Démare ends winless streak
At long last, Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has another Grand Tour stage win.
Two years ago, a case could be made that the Frenchman was the best sprinter in the world. He ended the 2020 season with more wins than any other rider, and stormed to four stage wins at the Giro d’Italia in the autumn with the kind of dominance he’d never before shown.
He was unable to maintain that form last year however, and endured a tough time at both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, missing the time limit during an Alpine stage in the former, and only making the top five on one occasion in the latter.
But Démare looked every bit his old self today, launching a long sprint from the front in his trademark style and not allowing any other sprinter to get near him.
He was also aided by excellent work from his Groupama-FDJ lead-out train. Having already helped him rejoin the peloton after being dropped on the day’s climb, they then took control of the peloton in the run-in to the line.
Miles Scotson led the peloton into the crucial last corner, and Ramon Sinkeldam, despite losing Scotson’s wheel, was still able to lead Démare out so that he had a head-start over all the other sprinters.
Considering that Démare’s main lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri was unable to assist him having been dropped earlier, it was an especially impressive team effort, and the Frenchman can be confident that his team will give him more opportunities in the sprint stages to come — starting with tomorrow’s.
Cavendish dropped out of contention
The apparent ease with which Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) won the first bunch sprint at the Giro on Sunday must have caused the hearts of the other sprinters to sink, who must have had their hopes of coming out of the race with a stage win seriously damaged by his flying form.
So you can imagine their excitement when the Manxman was dropped out the back of the peloton on the category two Portella Mandrazzi climb, about 100km from the finish.
The chance to sprint for the win without having to compete against Cavendish was enough to incentivise teams like Biniam Girmay’s Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux, Fernando Gaviria’s UAE Team Emirates, and, once Arnaud Démare had returned to the peloton, Groupama-FDJ to fully commit, and they all worked together to make absolutely sure Cavendish didn’t rejoin the peloton, even as he had several domestiques surrounding him to help pace him up, and with lots of road to do so.
Cavendish couldn’t hide his disappointment in a post-race interview, although he did admit that he anticipated this happening, calling the stage a ‘bonus’ stage, rather than one earmarked as a top priority to win.
One such stage will surely be tomorrow’s, about as flat a stage as there is at this year’s race. A defeated and angry Cavendish is always an especially dangerous Cavendish, and you suspect he’ll be difficult to beat.
Van der Poel still playing protagonist role
He might no longer be in the pink jersey, but Mathieu van der Poel is showing no signs of taking a backseat at this Giro.
It was his Alpecin-Fenix team that burst the race into life on the Portella Mandrazzi, upping the pace and shredding the peloton in an attempt to take some sprinting rivals out of contention.
It was a bold move considering that there were still over 100km still to ride, but an effective one, as both Cavendish and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) were dropped for good.
Following the withdrawal from the race of their sprinter Jakub Mareczko yesterday, their work was presumably to set Van der Poel up in the sprint, and indeed he was right up there on the finishing straight.
However, all of their efforts were ultimately in vain, as the Dutchman sat up before being able to start his sprint, being undone by some unclear problem.
Still, this surely won’t be the last we see of Van der Poel given the mood he is in — Saturday’s hilly circuit in Napoli looks especially well-suited to him.
Gaviria left frustrated
While Arnaud Démare was able to end his baron run today, Fernando Gaviria’s even longer winless streak at Grand Tours continues.
It’s been three years since Gaviria last celebrated a victory at Grand Tour level, but this was possibly the closest the Colombian has come to a win in that time.
He managed to latch onto the wheel of Démare as the Frenchman made his sprint, but couldn’t quite come around him when putting his nose to the wind as the line approached, ultimately finishing second to him by the distance of a bike-length.
The result was evidently very frustrating for Gaviria, who upon crossing the line slammed his wheel onto the tarmac not just once but multiple times.
Judging from his high cadence, it appeared that he was the victim of a bike malfunction, which may explain why he was quite as angry as he was crossing the line.
Had his bike not failed him, it might have been him rather than Démare celebrating the end of a drought, but at this rate that longed-for stage will surely come eventually.
The race for the Maglia Ciclamino is taking shape
Five stages and two bunch sprints into the Giro, the points classification is beginning to take shape.
For the first time in this race, a sprinter is at the top of the classification, as Arnaud Démare’s win on the stage was enough to see him inherit the lead from Mathieu van der Poel, who was himself was wearing the Maglia Ciclamino for the first time today having loaned it out to Biniam Girmay while he wore the pink jersey instead.
Having won the classification in 2020, Demare knows what it takes to finish the Giro in the jersey, but will face stiff competition from a host of other sprinters.
Biniam Girmay in particular looks like a threat, given his ability to place high in the bunch sprints and stay in contention on the hillier stages. His chances of winning the jersey may depend upon whether he can pick up points in the hillier stages to come where the pure sprinters will be dropped, and if he’s able to make it all the way to the finish in what is his first ever Grand Tour.
Fernando Gaviria might not have won a stage yet, but his consistency sees him move up to third. And even though he lost the jersey today, Van der Poel is still well in contention in fourth, and could target the jersey now Alpecin-Fenix’s sprinter Jakub Mareczko has gone home.
And despite missing out on any points today, Mark Cavendish could come storming back into contention if he wins tomorrow’s sprint, as he lies a not too distant 41 points behind Démare. It’s still all to play for.