Giro d’Italia 2020
As the storm clouds cleared and a rainbow appeared above Tortoreto, Peter Sagan, the triple former world champion with the rainbow bands around his sleeves, pulled off a ride for the ages, soloing to a first win since the 2019 Tour de France to pick up his first ever stage victory on the Giro d’Italia.
The finale of today’s 177km Stage 10 was peppered with steep ramps and hampered by some almighty downpours – but one man could soon see clearly once the rain had gone.
After the frustration of three second places in his debut Giro, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan finally struck gold, riding clear of the day’s breakaway with 12km remaining and withstanding the chase behind as the GC favourites battled for pink supremacy in the wake of an untimely puncture for Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang.
Sagan held on to take an emphatic win by 19 seconds over the American Brandon McNulty (UAE-Team Emirates) while, right behind, Portugal’s Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) won the sprint for third place from a select group of GC favourites to add another four seconds to his lead at the top of the standings.
But for Astana’s Fuglsang, the deficit on the pink jersey was far dearer than a handful of bonus seconds, the Dane coming home in a chase group 1’38” down on stage winner Sagan to plunge out of the top 10 on a day of high drama in Italy.
With the stage overshadowed by the withdrawals of both Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma, as well as the Australian Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb, following a raft of positive Covid-19 tests on Monday’s rest day, the Giro needed a spectacle to help keep morale high.
Sagan duly delivered – forcing his way into the day’s break, defying a fierce pursuit by the Groupama-FDJ team of triple stage winner Arnaud Demare, holding on over a series of double-digit ramps, before powering clear of fellow escapee Ben Swift of Ineos Grenadiers on the final climb.
Maximum points in the intermediate sprint and at the finish saw the 30-year-old Slovakian reduce the gap to just 20 points in his maglia ciclamino battle with Frenchman Demare. More importantly, Sagan now joins the exclusive club of riders with stage victories in all three of cycling’s Grand Tours.
If the race is forced to finish early owing to the continued fallout from the ongoing coronavirus crisis, then at the very least the world would have been treated to Tuesday’s display of all-round brilliance from one of the sport’s great entertainers.
In a topsy turvy season like none other, in which young riders in the mould of 22-year-old Almeida, the man currently sitting pretty in pink, have dominated the sport, it took four hours of mesmerising beauty from one of the old guard to remind the world of his talent.
Sagan was clearly champing at the bit to be involved in the day’s break from the outset, the Bora man involved with an early move with Belgian specialist Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal ahead of the first of four categorised climbs.
After two tentative breaks of six riders were subsequently mopped up by the peloton on the climb into Chieti after a busy opening 40km of racing, Sagan finally managed to go clear with the Italian Filippo Ganna of Ineos Grenadiers.
The duo were joined by 10 riders after the climb into the town centre – and as the gap grew to around a minute, the alarm bells sounded in the peloton as Demare’s Groupama-FDJ team came to the front to lead the chase.
With an intermediate sprint coming 110km into the stage and ahead of a series of punchy climbs preceding the finish, Groupama were alert to the danger posed by Sagan in the points classification being led by their Frenchman in the maglia ciclamino.
Such was the team’s concern, Demare was taking pulls on the front of the peloton and their Lithanian rouleur Ignatas Konovalovas was called back from the break.
The entire Groupama team went full gas on the 40km flat section preceding the sprint, pulling the break back to within 20 seconds and spelling the end for three of the leaders – Cofidis duo Stéphane Rossetto and Nicolas Edet, and Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo.
But the prolonged chase through the feed zone took its toll on Groupama, who were forced to concede defeat and sit up or risk blowing up. As a result, the lead of the seven remaining escapees – Sagan, Ganna, the Italian’s Ineos teammate Swift, Jhonathan Restrepo (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Simon Clarke (EF Pro Cycling), and Movistar duo Dario Cataldo and Davide Villella – quickly ballooned to almost five minutes.
Sagan won the intermediate sprint to reduce his arrears to 45 points on Demare in their jersey tussle before the focus shifted to the stage spoils and that succession of double-digit climbs standing between the riders and the finish.
Ganna, who won two stages in the race’s opening week, and Clarke were the first to wilt, while Sagan and Cataldo showed their strength on the early climbs. But after Ganna fought back with 31km remaining, his sudden attack coincided with the heavens opening ahead of a flurry of activity from all quarters.
Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) attacked from the reduced peloton with just over 20km remaining as Clarke was swept up and the gap had come down to one minute. A puncture for Domenico Pozzovivo, whose NTT team had looked sprightly, came at the wrong time – just as the GC battle was kicking off.
On the penultimate climb, Sagan and Swift rode clear with Bilbao joining forces with Villella in pursuit as Pozzovivo battled back behind. The gaps were tiny going onto the second and alternative ascent of the Tortoreto climb, where Sagan dropped Swift just as Bilbao was about to bridge over.
Sensing the danger from Bilbao, pink jersey Almeida led with authority with a stinging acceleration which forced the hand of Pozzovivo, showing just how strong the little Italian had been before his puncture knocked the wind from his sails. The same plight then struck Fuglsang, who skidded to the side of the road on the slippery descent, needing to swap bikes with an Astana teammate before riding to limit his losses.
The favourites came within 30 seconds of Sagan but, although they were able to sweep up Swift and Bilbao, they could not eat into the lone leader’s advantage on the flat run into Tortoreto.
UAE-Team Emirates’ McNulty zipped clear on the outskirts of town to put his top 10 bid back on track, but the American was unable to deny Sagan a famous win. Given his troubles over the past year, the conditions, and the way he went about taking the race by the scruff of its neck, this victory – the 114th of his illustrious career – will rank among Sagan’s best.
The 30-year-old Bora-Hansgrohe rider also became the 100th rider in history to have notched victories in all three of cycling’s major stage races – the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia.
Almeida’s sprint for third place saw the Portuguese tyro move 34 seconds clear of Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) in the overall standings, with Bilbao still in third at 43 seconds after his bold attempt to upset the apple cart.
Veteran Italians Pozzivivo and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) complete the top five at 57 seconds and 1’01” while Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck Quick-Step) and Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain-McLaren) both rise into a top 10 now deprived of the Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk, the Lotto-Jumbo rider to have tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday.
The big loser of the day was Astana’s Fuglsang, who conceded 1’19” to Almeida thanks to his puncture. The 35-year-old Dane dropped five places to 11th and now trails the summit by 2’20”.
Also with a day to forget was the Belgian youngster Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) who started the stage keeping Almeida’s white jersey warm, but cracked on the steep climbs to drop nine places to 16th. This means that Jai Hindley, the 24-year-old Australian up to an impressive seventh place for Sunweb, will take over the white jersey while Almeida is in pink.
After Sagan stole his thunder, Demare will hope to regain the upper hand in the maglia ciclamino battle when the Giro continues tomorrow with the largely flat 182km Stage 11 from Porto Sant’Elpidio to Rimini, which should reopen the doors to the sprinters – provided the show can go on.