For Stage 2, way up in the far north west of Italy, the peloton meandered their way down the Po valley towards the town of Novara.
Pink Jersey Ganna flitted around the pack; telling jokes, chatting with pals, and generally relishing his role as master of ceremonies. The day’s breakaway dangled off the front, inconsequential, of no concern to the main bunch. I’m pretty sure, at one point, I spotted Hugh Carthy reading a book.
It was that kind of day. Slow, flat, and unquestionably heading in the general direction of a sprint finish.
We considered the options.
The smart money suggested miniature Aussie Caleb Ewan, as arguably (though Sam Bennett, not at this race, would have a view on that) the most clinical sprinter of the last couple of seasons.
Those with a penchant for a tale of redemption looked to Dylan Groenewegen, the Dutchman, on his return to the sport following a nine month ban for dangerously edging fellow sprinter Fabio Jakobsen into the crash barriers way back at last year’s Tour of Poland.
For the Italophiles among us there was a toss up between European Champ Giacomo Nizzolo, strangely without a stage win in his previous seven Giro d’Italia starts, and Elia Viviani, a once winning sprinter, who now resembles a man who might struggle to pull on his own socks in the morning since his doomed move to perennial losing French outfit Cofidis.
And of course there’s Peter Sagan, and Fernando Gaviria; one freshly clean shaven, one with a massive beard, and both capable of winning a bike race.Embed from Getty Images
But a certain Belgian had no interest in our pre-defined storylines. In a chaotic and slightly push-y, shoulder-barg-y run in to the finish line, Tim Merlier of Alpecin Fenix, a man who lives in the gigantic shadow of teammate and global superstar Mathieu van der Poel (not at this race), leapt clear with 150 metres to go and held off our cast of characters for the biggest win of his career in his debut Grand Tour.
The twenty-eight-year-old cyclo-cross’er turned road racer living up to his reputation as the fastest finisher in Belgium and winning a Giro stage at the first time of asking. The thoughts of Giacomo Nizzolo, with his 100+ winless stage starts, are currently unknown.
Tomorrow, Stage 3, is a hilly rumble – still in the Piedmont region – with a stabby finish in the town of Canale. A day for a punchy fast finishing climber (Diego Ulissi?), a sprinter who can climb (Caleb Ewan?), or maybe a roll-back-the-years Peter Sagan special?
After today, predictions are out of the window.
Maybe the law of averages kicks in and Nizzolo gets his win?
(Top Image: via Eurosport)