pro cycling

Giro d’Italia 2020 Stage 12: you are now entering Pantani country (please enjoy/endure)

Stage 12, and this is Marco Pantani territory. The roads scrawled with his name – not just today, but always; the reverence people from this area have for the man is palpable. It’s emotional. Whatever your view on Pantani you cannot ignore his deep place in their lives.

It also, judging by the cardiograph stage profile, looked like Thomas de Gendt territory. But a single morning Tweet from our favourite Belgian escape artist said otherwise: “I don’t feel like racing today, the situation is trending the wrong direction and it feels like the organiser conceals things. We’re having discussions between riders whether we should start.”

He’s talking coronavirus (as most of us are). Clearly not got his attack-the-race-with-reckless-abandon head (or legs) on. The daily mutterings from riders now do not bode well. Milan should probably put a pause on inflating all those Pink balloons and hang fire on the massive Pink lighting rig at the Duomo di Milano.

The party is in the balance.

Four hours into today’s five-and-a-half-hour stage much of the peloton might happily have climbed off, race abandoned, let’s find the nearest hot shower. Conditions were atrocious. Bitterly cold, driving wind and rain, glassy roads; it was appalling. For a cyclist, tough to watch. Few of us can relate to the experience of riding a Giro, but many of us have experienced a truly wet and cold day on the bike.

To see the mighty Vincenzo Nibali swinging his arms like a rank amateur in search of blood flow was the great leveller.

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With still fifty kilometres to go the break was well clear, itself in dribs and drabs, while a reduced peloton saw Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang teammate free. Forced to ferry back and forth to their own team car in search of warm drinks, clothing, and perhaps a kind word from an empathetic Directeur Sportif. Wilko Kelderman and Domenico Pozzovivo, also contending for Pink, each had a rag-tag of teammates on hand.

Only Pink Jersey Joao Almeida had a genuinely strong band of lieutenants in his service: Peter Serry, James Knox, and Fausto Masnada would remain heroically with their leader to the bitter end at the finish in Pantani’s town, Cesenatico. Almeida’s ever-composed face set in a frozen grimace.

Thoughts of attack from any of the team leaders totally neutralised, on a day of simple survival.

Up the road, into the final twenty, we had Jhonatan Narvaez of Ineos and Marc Padun from Bahrain McLaren. Soaked to the skin, frozen to their core, and in search of the biggest win of their fledgeling careers. Either able to keep warm(ish) by the fact of riding hard in the break all day, or simply made of tougher stuff than you, me, and a peloton of the finest (and, crucially in this weather, skinniest) athletes on the planet.

To see Padun puncture in the final stages, watch Narvaez ride off down the road, procure a new wheel and chase him, and get within nine measly seconds before finally cracking was, for we viewers, not something to be enjoyed as much as endured.

On balance, and young though he is, I imagine Padun has also had more enjoyable half-hours.

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As for Narvaez, regardless of Padun’s bad luck you cannot deny the man his win on a day like today. A first Grand Tour stage win and a special issue ‘I’ve been a tough-guy’ badge to sew onto his Ineos shorts.

As for the race? The coronavirus? The Italian Public Heath apparatus? Thomas de Gendt’s state of mind?

Who knows?

We must enioy this Giro, and sometimes endure it, one day at a time.

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