Stage 2 provided us with a first look at the sprinters who will battle it out over the next month at the Giro d'Italia, with some performing better in the first bunch gallop than others.
While Tim Merlier is nothing like an overnight success, it is nevertheless his first Grand Tour stage win at the first time of asking and this certainly makes him a ‘new’ face in race.
His team, Alpecin-Fenix, will be delighted with the result – especially given their other star rider, Mathieu van der Poel, is currently plying his trade as an MTB rider, with designs on the Olympics. Merlier gives them a way to win without the Mighty Mathieu.
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If Alpecin-Fenix are the happiest team on Sunday night, there are plenty feeling not-so-chipper too, with under-performances from a couple of the biggest names in the sprinting pack.
Misfire for Caleb Ewan and Lotto-Soudal
The Aussie was the odds-on favourite and put his team to work pegging back the breakaway from as early as 140km to go when the gap reached a dangerous margin. Quite what Thomas De Gendt will make of the eventual leadout his teammates gave Ewan after spending a good hour trading turns with Paul Martens at the head of the peloton remains to be seen.
In the end, Ewan and his Lotto mates simply melted away – they were caught out by the chicane and narrowed road, it would seem – and despite having perhaps the quickest pair of legs in the Giro bunch this year, Ewan could do no better than tenth. He will be irked by this and should use the frustration to do better on Monday.
The Bridesmaid of Milan
Even before today, Giacomo Nizzolo was the rider to have placed second in the most Giro d’Italia stages without also winning a stage at any point in his career. As of Stage 2, his perhaps unwanted record is extended. He now has ten second places in stages of the Giro and not one win, a quite astonishing statistic.
What is clear is that Nizzolo is capable of a victory this year. Merlier went very early in his sprint, a tactic that has served him well so far this year and allowed him to perhaps surprise the field. The same thing shouldn’t work twice, and if Nizzolo wises up to the strategy, he might be able to neutralise it somewhat.
Sagan playing bumper cars
Not for the first time, we saw Peter Sagan throwing some questionable elbows around in the final two kilometres of the race. The Slovakian seems to have got away without any sort of penalisation this time, but despite the argy bargy he was only able to grab fifth on the stage.
If Sagan has designs on the ciclamino jersey it might be that the intermediates are a better strategy for him – one we have seen him successfully pursue in the Tour de France to dominant effect – because he simply lacks the top-end speed these days to beat Ewan, Merlier and Dylan Groenewegen.
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And speaking of the returning Groenewegen, the Dutchman did alright, but not brilliant – at least not by his own high standards.
He was quick to thank his team for their help after the stage, but reminded us that this is the first time he has ever raced with the leadout unit he has at the Giro; namely David Dekker and Edoardo Affini. As these three gel together, don’t be surprised to see Jumbo-Visma become a stronger and stronger force in the sprints. Fourth was not as good as Groenewegen wanted, but it’s more than a good start after nine months out.
Viviani looks hungry
Cofidis’ Elia Viviani stole third place from right under the nose of Groenewegen with a perfectly-judged bike throw. It’s clear that he wants to get as much as he can from this race, and while Groenewegen seemed to take his foot slightly off the gas once he saw Merlier cross the line, Viviani kept pushing all the way to the end.
Viviani has tasted plenty of success in the Giro before, having won five stages here and the ciclamino jersey in 2018. It’s been two years, however, since he’s won a top-tier bike race, and back then he was part of the blue winning machine of Deceuninck-QuickStep. Viviani, of all the riders, seemed to have the best support from his team, with Simone Consonni there until the final straight. If Cofidis can continue to support him, a win should not be far away for the Italian.
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Gaviria gets it wrong
‘Completely the wrong decision’ – How Gaviria fluffed Stage 2 sprint
Fernando Gaviria made a dodgy decision today in the final moments of the stage, trying to go past his UAE Team Emirates leadout man, Juan Sebastian Molano, on the barrier-side of the road. Molano moved barrier-wards also when he ‘pulled off’, forcing Gaviria into the hoardings. Gaviria lost any momentum he might’ve had before that moment and came home a thoroughly disappointing 24th.
It was lucky for the Colombian pair (and all the riders directly behind them) that RCS has invested in properly-made barriers, or the result of the blunder could’ve been far worse. The barriers used in the Tour of Poland may not have been quite so kind to Gaviria.
It was a stage to forget for UAE and they will hope to move on from it quick with lessons learned.
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