The landscape for Stage 15 was pretty and green. The peloton rolled across the countryside, criss-crossing the border between Italy and Slovenia, flag-waving fans at the roadside adding colour and atmosphere. It was a lovely scene.
And yet, on the horizon, at every turn, the dark clouds loomed. Heavy rain was on the radar and it was looking ominous. As so often in the Giro d’Italia, weather was about to have its say.Embed from Getty Images
While the clouds were having a little think about when to unleash their payload the day’s breakaway, fifteen riders strong and twelve minutes clear, were beginning to turn on each other. This is how the breakaway works: co-operate and collaborate until you have a decent lead, draw your knife without anyone noticing, and then decide whose back to plunge it into.
With twenty kilometres to go Victor Campenaerts, the Belgian hour record holder, and Dutchman Oscar Riesebeek, broke clear with Spaniard Albert Torres. Knowing Torres to be the fastest finisher the pair dropped him, brutally, on the next climb, and set about two-man time-trialling to the finish.
“NOW,” said the weather gods, and the heavens opened.Embed from Getty Images
Within moments, the rain was bouncing from the tarmac, leaving our two stage hunters to tiptoe gingerly around every curve, brakes squealing, soaked to the skin and wondering about the wisdom of their move. The green, green Italo-Slovenian grass now lost amongst the weather.
A calm, controlled day had become a frazzled shlepp through the rain.
Way back in the peloton, a truce was wisely called. The conditions promised a headlong sprawl across the tarmac as reward for anyone committing the slightest mistake. None of the team leaders fancied that.
“’Ow’s about we all just have a nice little pedal into town and no-one gets hurt…capiche?” suggested Filippo Ganna, Egan Bernal’s bodyguard, if my lip-reading skills are correct. Admittedly visibility wasn’t great, but I’m pretty sure he then whipped out an Ineos branded umbrella from his jersey pocket and carefully sheltered his pristine, pink team leader.
Clocking off, the peloton would finish seventeen minutes behind the winner.
Who, after twenty kilometres of attack and counter attack, the occasional sketchy moment through the rain, and a treacherous cobbled sprint into the finish line at Gorizia, was Victor Campenaerts.
In the final reckoning his Dutch opponent betrayed his inexperience of race winning situations and launched an eager sprint way to early. Campenaerts latched on, took the slipstream for twenty metres, and then sling-shotted past for a clear win.
“A once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Riesebeek, gutted.
For Campanaerts it was, surprisingly, career Grand Tour stage number one. From which a stunning stat revealed itself: of the fifteen stages in this year’s race to date eleven – eleven! – have been won by riders without a previous Grand Tour stage win.
I’m not really sure what that means, but there you go.
Tomorrow, Stage 16, is an absolute monster. Two hundred and twelve kilometres in length. Three summits above two-thousand metres. When quizzed by the Cycling Podcast yesterday sprinter Elia Viviani confirmed he would be prepared to pay as much as a thousand Euro’s to not have to ride it.
I suspect he’s not alone.