We're heading closer to Rome, well, in a very roundabout fashion as the peloton has yet to traverse the Dolomites, which present quite the obstacle. So the sprinters were keen to seize their final opportunity before Rome today, and we too will speed as fast as we can to the meat in the word sandwich - here we go!
Today in review
Stage 17 - The one that launched a thousand memes
It’s indicative of the peculiarities of this Giro d’Italia that a stage with a profile that’s either slightly downhill or completely flat all day, started the day with people doubting that it would be a nailed-on sprint. Of course, it should be. It would be… wouldn’t it? But it’s been a Giro for the breakaway, and with plenty of tenacious riders without a win for all their efforts, if a strong enough break got away, with a number of the sprint teams diminished, or missing altogether, there were no guarantees.
Would it be a day for Mark Cavendish? Following the announcement of his retirement, it seemed a no-brainer that he would go for Giro stage win number 17, and on stage 17 there was an air of numerical fate suggesting itself. So too, an early stop in the neutralised zone where his bike was attended to, a suggestion that he was feeling good. Stefano Allochio waited for him to begin the race, and we were off.
Four riders got away relatively easily – another jaunt for Team corratec-Selle Italia's British rider and friend of the site Charlie Quarterman; Alpecin-Deceuninck's rouleur Senne Leysen; current leader of the fuga classification and sole Cofidis rider in the race (I assume, given that I haven't seen any others) Thomas Champion; and EOLO-Kometa's Diego Sevilla. We were treated to sweeping helicopter views of Lake Levico, and there was a moment’s hesitation from Jayco-Alula before they thought better of chasing the break down and settled in for the day.
A smattering of rain didn't last long thankfully and there was high jinx in the peloton, the riders playing around and interacting with the TV cameras, Adam Blythe on the moto, and each other. Israel-Premier Tech's Marco Frigo even got off his bike to greet his friends and family (video clip pending).
The peloton had no interest in allowing the break any leeway, maintaining the gap at about 1.30, and at the intermediate sprint, after the breakaway four, Milan took points and Derek Gee beat Pascal Ackermann into second, because of course he did.
There were laidback vibes all round, Bart Leysen in the Alpecin car with his son Senne in the break, and there really wasn’t much to say about most of the rest of the day until 22km to go when Leysen himself attacked from the front of the break and set off in search of a solo victory. As his remaining breakaway buddies were swept up by the peloton, Leysen managed to open up almost a minute’s gap, but the peloton began to reel that back in almost immediately. Leysen tired up fast after that, his lead evaporating and within 10km, he was working to maintain a slender 20 seconds of breathing room.
The bunch allowed him to dangle for a few kilometres before gobbling up the gap with 5km to go and setting to work on the main business of the day: setting up the final sprint. Ben Swift led the bunch for Ineos with the maglia rosa visible right behind him and as the bunch passed safely through the 3km to go mark they dropped back to let the sprint teams do their thing.
DSM, Intermarche and Jayco Alula were visible approaching 2km to go, and a series of 90-degree turns scrubbed off the pace and stretched out the bunch, but luckily didn’t cause any accidents. With 1km to go Jayco Alula were in pole position but Cavendish was way out of position.
As the metres ticked away three riders emerged at the front: Michael Matthews, Alberto Dainese and Jonathan Milan, the latter motoring through as he has had to do in the absence of a proper lead-out for basically every sprint finish. The three spread across the road and fought shoulder-to-shoulder for the win – crossing the line, there was nothing in it on first glance; the photo showed barely the width of a tyre separated Dainese and Milan. Victory for the Italian, and second place for the, er, other Italian, who will carry ciclamino all the way to Rome bar incident, accident or Dolomite-related tardiness.
Afterwards emotions ran high, with conflict between Mark Cavendish and one of the riders from Bardiani, and tears from Intermarche’s Arne Marit, who dropped his chain as he launched his sprint and was left heartbroken. This late in the race, winning means everything.
with Tom Portsmouth
Giro Stage 17 – Sprint Stage Madness
Sprint stages offer something mountain stages could never. The need to rewatch the finish two, three or even four times in order to understand how the winner got into the winning position. You then have to watch it again to understand how every other rider lost their chance to even commence their sprint. Fundamentally, sprinting is all about moving into the right position in order to shoot the arrow as straight and fast as possible. So it goes without saying some riders will be overlooked, maybe even the winner but there are always some intriguing tactics to unpack in any mass sprint finish.
Stage 17 of the Giro D’Italia sees the sprinters take on a technical final four kilometres. It begins with a roundabout where the peloton has to take the right hand side. A long and straight one-and-a-half kilometres alongside the beach will allow teams out of position to come back into play, should the expected weaker lead out trains factor. The following sequence of bends feature a double left – separated by a few hundred metres – into a sharp right, petit ‘s’-bend, sweeping left and a final left hander before opening up with six-hundred-metres to the finish line. The sprinters’ teams will need to be first into the double left-hander at two kilometres left to ride.
It was Alberto Dainese’s DSM who performed the best lead out in the final of Stage 17. They arrived at two kilometres with two riders left in front of Dainese. Did you wonder why the final DSM rider was able to ride over one and a half kilometres, and so placing Dainese perfectly? As a sprinter on such a technical finish, where positioning is the holy grail, you hope to reach this sequence in the driving seat. It provides the opportunity to lower the pressure on the pedals as the road flows left, then right and left some more. It relieves the urgency of sprinting à bloc on the front, because only a certain number of riders are able to swamp you after the consecutive bends. Behind, riders are forced to brake progressively longer and harder, the deeper you go into the peloton, stringing out the peloton thinner and thinner, until each rider is lined out in single file. DSM therefore kept their riders fresher to carry Dainese into an optimal position within sight of the finish line.
DSM came into the final six-hundred metres in front. The Italian then waited after the realisation they were too far from the finish with just one rider left to guide him. Michael Matthews opened up after his last man deposited him, ultimately proving too long a sprint for the Australian to win the race. Dainese and Milan, then jump early, aware they can make use of the huge benefit that is gap rushing. A technique Milan is all too familiar with. Dainese was the strongest in the sprint, amplified due to his positioning in the twisting finale. He even matched Milan for speed all the way until the closing 75 metres, where Milan just maintained his speed, on his Kittel-like launch. In the end it was DSM’s ability to pull off the best team effort to place and control the final two crucial kilometres, that scored them the win.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 18 – Thursday 25thMay – Oderzo – Val di Zoldo – 161km (Medium mountains)
A relatively short stage which often leads to explosive action, and with marginally less total climbing on the cards there’s likely to be a big fight for the break, with guys who haven’t managed to tick off that big win yet all vying for position.
Beginning just north of Venice, the race remains in the north-west of Italy and spends the day travelling north into the Dolomites, where the crux of the race will unfold over the following days. With five categorised climbs it’s far from an easy task though – the Passo della Crosetta (11.6km at 7.1%) is a huge challenge less than 40km into the day, and is followed up with a cat 4 kicker, before around 40km of false flat, which won’t offer as much respite as the riders might wish for.
The final 35km is almost pure climbing. With a cat 1 and two cat 2s, including a summit finish, it will be flat-out crazy up there, spread across the road, and difficult to predict a winner. With the finely poised GC race though, the breakaway aren’t likely to have it all their own way.
WHAT TO EXPECT: A breakaway featuring the following riders, give or take a few Bardiani/EOLO: Laurenz Rex, Ben Healy, Alberto Bettiol, Stefano Oldani, Derek Gee, Sebastian Berwick, Toms Skujins.
A separate GC battle sparking late in the day, possibly leading to heart-break for the breakaway.
HOT TIP: A day like this would ordinarily have Primož Roglič written all over it, but the Slovenian rode within himself on stage 16 and it’s unclear whether he’s not feeling good, or is still suffering the after effects of his surgery.
If it’s a breakaway day it’s hard to look past Giro MVP BEN HEALY. If it’s a GC day, GERAINT THOMAS could sneak ahead of a resurgent João Almeida to extend his lead in the maglia rosa.
Lena's Giro Antipasti
Tomorrow‘s stage leads us into the Dolomites. When I was young I thought the Dolomites were their own kind of mountain range. I got a big surprise when I actually looked at a map.
Mountain range naming conventions can be a bit tricky. Even geographical divisions aren't constant.
If you visit Germany, Austria and South Tyrol, the people will tell you that you can divide the Alps into an eastern part and a western part. The division line goes more or less from the Alpine Rhine Valley to Lake Como.
That’s what I actually learned in school. The reason for this division being geological/geomorphological.
However if you were to ask the French or the Italians they would of course tell you that the Alps can be divided into three parts.
- The Western Alps
- The Central Alps
- The Eastern Alps
The logic behind this is rather due to historical-geographical reasons then geology.
Both methods are valid and show once more that despite a big natural border, the Alps have always been a meeting point for the people of Europe.
Today 8 countries border and include the Alps: Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco and France.
Now the Dolomites are of course in Italy and are parts of the Southern Alps if we go by Italian/French terminology. The highest mountain is only 3,343 meters tall. 'Only', because the mountains in the West Alps are much higher - over 4,000 altitude meters.
Now why the name Dolomites? These mountains contain a very special rock which is named Dolomit. It’s a rather young name. Until the 18th century they were known as the 'Monti Pallidi' which can be translated as 'the pale rocks'.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
65: Stage 17: Kings of Leon - Beach Side
…it’s oh so quiet, it’s oh so still…
We all needed a day of (mostly, it is the Giro after all) sunny, chill vibes before it all goes down on the next 3 stages, didn’t we? A flat day full of happy moments (local fanclubs, pre-stage picnics, happy kids, soft smiles, silly jokes and no crazy weather, crashes or unexpected drama) where we all, riders and fans, all just go to the beach and hang out together. Sounds nice, right?
66: Stage 17: Björk - It’s Oh So Quiet
…and so peaceful until…!
Well, that was a sprint and a half, wasn’t it? And likely the last breather before Rome, so I hope you all enjoyed a little downtime, the racing and the absolutely lovely pictures of Albanese (the winner) and Milan (2nd, by a few centimetres) embracing each other right after the line.
So when Björk asks 'So what's the use, Of falling in love (with cycling, ed.)?' I’ll just point to how fuzzy and joyful that alone made me feel today. And gear up for… Another Big Riot!
67: Stage 17: Morrissey - Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference
Poor Arne Marit. He looked on the verge of tears as he explained how his chain dropped (snapped?) right as he was gearing up for the sprint - from a good position even. It’s a small miracle he didn’t crash, and I’m gutted for him. So gutted that I’ll even drag out a song by an artist who in the latter years has been the musical equivalent of a broken chain mid-sprint, but who annoyingly enough made the perfect song for this very incident.
68: Stage 17: Hot Chocolate - Every 1’s A Winner
Distribution of dominance
We have one sprint stage left and… it seems like the field of sprinters have taken their cues from the British soul band. Excited for Dainese, though I would love to see how Milan would far if he didn’t start most of his sprints from impossibly far back.
So… in the light of this; Cav, Gaviria or today’s unlucky Marit for Rome?
69: Stage 17: La Rappresentante di Lista - Amare
Amare: To Love (but like, in Italian…)
This one is partly dedicated to the 7 Italian riders in Top-11 today (insert mind-blown emoji!), and partly to the Giro’s official twitter account.
Their online presence seems dedicated to creating joy and generating laughs by being more meme-based and online than even Pogačar… They also directed my attention to this gem, without knowing that it basically sounds like a sparkling Italian version of several of my already favourite songs. Now that’s some full service social media’ing if you ask me!
When I work (out in the real world) I rarely take specific song requests, but I’m not gonna lie; fun and unexpected song recommendations is my love language of choice…
So to continue the happy vibes of today - on this special occasion the DJ does take requests!
What was I saying yesterday about the increased levels of GC action equalling less silly side quest content? Well, with the pancake flat stage today, it seemed the content machine went into overdrive, with riders in great moods, smiling and joking, beginning with everyone's new favourite Canadian Derek Gee setting us all up for a happy day with this early greeting.
Both Gee himself and Charlie Quarterman teased us as to whether or not we could expect to see them in the day's break...
Who doesn't love a sunny picnic? There was everything to love about these photographs of riders mixing, sitting cross-legged on the grass like school kids, and (hopefully) swapping packets of crisps and finding out what was in each other's sandwiches.
It even prompted a comparison with actual art - unprompted but surprisingly on point given the irreverent nature of the day - check it out (though I should note, that if the riders in question were recreating the original faithfully, the Ineos rider was wearing a few too many clothes!)
And there were plenty more, some of which I'll add in later once the glitch in the platform that's preventing me adding more Twitter links is fixed. I hope.
The emotions on display at the end of today's stage really were indicative of how few chances remain for the riders who've been through so much to get to this point. Three huge days, quite literally, stand ahead of us, before our final procession into Rome - we'll be with you every step of the way.
Thanks for reading. Ciao!