Giro d’Italia 2020
A third win in four days saw Arnaud Démare extend his lead in the maglia ciclamino standings as Peter Sagan missed out yet again in a chaotic Stage 7 to Brindisi.
Crosswinds and crashes tore through the peloton to put many of the race favourites under pressure from the get-go of the compelling 143km stage from Matera, but when the dust came to settle, there was no change in the overall standings as Démare did what he does best.
In what was the mass first bunch sprint of the 103rd edition of La Corsa Rosa, the French champion proved his status as the fastest man on two wheels by powering to another emphatic victory on the Adriatic coast.
Despite a slight deviation from his line, Groupama-FDJ’s Démare held off an almost resigned effort from Sagan to condemn the former triple world champion to a third second-place as his hunt for a victory in his maiden Giro continues.
Still without a victory since 10 July 2019, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan now trails Démare by 55 points in the maglia ciclamino standings. Australia’s Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) was a distant third while Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers) and Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck Quick-Step) completed the top five.
The short, flat and eventful stage from Matera was animated from the outset with a four-man break coming to nothing after blustery winds caused the peloton to fragment into numerous groups during an opening phase that saw the head of the race tear along at a zippy 51.5km/h, stringing out the tail in its wake.
Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) was one of the big-name riders caught out in the initial splits but he fought back to finish safely in the bunch to retain his second place on the general classification, 43 seconds behind Portugal’s Joao Almeida.
Almeida and his Deceuninck Quick-Step team rode a near-perfect day as the Belgian road captain Iljo Keisse marshalled his men and ensured that the maglia rosa was always in the right place when the expected echelons formed.
Britain’s Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Italy’s Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) and Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) were all caught out in the early splits. But after the race came back together ahead of the intermediate sprint at Taranto, the peloton remained as one all the way to Brindisi and the bunch finish.
A crash 45km from the finish caused one final flashpoint but ultimately a ceasefire was issued on the wide highway across the heel of Italy as a potential banana skin of a stage turned into the latest sprinting showcase for the man of the moment, Démare, and his well-oiled Groupama lead-out train.
As the peloton rolled out of the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage City of Matera, there was little indication of the drama that was about to unfold.
A largely pan-flat course linking the provinces of Calabria and Puglia promised very little on paper – although the riders would have been aware of the winds forecasted ahead of the stage.
Serial escapees Simon Pellaud (Androni Giacatolli-Sidermec) and Marco Frapporti (Vini Zabu-KTM) skipped clear of the pack from the gun, swiftly joined by Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Josef Cerny (CCC Team).
With the youngest rider in the race in pursuit – Fabio Mazzucco of Bardiani-CSF – the gap quickly stretched to two minutes for the quartet, until the exposed roads and earlier-than-expected winds turned the stage on its head.
Belgian veteran De Gendt went from bossing the break to performing domestique duties for teammate Harm Vanhoucke after the youngster was among those caught out when Deceuninck Quick-Step accelerated to split the peloton just 15km into the race.
Vanhoucke, keeping the white jersey warm for Quick-Step’s man in pink Almeida, found himself in illustrious company off the back, with the likes of Vuelta winner Yates, Liege-Bastogne-Liege champion Fuglsang, local rider Pozzovivo and Bilbao, the second-placed rider on GC, all caught out.
The surge in pace from the leading group of around 30 riders saw Mazzucco gobbled up and the leading quartet brought to heel as the advantage stretched to 50 seconds.
The tempo was impossible to maintain, however, and the peloton came back together ahead of the intermediate sprint at Taranto, the coastal city on the Ionian Sea.
Switzerland’s Pellaud and Italian veteran Frapporti exploited a slight lull to have another go off the front, the duo riding clear to mop up the lion’s share of points before Demare passed through the sprint behind Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and ahead of Sagan to consolidate his lead in the maglia ciclamino standings.
A crash in Taranto held up Fuglsang and Vanhoucke once again – and it wouldn’t be the last time. After the leading duo were pegged back, another pile-up tore through the pack with 45km remaining just as tensions were riding high ahead of another straight, exposed stretch of road towards the Adriatic coast.
Filippo Ganna, the blue jersey and double stage winner from Ineos Grenadiers, used his time trailling power to lead the likes of Vanhoucke and Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team) back into contention following the incident, with the race all coming back together with 21km remaining.
There was to be no more drama on the stressful run into Brindisi. And once the teams of the GC favourites gave way, Démare’s well drilled Groupama-FDJ train pulled clear onto the home straight.
Demare went shoulder-to-shoulder with one of Fernandi Gaviria’s lead-out men from UAE-Team Emirates, but that was soon to be a mere red herring. Benefiting from the presence of two men on the front, the French champion powered ahead of the field – and while there was a slight deviation to the right, Sagan never stood a chance of ending his hoodoo.
The Slovakian did remonstrate with his victor over the line – but the result stood: a third win for Démare; a third second-place for Sagan.
Portugal’s Almeida came through the day with flying colours, the Grand Tour debutant keeping out of trouble to retain his 43-second lead on Bilbao, with Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) in third place a further five seconds back.
But crosswinds turn to climbs this weekend with tomorrow’s breakaway-friendly Stage 8 preceding the second summit finish of the Giro on Sunday, a tough 208km ride which culminates on the first-category ascent to Roccaraso where Almeida’s pink jersey credentials will be put to the test.