Current mood: uncertain. Governments the length and breadth of the continent, with a dubious mix of foresight, hindsight, and blind faith, are responding to a current wave of coronavirus infections. A bike race, in his context, and depending on your view, is either a welcome distraction or a public health disaster.
Teams are making decisions.
Simon Yates, of Team Mitchelton-Scott, abandoned last week after testing positive. The post-rest day news was of the withdrawal of the entire team following further positives in the team bubble. Steven Kruijswijk, of Team Jumbo Visma, announced a positive pre-Stage 10, and his team also followed suit.
The peloton thinning before our eyes.
Those of who choose to engage in the mental-health black-spot known as Twitter waited, with a sense of doom, for more news. Other positive tests? Further team withdrawals? A collapse of the entire Giro and a win by default for Vincezo Nibali via some kind of Italo-centric algorithmic countback?
Surprisingly, the only further pre-stage announcement concerned Team Sunweb. Michael Matthews testing positive, heading off home, but leaving the remainder of the team intact and in the race. The wisdom of that decision will reveal itself in the coming days.
As for Stage 10, between Lanciano and Tortereto, the saw-tooth profile promised a muscular, punchy kind of a race. Man-of-the-people Peter Sagan, understanding that the world needs cheering up, hatched a plan; after a hundred kilometres of hell-for-leather the peloton gave up the chase and Sagan was clear in the day’s break. On a sprint points hunt, and an implausible all-day breakaway stage win hunt. Filippo Ganna, Ben Swift, Dario Cataldo and others along for the ride.Embed from Getty Images
The climbs en route rose like walls. Fifteen and twenty percent, and in the final thirty kilometres they really began to sap the legs (and the time gap back to the peloton). The heavens opened, and the roads got slippy, just to add a sprinkling of jeopardy. Into the final twenty kilometres and Sagan dispatched Ben Swift, the last man able to hang on to his skin-tight coat tails. He was now alone.
Behind, in an ever-reduced peloton, each agenda revealed itself.
Diego Ulissi fancied the stage win and put his team to work. Domenico Pozzovivo, the tiny veteran, fancied the Pink Jersey and put himself to work. Joao Almeida, already in Pink, ran out of teammates and fought like a beautifully tanned, highly composed dog, to keep it. Pello Bilbao nipped off the front and then got caught again. Wilko Kelderman and Vincenzo Nibali hung around and stayed safe. Jakob Fuglsang drew the short straw, puncturing late to lose a minute and more.
And all the while Peter Sagan stayed clear.
You just knew, from kilometre zero, that his breakaway companions had bemoaned his presence in that group. They understood they would be given nothing. Arnaud Demare’s team would chase them to defend the sprinters jersey. An understanding within the group that Sagan was the fast finisher would kill any desire for the break to succeed as one.
Ride this race, with this context, a hundred times, and Sagan would win from that break on half of one occasion. So unlikely as to be statistically confusing.Embed from Getty Images
With each of the walls scaled and his companions for the day long since cast to the wind Sagan carried a teens-of-seconds gap for ten kilometres, into the town of Tortereto, down that long finishing straight, for a gentle, remember-me, wry salute. The sun, unable to contain itself, burst through the rain. A rainbow appeared (really!).
It’s a glorious, ridiculous, barely possible Peter Sagan win.
If the Giro packs up tomorrow in deference to the coronavirus, no matter. We’ve had our money’s worth. Peter Sagan is once more the greatest pro-cyclist of his generation.
(Top Image: s.yuki / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0))