of the last ten kilometres, as the helicopter gave us sweeping views, the peloton appeared to be barrelling around a wide-laned ring-road. Nowhere near anything beautiful. I suppose, to be fair, rocky outcrops and prehistoric staircases are not the ideal terrain.
For many of us, today was the day when Peter Sagan would break The Big Drought™. July 2019 was his last win. Today’s sprint stage featured an awful lot of hills, with a particularly steep one in the final couple of kilometres. He would hang on to the punchy climbers before outsprinting them for the win. It would be like Stage 2 but this time he would beat Ulissi (or whoever) rather than vice-versa.
And up until the final few hundred metres that was exactly what was happening.
We all pulled on our comedy fake goatees and gave it full squeaky voice impersonations in honour of the big moment only to watch, alarmed, as he mistimed a move, and then another, and slid back and out of contention.Embed from Getty Images
Arnaud Demare, meanwhile, having sat back in twentieth place well into the last kilometre, apparently taking a little breather, swept the final left-hander (you know, the one Bernie mentioned) and glided at enormous speed around, past, and through everyone to win by a country mile.
Sacre bleu! Mon dieu! And other cliched French exclamations.
Our disappointment at Sagan’s defeat trumped by the sheer glory of Demare’s long range effort. A phenomenal win.
The ancient city looked on. Paleolithically. A visit from the Giro just another event in its long history. We could make jokes about the time-span since Sagan’s last win, but let’s just stick with Allez Demare!