Giro d’Italia 2020
If his first win was by a matter of millimetres, Arnaud Demare doubled up today by a country mile in Matera. Two days after he beat Peter Sagan in a photo finish on the Giro d’Italia, the French champion left the Slovakian for dead before holding off his nearest challenger, the Australian Michael Matthews, by two bike lengths in a thrilling conclusion to Stage 6.
A steep ramp in the final couple of kilometres saw Groupama-FDJ’s Demare drift back and seemingly out of contention, but the 29-year-old fought back before propelling himself out of the final bend to surge past all his rivals to secure his 12th win of a stellar season.
It was a finish that was not thought to suit the pure sprinters like Demare, with the fast men Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) among those tailed off as the road hit a double-digit gradient on the outskirts of the UNESCO World Heritage City.
But Demare’s form, positioning and self-belief ensured that his credentials as the sport’s quickest man on two wheels remained intact – and supplied yet more evidence of the folly committed by his team to omit him from their Tour de France squad earlier this autumn.
Team Sunweb’s Matthews took a distant second place ahead of the Italian Fabio Felline (Astana), with Colombia’s Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE-Team Emirates) and Italy’s Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation) completing the top five.
Still without a victory since last year’s Tour de France, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan struggled to eighth place to concede the maglia ciclamino to Demare, who now holds a 39-point gap over the former triple world champion.
Portugal’s Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quick-Step) survived a scare to retain the maglia rosa, the youngster being send to the ground after a collision with another rider with 36km remaining of the 188km stage when he stopped to attend to a problem with his race radio.
Almeida retained his 43-second lead over Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) in the general classification, with Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) still third a further five seconds back.
There was movement from the gun in the 188km stage from Castrovillari as Italians Marco Frapporti (Vini Zabu-KTM), Mattia Bais (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) and Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF), and the American James Whelan (EF Pro Cycling), zipped clear of the pack.
With two long uncategorised ascents setting the scene for the opening third of the stage, the quartet quickly built up a lead of nine minutes over the pack as the Deceuninck Quick-Step team of race leader Almeida seemed content to take a back seat in proceedings.
Bais skipped clear of his breakaway companions to win the first intermediate sprint before the subsequent flurry of activity from the chasing pack was perhaps a harbinger of things to come: a mix-up between Sagan and his Bora teammate Maciej Bodnar saw both Demare and the Pole beat the Slovakian to the line as the Frenchman moved within three points of his slender lead in the maglia ciclamino standings.
Once Bora committed two men to lead the chase on the front of the peloton, the advantage of the break came tumbling down to just two minutes ahead of the only categorised climb of the day.
But before that leg-sapping third-category ascent, Almeida was forced to stop to sort out an issue with his race radio with 36km remaining. Moments after the 22-year-old swung to the side of the road, he was hit by the American Brandon McNulty (UAE-Team Emirates).
The collision sent Almeida sprawling into the roadside barriers – although both riders were able to shrug off the incident and ride back into contention with the help of their teammates.
Frapporti looked to use the experience gleaned from six previous Giro appearances by attacking his fellow escapees – all of whom making their Grand Tour debuts – ahead of the climb. But the Italian veteran was pegged back by the time Whelan rode clear on the ascent of Millotta.
Whelan took maximum KOM points over the top as the chasing pack gobbled up Bais and Zana ahead of the summit. Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) put in a little dig to draw level with Frapporti, but Wednesday’s winner Filippo Ganna was able to close the gap for Ineos Grenadiers.
The lone leader was eventually reeled in with 14km remaining – by which time those sprinters, like Viviani and Gaviria, who had been tailed off on the climb had managed to return to the fold. Not for long.
Such was the challenging terrain as the race entered Matera, most of the fast men were off the back again while Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) put in an acceleration to test out his GC rivals.
Nibali’s move came to nothing but the pack had thinned out on the double-digit ramp with 2km remaining. In search of his first win since last year’s Tour de France, Sagan was perhaps a little too eager as he came to the front with two Bora teammates ahead of a series of turns in the final kilometre.
Demare was forced to battle back from distance, the French champion latching onto a two-man Astana train before riding around bodies on the outside of the road through two tight left-hand bends.
And as Sagan drifted backwards on the crowded inside of the home straight, Demare used his momentum to blast past Jakob Fuglsang and his Astana teammate Felline on the 2.6 per cent gradient to the line, opening up a gaping gap which even a late burst by Matthews was unable to close.
“This is amazing,” Démare said after his second victory of the race. “It was an incredibly hard finish. I lost position but I didn’t go crazy, I got back up, followed Astana, stayed on their wheel and then I kept following them. I launched the sprint and can’t believe I won it.
“I said if I won the first one, there’d be more. It’s good to win early and feel good. We tried and now we’ve shaken off the pressure. I’m super happy to win like this. It was risky, and I didn’t think there’d be a chance for a sprint and that Bora would control the race. At two-hundred metres I said I’d go for it and it worked out. Thanks to team who trusted me and led me.”
Demare will have a chance to seal his hat-trick tomorrow with the pan-flat 143km Stage 7 from Matera to Brindisi on the Adriatic coast – although potential crosswinds could make it a day of high alert for both the sprinters and the GC favourites.