There was a moment, seventeen kilometres from the finish, when Swiss rider Simon Pellaud attacked his breakaway companions on the final climb of this hilly day. Dutchman Taco van der Hoorn followed. A final doomed effort, we assumed, on the road to Canale.
The token breakaway would be snagged before an inevitable fast finish between whichever sprinters had managed to drag their powerful thighs across the Piedmontese terrain.
Peter Sagan was surely the man.
His Bora Hansgrohe team, having pushed a big gear all day, had done the damage. Fellow sprinters Elia Viviani and Fernando Gaviria were hanging on, but the likes of Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen, Giacomo Nizzolo and yesterday’s man Tim Merlier had long since slipped off the back of the race like strands of spaghetti from a child’s fork.
In dribs, and drabs, and with sauce all over their chins.
This was clearly the Bora Hansgrohe plan (but without the weird pasta analogy). The more fast finishers Sagan and his team could shed on the terrain, the fewer would compete with him for the finish line. A classic sprinter-who-can-climb scheme. The massed Bora ranks driving the peloton leaving us in no doubt of their intention.
But still Pellaud and Van der Hoorn refused to submit. Diving off that climb, and swooping down to the valley below they were working well. Through and off. Their teamwork whittled and smoothed from a day at the sharp end. With ten kilometres to go, forty seconds clear. Still doomed of course.
The team colours of Belgian Giro debutants Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert and plucky Italian wildcards Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec clawing back the sponsor’s euros by the kilometre.
Standard issue Giro breakaway.
Job done.Embed from Getty Images
Nine kilometres to go and Van der Hoorn attacked. Pellaud, had he the energy to spare, surely cursing his former pal. Two together had no chance, which means two alone have even less.
“What kind of name is Taco anyway!?” glowered Pellaud, probably, slighted by his comrade, his exhaustion manifesting in a string of petty, silent, muttered personal attacks (I may be projecting, but that was almost certainly his response).
The Swiss rider was done.
Back in the bunch it was crunch time. Sagan, Viviani, and luxuriously bearded Colombian Fernando Gaviria had survived the relentless rolling terrain and had teammates working hard to pull them into position. These three sprinters would converge on the twisting, turning, gallop through the town of Canale.
Three kilometres to go and Van der Hoorn is thirty seconds clear. Two kilometres and the gap is twenty. Mouth agape, he’s tunnel-visioned in the direction of the near impossible. The peloton are rumbling away, barely in the distance, just around the previous corner. Sagan and co. tightening shoes and flexing muscles.
A kilometre to go, fourteen seconds, hang on a minute…what’s this?
“The peloton are chasing, and they need to chase quicker,” confirms Eurosport’s Rob Hatch, communicating a fact that has simultaneously clunked into place for every viewer currently wondering whether this Giro debutante might just pull off one of the shocks of the season.
Seven hundred meters, five hundred, three hundred, the entire Giro d’Italia is chasing this unknown Dutchman and he has five seconds of clear air behind him. And that’s that. With a clasped “what-have-I-done” hand across his mouth, “Oh my WORD, even HE can’t believe it,” roars Hatch.
The impossible, made possible.
(Top Image: via Flickr CC https://www.flickr.com/photos/brears/2731771872)