THE INFOMMABLE CAVENDISH RETURNS TO THE GIRO AS IF IT NEVER GONE
It may have been nine years since Mark Cavendish last appeared at the Giro d’Italia, but it felt like he had never left.
He won the first bunch sprint of the race with the same indomitable and authoritative aura as in his prime. Even though he started his sprint earlier than would have been ideal, none of the other sprinters ever seemed to overtake him, all seeming almost resigned to the same fate of fighting for second place behind him, which was the case for so many sprinters in the past.
Even Cavendish himself reacted to the win as if it were something of a routine, with his happy but relatively unemotional post-race interview contrasting sharply with the tears shed on his comeback. just as victorious in the Tour de France last year.
Worryingly, in winning this stage, Cavendish started better than at this Tour, and at most Grand Tours throughout his career, given his record of normally taking at least one sprint to get up to full speed. .
The first signs are that he could be ready for another big streak of stage wins. He may be 36, but Cavendish still shows no signs of slowing down.
START AND GAVIRIA THE BEST OF THE REST
The opening sprint had been billed as a battle between Cavendish and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), but it turned out to be a one on one fight as Cavendish took the win and Ewan failed to enter the mixed.
Instead, it was Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) who pushed Cavendish the closest, and even if they failed to put him under pressure, they will be encouraged by their shape.
For Démare, second place was his best joint result of the season so far, and a sign that he is back to something like his best. In one respect, it was actually the first time he had failed to win a Giro bunch sprint he had entered since 2019, having enjoyed a clean sweep in 2020 and missed last year’s race, this which shows how much he thrives in this race.
Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) has been out of form for far longer than Démare, a full five years having passed since his own four-stage run at the 2017 Giro. Covid, having already struggled to adjust to life outside of Quick-Step.
As he is only his second top three finish in a Grand Tour sprint since 2020, it really looks like Gaviria could finally turn a corner and, at 27, could still be back to the superb form of his youth.
VAN DER POEL KEEPS PINK, BUT OPTS NOT TO SPRINT
One of the most intriguing questions ahead of today’s stage was whether or not Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) would try to sprint for the win.
We’ve seen the Dutchman win bunch sprints in the past, but not quite on the same level or against such esteemed opponents, and there was the incentive of potential bonus seconds in the defense of his pink jersey.
So when he stayed very close to the lead in the Alpecin-Fenix front end towards the finish straight, it looked like he could have, for the third day in a row, aimed stage victory.
However, when he accelerated down the finishing straight, only to turn around and sit down not seeing team-mate Jakub Mareczko on his wheel, it became clear that Van der Poel was there to lead rather than to sprint himself.
It was easy to see why, too, as coming back Mareczko produced viscous acceleration to claim fifth on the stage.
Although Van der Poel is still leading the points classification as well as the general classification, it seems unlikely that he will try to defend this lead, if the team’s plan is for Mareczko to be nominated for the sprints – d’ especially since he didn’t. competing for points in the day’s intermediate sprint either.
It might rob us of the fun of seeing Van der Poel compete on all sorts of terrain a la Peter Sagan and Wout van Aert, but could pay dividends for Alpecin-Fenix if they can put Mareczko in sprinting position for a win. of stage.
EWAN’S BAD START CONTINUES
Caleb Ewan’s early attempt at the Giro continued, as he moved away from contention in the run-in to the finish in the sprint.
After looking so good on the opening stage only to crash a few meters from the line, the Australian was out of the race this time before the sprint even started, despite it being a stage which, on paper at least, suited him much better.
He lost the wheels of his Lotto-Soudal teammates in the final kilometers, who will be particularly disappointed given that their whole team is based on delivering him for sprint wins in bunch finishes.
Whether or not this result was due to lingering pain from the aforementioned accident was unclear. Although he finished fast from distance to finish eighth, sprinting is not just the kick you have in the last few hundred meters, but the effort and maneuvering required to stay in position during the previous kilometres, and it may be that the after-effects of the crash made it difficult for Ewan.
On the positive side, the fact that he is still in this race is a positive considering how hard he crashed on Friday. With a day of rest and recovery tomorrow as the race heads to Italy, he could still be firing on all cylinders in next week’s sprints.
GIRMAY IS DOING WELL FOR THE MAGLIA CICLAMINO
Competing in his first peloton sprint at Grand Tour level, Biniam Girmay again impressed by finishing fourth.
After placing second behind Van der Poel in the uphill finish of the first stage, Girmay this time proved that he was also a game for pure sprinters in a flat finish.
His Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux obviously gave him great confidence, giving him a big lead in the Final and keeping him well placed at the front of the peloton during the previous kilometres.
And as for the sprint itself, even though he got a bit stuck, the Eritrean remained calm and managed to finish a strong fourth place.
Therefore, his chances of winning the maglia ciclamino look bright. He currently wears the jersey in place of Van der Poel (whose pink jersey takes priority) and has a gap of more than 10 points on all his rivals (except Cavendish) after two high places in the first two stages on road.
He also clearly intends to fight for the jersey, as he made clear when he sprinted for points in the day’s split sprint.
Riding consistently throughout the race and managing to survive and complete the high mountain stages ahead will be a huge ask for a 22-year-old making his Grand Tour debut, let alone winning the standings by points. But so far he has passed all the tests he has faced in this Giro with flying colors.