Sometimes things are bigger than sport.
Right after I published last night's bulletin I was hit with the sobering images of the flooded town of Cesena, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Just two days after the Giro peloton finished a stage in the town, its people shifted from a celebration of sporting achievement to a full-blown environmental catastrophe.
It's a beautiful and deeply significant element of road racing, this engagement with the landscape, that is pretty much unique in sport. Each place visited becomes a mental pin in the minds of the viewing public - a name that sounds familiar, when heard in passing a couple of years later; a vista that prompts a wistful online investigation into potential future holidays; a town affected by a natural disaster that is somehow closer to your heart, as it's no longer just 'something that's happening somewhere else' but a catastrophe in real time that's affecting a place that was a part of your experience. It crosses a line. It connects us just a little bit more with the world around us. It rightly shocks us, a with a few degrees of additional poignancy than if we hadn't watched the town resplendent as part of the race, part of the backdrop to one of the many races we invest our time and passion in.
As an audience watching from wherever we are around the world, we live through the riders vicariously, and some of these places feel like a home from home as familiarity increases year on year. But even for places that are only viewed in passing, there's no denying the sense of connection with the wider world that this sport enables. It's special, and important, and makes it possible to extend sympathies and hold thoughts and prayers in your heart without feeling glib about it. It's not lip service. It's people's homes, livelihoods, and even lives. It's real and it means something. For many, it's everything. So from my home, to those in Cesena, and in the wider Emilia-Romagna area that's so familiar from so many virtual visits there courtesy of this beautiful sport, the team and I extend our sincerest condolences. If you want to support those affected in the crisis, there's a link to do so here, courtesy of another sport affected by the flooding.
Today in review
The morning was ominous. It brought us more of the same: dreaded news rolling in of rider abandonments: eight altogether, all but one due to covid and three from the same team - the former race favourites Soudal-QuickStep, reduced to just three lone wolves.
The longest stage of this year's race - made even longer by an unnecessary 10km neutralised start - was merciful to the diminished Giro peloton in more ways than one. Firstly, the sun came out. The tarmac was dry and the sky was, occasionally, some weird non-grey colour that I heard has apparently been described as ‘blue’.
The second mercy was the speed with which the breakaway was established. Six men extricated themselves from the bunch with ease and were not challenged, likely some agreement – spoken or unspoken – among the bunch to take things easy, and allow battered bodies and struggling immune systems as much respite as can really be afforded by a 200km plus stage of a Grand Tour.
The mood was buoyant among the peloton with plenty of smiles and a seemingly relaxed atmosphere, in stark contrast to yesterday, a day which Team DSM’s Alberto Dainese described as ‘the coldest day of my life.’ There was the customary intermediate sprint battle, this time a head-to-head between Milan and Pedersen, followed by the requisite banter. More effusive segments with Jens Voigt on the moto. A parrot. Because of course there was a parrot.
With some form of equilibrium restored, it was once again possible to switch off a little and enjoy the views, watch the Giro train chug alongside the race and take our eyes off the race and wait for the inevitable sprint finish.
It was a mistake. Lulled into a false sense of security, feeling briefly uplifted by the change in weather and the relative peace, it was a shock to the system when a crash on a slippery descent took out a number of INEOS riders and Primož Roglič. Not as much of a shock I’m sure as it was to Tao Geoghegan Hart, who came off worst, immobile on the ground and later taken away in an ambulance, his Giro over. So too Óscar Rodríguez of Movistar who crashed shortly afterwards, another casualty of the slick tarmac.
It was tough to take, and will take longer still to process, that yet another one of the top favourites is out of the race. The GC top ten shuffled yet again, riders who on Sunday were in 15th or 20thplace suddenly finding themselves in with a chance of place in Giro history.
One such rider was Eddie Dunbar, and when Filippo Zana of Team Jayco Alula launched a surprise attack on the day’s categorised climb, Dunbar was right on his wheel, making sure he was in close quarters in case of splits as they worked on behalf of Michael Matthews to make life difficult for soe of the sprinters. It worked, for a while, the peloton snaking up the climb and cracks appearing as Zana pushed the pace, and at the front, the day was over for two-thirds of the breakaway, with Laurenz Rex and Veljko Stojnic pushing clear of the rest.
Charlie Quarterman had a late dig and there was a crash further back in the bunch, but aside from Fernando Gaviria all the sprinters were present and correct for the run-in to the line, and it was Trek-Segafredo who led it out, and Mads Pedersen was the first to open his sprint, with Mark Cavendish in his wheel. Cavendish drew level and they sprinted side by side but their efforts came too soon, as UAE’s Pascal Ackermann passed them on the inside and surged for victory, and it seemed like his victory was a done deal but from NOWHERE, NOWHERE I tell you, shot a ciclamino jersey pushing some serious watts. Jonathan Milan stormed from miles behind to make us all second guess the winner, but Ackermann celebrated and the photo confirmed that the German had it, by a whisker.
Here's a handy frame by frame view of how those last few seconds unfolded.
So another stage, another different winner, in a race that's yielded ten of them so far in eleven stages, the only repeat victor the departed Remco Evenepoel with his double time trial success.
In the longest stage of a race which has already felt like a thousand years, in terms of emotional turmoil and drama, the peloton suffered yet more losses. We can only hope that just as stage 11 represents a metaphorical peak in the middle of the race, that it might also come to be seen as the nadir of this year’s Giro, in terms of bad news. If today's weather embodied the English teacher's favourite device, pathetic fallacy, promising a brighter future for the race, and hopefully the area, there sure as hell must be some better news on the horizon?
Speedy stage preview
Stage 12 – Thursday 18thMay – Bra – Rivoli – 179km (Medium Mountains)
The far north-east of Italy plays host to stage 12, marking the crossing of the halfway point in the race, and it’s a three-course meal of climbs to start the day, a small uncategorised blip leading to a larger uncategorised lump and finally a category 3 ascent just 9km into the stage which should see a hectic early pace as the break seeks to establish itself.
Following the descent from the climb there’s a long stretch of flat before the main challenge of the day, the category 2 Cola Braida – a steep pinnacle of a climb, 9.8km at 7.1%, with the second half of the climb harder than the first, featuring pitches of up to 12%. At this stage in the race it will be tough for the GC riders to resist testing their legs, so expect a full-scale battle on this one. 28km of hair-raising descent stands between the peak of the climb and the finish line in Rivoli, a stunning town just outside of Turin.
WHAT TO EXPECT: A big breakaway battle resulting in a strong group that will go all the way to the finish. The GC battle to ignite. An early indication of form ahead of the first big mountain test.
HOT TIP: A climber with the bit between his teeth, from the break, to take the win. It could well be another day ripe for BEN HEALY.
Italian to go
by Emma Bianchi
I don't even know what to say. This Giro is breaking my heart more and more, but it is also gifting me stories like Pascal Ackerman's win today. I remember talking to him almost three weeks ago, a day before the German classic Eschborn-Frankfurt, asking him about his goals for the Giro, to which he said: 'The legs are good! I am in good shape and a really good mindset right now. I am not going there to not win.' I am so happy for him, he got his deserved stage win, yet at the same time so heartbroken for all the riders who have to abandon due to various reasons - the most recent one being Tao.
One thing is for sure, the Giro is definitely not making things boring. It has me sitting on the edge of my seat every day, anxious for what the next stage will bring. The only idiom I could think of for today is the following: Chi ha il pane non ha i denti, chi ha i denti non ha il pane - 'Those who have bread don't have teeth, and those who have teeth don't have bread.' I feel it is quite fitting, because it describes how you can not have everything you wish for. It serves as a reminder that life's circumstances can be paradoxical, and having one thing may come at the expense of another important element. I get to see Ackes winning his stage - but I also have to watch riders abandon the Giro.
More often than once while watching today's stage, I had to think of a certain Italian swear that all of cycling Twitter should be familiar with - Porca Madonna!, meaning good God or literally 'Pig Madonna!'. We have all heard Giulio Ciccone exclaim it and censoring it at the last second when he realised he was being filmed. He said 'Porca Madonza', which is a watered down version of the original curse; similar to 'shoot!' instead of 'shit!'. This particular curse is considered highly impolite and inappropriate in most contexts, and its use is discouraged, because it is offensive to the Virgin Mary.
Our bicycle gains its forcella today, its fork. The fork is an essential component of a road bike, contributing to its steering, stability, shock absorption, weight, stiffness and aerodynamics.
You can see it here:
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
38: Stage 10: Miley Cyrus - Wrecking Ball
I need a hug *whimper*
Well, the plan was to give you something lighthearted and joyful. Something fun. But this race has broken my already tried-and-tested heart into a million ashy pieces so that ain’t happening today. Neither is any kind of actual recap, that plan was abandoned along with the easy joyful vibe of today’s early stages and the hopes and continued participation for the GC GingerContender of my hart. And no, that’s sadly not a typo.
I really hope everyone involved in the crashes today are okay, especially Óscar Rodríguez and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
The last couple of days of this Giro have felt particularly brutal, heart-breaking, cruel… My nerves are frazzled and fragile already and we’re only halfway.
Dear Italy, dear Giro, can you please be a little gentle and soft with me, with all of us, and especially with the riders for the remainder of the race? Please? *sob*
Anyways, while I curl up on the floor in a foetal position and cry as I obsessively check for medical updates on the wounded, here’s Wrecking Ball…
It's been a low-key day today, so I'm keeping things tonally subdued and foregoing the usual hilarity for a moment of sincerity instead as the two protagonists of this year's race check in with one another and compare damage. A moment of sportsmanship that reflects the brutality of the day but also transcends it.