A quiet day. Porto Sant’Elpidio to Rimini. A trough to the screaming peak of Stage 10. A day of slo-mo- replays of inconsequential activity. A ho-hum day to add texture to a three-week bike race.
You know the kind of thing.
A rider leans over to visibly chat with another rider and the helicopter camera zooms in to capture the moment. Glad of anything vaguely eye-catching to pass a kilometre or two. “Peter Sagan there,” our commentary team confirm, “no doubt just fine-tuning tactics with his team mate.” Or, y’know, reminiscing about that big, messy night out in Rimini back in 2015. The Adriatic resort being our finish today for the absolute stone-cold certainty of a bunch sprint finish.
The break, five Italians and a Belgian, perhaps chose their fate to simply avoid any peloton related Covid-transmission for another day. For the stage, they were under no illusions.Embed from Getty Images
Until the twisty town-centre finish only Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, desperate for a win, found reason for alarm.
With thirty kilometres to go, peeling right at a roundabout, an in-race moto attempted to slip past the bunch. Clipping Viviani’s wheel he was sprawled, undignified; as if the shame of that basic red/white/yellow Cofidis skinsuit (designed by a child, right, like a competition winner or something?) weren’t enough, he found himself splayed, legs akimbo, and with the Groupama FDJ team of Stage favourite Arnaud Demare rattling away up the road.
He would chase back on, but wouldn’t contest the sprint. Even such a mild-mannered chap as Viviani surely spitting (strictly within the team bubble, you understand, for safety reasons) feathers.
Into Rimini, the peloton negotiated the infrastructure of the Adriatic coast’s biggest party town with aplomb. First Israel Start-up Nation, then Team UAE, bossed it. Their sprinters Rick Zabel and Fernando Gaviria feeling presumably perky. Sagan, as he does, wheel-surfed serenely.
And then with two kilometres to go Demare’s team – big, and muscular – simply shrugged them all aside. Any nearer to the Rimini beach and they’d have kicked sand in the eyes of their rivals and stolen their girlfriends. In a town undoubtedly well-versed in the peacock display of Alpha-dominance it was impressive.
“Hard luck lads,” they said, “Arnaud’s coming through.”
Demare cruised to the front. Gaviria accelerated, now clearly in the grip of a full reverse-Samson situation, and may have literally stopped and gone backwards, so far off the pace was he.Embed from Getty Images
Sagan, legs surely tired from his exploits, wrestled and wrangled, but the French sprinter was again untouchable. The winner now of four of this race’s eleven stages. That’s 36.4% of the Giro to date, percentage fans.
Were we not in corona-times he’d surely be out cutting some rug on the dancefloors of Rimini tonight. Instead, he’ll have to settle for a Covid-safe celebration in the team bubble. For the race it’s a another day ticked off for Pink Jersey Almeida (that’s eight days in the jersey now) and another day closer to Milan.
Whether this Giro, pandemic ‘n’ all, gets that far, currently feels in the balance.