Exactly one third of this year's Giro d'Italia has elapsed, and we've settled in now, haven't we? We're comfortable, we know where we stand, everything's settled, even the rain has stopped. I might even curl up in this corner over here and have a little nap, while you read today's box of goodies.
Today in review
After two not-flat stages which still managed to finish in bunch sprints, the organisers clearly planned today’s stage to ensure they had the chance to sit on and rest. Or perhaps because they were hoping it might be the day in which the GC guys finally had a little nibble.
It was not to be.
If you'd told a cycling fan when the four-man break was established - with astonishing efficiency, it must be said - that one of them would win the stage, they would probably have laughed in your face. Not that breakaways never win; but with the best will in the world, it didn't seem like the kind of day, or the kind of break, that had a chance of going all the way.
Oh ye of little faith.
The four riders: Simon Petilli (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty); Karel Vacek (Team Corratec-Selle Italia); Davide Bais (EOLO-Kometa) and Henok Mulubrhan (Green Project Bardiani etc etc) amassed a convincing lead, the largest in the race by far, thusfar, around a steady 9 mins, and after that, things were, well... rather quiet.
Leknessund got dressed, badly. Team DSM drove the pace. Henok Mulubrhan was duly dropped from the break. Two young Americans crashed - Sepp Kuss, because a Giro stage isn't a Giro stage without a bit of Jumbo-Visma ill fortune, and our youngest rider Matthew Riccitello - NOOOOOO!!! They were OK so I'll quit being dramatic.
The sun came out, sort of. Leknessund got undressed, badly. With 100km to go the gap stretched out to 12 minutes, then began to concertina back in again as we head towards our final mountain challenge, Gran Sasso d'Italia - destination Campo Imperatore.
As they approached the climb, the gap disappeared from the screen but was apparently around 13.30 which meant that one of three riders had an extraordinary opportunity – not only to win their first ever professional race, but to win a stage of the Giro d’Italia.
When the gap reappeared, and it was 9.15, so actually not quite as crazy as first imagined, and heading into the climb the peloton showed up for work. Was the break's day done?
Dark skies loomed ominously ahead and the gap started to come back slowly. The likes of Ganna were dropped as the first KOM point came and went, with maglia azzurra Thibaut Pinot taking 4 points to bolster his total.
The climb continued and AG2R coalesced at the front of the bunch, and with them the notion that Aurelien Paret-Peintre may be interested in snatching the maglia rosa from the man he already beat once, for the win on stage 4. Meanwhile, today’s trio of hotshot lawyers – Petilli, Vacek and Bais – enjoyed 6.30 with under 8km remaining. It was all but confirmed: they would fight for the win between them.
Petilli took the opportunity to chance an attack and Vacek had pain face - he looked likely to be the first to drop, and so it went at one point but clawed his way back on only to attack himself, but it wasn't enough to distance his two pals and they came back together once again.
They fought up the final steep pitches and it was Davide Bais of EOLO-Kometa who struck out for the line, gapping his colleagues and crossing the line, incredibly, to take his first pro victory and give Alberto Contador, team manager of the EOLO-Kometa team another reason to celebrate at the Giro, two years after Lorenzo Fortunato won on Monte Zoncolan.
The GC group came to the line together, Remco Evenepoel crossing the line just ahead of Primož Roglič, with strong vibes of stalemate going into the second full weekend of the Giro,
Speedy stage preview
Stage 8 – Saturday 13th May – Terni – Fossombrone – 207km (Medium mountains)
The day begins with an uncategorised climb for the first 10km which should make for an interesting battle for the breakaway, which is likely to continue well into the descent that follows and beyond. It is a day of undulations, as the race pushes further North once again in the direction the Adriatic coast, but nothing that will trouble the peloton overly until the final set of categorised climbs which begin with around 52km remaining on the stage.
There are three in quick succession, with the central climb the biggest challenge, a category 2 ascent of 7.8km, with an average gradient of 6.5% but after the first kilometre, throws up a punishing ramp of around 2km at 9.6%. Its late placement on the stage should make for a fun battle for the stage, with late attacks encouraged. It will probably come down to a hopeful solo breakaway or a reduced bunch sprint.
WHAT TO EXPECT: A lively fight for the break. The GC group to stick together, with a few seconds between them at the most. A hopeful punt from one or two of the GC riders towards the end. A show of strength from INEOS. A belligerent Remco.
HOT TIP: A power play from REMCO EVENEPOEL, heading into Sunday's time trial, will see the World Champion crowned stage winner.
Lena's Giro Antipasti
Remember when I rambled about the origin of city names and took you on a journey back to the Roman republic? It already feels as if that was ages ago.
Funnily enough, the Giro visits a second city formerly named Interamna. To this day, only two still exist in Italy and both serve as a Partenza to a stage.
You already know Termamo but may I also have the honour to introduce you to Terni?
Once known as Interamna Nahars it is the second largest city in the region Umbria and is home to 110,000 people.
If you’re ever in town you can visit the local cathedral, the old Roman amphitheatre and city gate as well as the pinakotheka which is home to several paintings of some of the old masters.
If art isn’t your angle you might instead want to visit the Ciclodromo Comunale 'Renato Perona'. Perona won Olympic gold in track tandem cycling - I also didn’t know that this was an Olympic discipline until 1982 - and was born in Terni.
Tomorrow’s arrivo also claims Roman heritage, with even its name being a curious amalgamation of Forum Sempronii - and yes, it’s named after Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (if you know, you know). However, compared to Terni it’s a small town of just 9,000 inhabitants.
Today, those two cities are connected via the Strada Statale 3, a highway that connects the regions Lazio, Umbria and Marche. The team and race support cars will even use this very highway to get to the finish.
Now what would you say, if I tell you that this highway has been existing - albeit in a different form - for more than 2,000 years?
It was called and still is called the Via Flaminia, and it connects Rome on the Thyrennian side with Rimini/Ancona on the other side by cutting right through the Apennine mountains. It even sports the biggest bridge ever built by the Romans; the Ponte d’Augusto, which crosses the river Nera by Narni(a). The city lost the -a at the end in modern times. But as a fantasy book aficionado I have to smile every time I read its name.
The bridge consisted of four big pillars, however today only one is still standing. And of the once 296/328 kilometers long street only few original cobble stones still remain. The difference in distance is due to the two endings. The older one in Ancona and the younger one in Rimini. Yet young is relative here, since these are the designations used by the Romans themselves. Everything is simply 'very old.'
So old that we only see a few original pieces if we look for them and those will probably have already been renewed in imperial times because street upkeep was a serious business in Roman times, where such highways had political patrons. One of the Via Flaminia's was Augustus himself.
Yet the idea, the concept of this route, has survived republics, empires, kingdoms and countless wars. Because once conceptualized and built it was an integral part in the Italian landscape that improved mobility in such a way that missing it is unthinkable. And while the Autostradas and Ferrovias now use tunnels through the Apennines with a much different route and are much faster, the spirit remains the same. To connect people.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
18: Stage 7: Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake, Act 1, #2. Valse, intrada.
Along the way today
We passed a lake today that may or may not have been named after the ballet. Danish commentators mused over whether the lake was the inspiration instead, but I can’t find any intel on whether the darling dramatic Russian made it to the Gran Sasso area, though he would probably have appreciated the scenery and looming clouds. And I never need an excuse for throwing a little ballet at people, so… catch! It’s the score from the opening waltz scene though, not the big dramatic finale, because they did NOT earn that today. *huffs off to practise my pirouettes*
19: Stage 7: The Impressions - Keep on Pushing
20: Stage 7: American Authors - Best Day of My Life
Rather than huffing on about the fizzled out hopes of a big GC battle, I’d much rather spend auditory attention on celebrating the fact that Davide Bais - part of the notoriously tenacious duo of breakaway brothers - won the stage, and that an early-stage formation made it to the end!
So here’s some old school Chicago soul reminding us all to never give up trying - and some joyfully jangly folk-rock to celebrate the triumph for the small guys for once!
21: Stage 7: Carola - Fångad av en stormvind
So… Eurovision. I’m not particularly clued into the current proceedings to be honest, but it’s here! (And queer, delightfully so!)
The tendency for cycling fans to be into Eurovision seems to be more of a twitter-bubble phenomenon than how it works where I’m currently existing, and I can only keep track of ONE big European media production featuring an international selection of people in colourful spandex at the time, so… I’ll catch up eventually. I hope so. As far as I understand some Slovenian youngsters are the frontrunners, which is a framework my bike-brain can roll with!
However, to celebrate; Here is my all-time favourite Eurovision winner. Swedish pop at its very best, Carola’s Fångad av en stormvind (Captured by a lovestorm). She won the whole thing in 1991 - a year where Rome was the location for the finale, meaning it’s very relevant for this year’s Giro obviously. And well; it’s an example of how being caught in a strong wind doesn’t have to make things boring, so enjoy!
(Guess, I’m still grumpy. I promise I’ll dance it out of my system before tomorrow!)
Unlucky for some: why 13 might not be a curse at the Giro
by Anna McEwen
In some western cultures the number 13 is considered ‘bad luck’. Not only individuals, but also some companies and organisations will go out of their way to avoid using the dreaded number.
The mistrust of this number could date back to the 13th guest sat round the table at the Last Supper. Or it could stem from the original Friday 13th, when King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights’ Templar. Or perhaps its corruption into the status of something to be loathed is more subtle and misogynistic and has its roots in the fact that the number 13 represented femininity in ancient cultures.
The reasons, whatever they may be, are lost in time, but many normally level-headed, non-superstitious people will have an adverse reaction when faced with this number. The phobia is even recognised with its own name: Triskaidekaphobia.
So, as I watched Mikaël Cherel battle against the weather trying to don his rain jacket I was strangely pleased to see that he had his race number pinned on in the traditional style, one the right way up and the other upside down. As Cherel has the dubious honour of riding under the number 13.
But in Italy, 13 is considered lucky. The number that should be avoid during the Giro is 17.
Now bear with me: the reason that 17 is a bad omen in Italy is that when represented in Roman numerals it reads XVII. An anagram of this is VIXI. This is turn in Latin translates to ‘I have lived’. Which carries with it the heavy implications of a life now over.
Hotels in Italy may have no room ‘17’, high rises will miss this number off their floorplans, airlines are known to exclude it from their aeroplanes, and it’s Friday 17th that is the day to avoid making big plans here.
So, I wonder whether, really, particularly in light of his nationality, it should in fact be Andrea Vendrame of AG2R that has his race numbers pinned on upside down… has anybody checked?
The Watch Zone
The riders of our hearts...
Young rider watch: oh, the panic when our youngest rider came down today after a collision with countryman Sepp Kuss - luckily he seemed unharmed, and he arrived over the line in 98th position, just over 18 minutes behind the leaders. He fights another day!
EF watch: well, another day, another lack of EF riders in the break, disappointing. Magnus Cort was able to protect Hugh Carthy at the front of the bunch, all the way to the line, and we hope for fireworks tomorrow.
The Fallen: two more riders did not start the race today - we bid farewell and wish get well soon to Giovanni Aleotti (covid) and Nicola Conci (covid). Total riders remaining: 169
The end bit, with the fun stuff.
When it comes to top content, there's one team who are doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Our first three bits all feature Mads Pedersen, although he did win yesterday so was in the spotlight perhaps more than some riders. So much so, the whole of Napoli was celebrating...
The man of the moment had promised he'd shave off his newly sprouted facial hair when he won a stage, and pre-stage 7 it wasn't clear whether or not he'd go through with it... so is Mads still hirsute, or not?
There was no chance of Pedersen getting away today, not if Team Jayco-Alula had anything to do with it...
It's a fun sport, isn't it? Even on the quiet days we have plenty to talk about. For now though, it's time to hit 'send' - we'll see you all again for more of the same tomorrow. Ciao!