Photo finish as Arnaud Demare doubles up on Stage 6, Mark Cavendish blows up in final metres at Giro d’Italia
On the slowest stage imaginable, Frenchman Arnaud Demare provided the fastest sprint with a late surge to deny Australia’s Caleb Ewan in a photo finish in Stage 6 to Scalea. Launching himself from the slipstream of Ewan and Britain’s Mark Cavendish, Demare expertly took the long way round to secure his second win on the bounce and strengthen his grip on the maglia ciclamino in the Giro d’Italia.
'Three of them to the line!' - Demare takes 'messy' Stage 6 sprint ahead of Ewan and Cavendish
A day somewhat devoid of drama sprung into life on the streets of Scalea with a bunch sprint deluxe that saw Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) deny Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) by the slenderest of margins – and left Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) slapping his handlebars in frustration.
Australia’s Ewan looked to have won his shoulder-to-shoulder battle with Britain’s Cavendish on the home straight before Demare emerged from their slipstream with an emphatic burst, clinical deviation and superior bike lunge that made him France’s all-time leading stage winner in La Corsa Rosa.
Demare’s seventh career win in the Giro was arguably his best, coming as it did after a frantic few seconds in which he was boxed in against the barriers by his own leadout man, Jacopo Guarnieri, before being forced to dart across the road to find a gap and emerge from the wheel of Ewan, for whom the win looked inevitable.
All this while Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria shook a fist in anger after the UAE Team Emirates sprinter found himself stuck in a Team DSM sandwich between Cees Bol and Alberto Dainese at the conclusion of the 192km stage from Palmi. Gaviria was later relegated for his role in the high-speed kerfuffle.
Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) and Italy’s Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech) completed the top five as Spain’s Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) retained the leader’s pink jersey in the hazy late afternoon sun on the Calabrian coast as the peloton came home almost an hour behind the slowest estimated finish time.
With the race hitting the Italian mainland for the first time off the back of stints in Hungary and Sicily there was very little appetite for anyone to get into a breakaway once the flag went down for the largely flat schlep up the west coast of Calabria.
Such was the subdued nature of proceedings that numerous riders even feigned fake attacks before Italy’s Diego Rosa (Eolo-Kometa) finally cast the die with what seemed like a mad mission after 45 minutes of soft-pedalling from the peloton.
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The Italian former Team Sky and Astana rider carved out a maximum lead pushing five minutes as the Lotto Soudal team of Ewan marshalled the front of the peloton in his wake.
Germany’s Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) led the pursuing pack over the early Cat. 4 climb to consolidate his lead in the blue king of the mountains jersey he picked up when winning Stage 4 on Mount Etna.
This was followed by a brief cameo from a trio of Drone Hopper-Androni Giacattoli riders who zipped clear to help Filippo Tagliani extend his lead in the intermediate sprint competition. Here, Girmay pipped Demare to the line to reduce momentarily the Frenchman’s lead in the battle for the maglia ciclamino. Although by the end of play, Demare's victory saw him onto 147 points to his nearest rival's 94.
Joining Tagliani in this opportunistic dig were team-mates Eduardo Sepulveda and Simone Ravanelli although their foray off the front lasted no more than 10 kilometres before they sat up once the race had returned to the coast for the scenic run into the finish.
The lion’s share of the kilometre count still ahead of him, Rosa was forced to plough a lonely furrow for the best part of four hours as he maintained his three-minute buffer until Lotto Soudal decided to up the tempo inside the final 50km.
The 31-year-old took the three bonus seconds at the second intermediate sprint at Guardia Piemontese Marina, where Kamna kicked clear in pursuit of Tagliani to secure third place and the final bonus second – cutting his deficit to Lopez’s maglia rosa to 38 seconds on the eve of Friday’s relentlessly hilly stage to Potenza where the German may have ambitions of swapping blue for pink.
It was soon curtains for Rosa, whose lead plummeted as what was a coffee ride for the peloton became a serious battle for sprinting supremacy.
And what a finale it was with the peloton’s two purest sprinters Ewan and Cavendish looking to put behind them the disappointment of being distanced on the early climb in the previous stage to Messina.
But neither of the pocket-rocket fastmen banked on the late surge from the Stage 5 winner Demare, who came from behind with gusto to notch back-to-back wins that confirm his return to the big time. A “disappointed” Ewan delivered his verdict after over five hours in the saddle: “It was super hard and super messy but, yeah, Demare was just faster.”
The Giro continues on Friday with the tough 196km Stage 7 that includes over 4,500m of vertical gain and practically no flat roads to speak of. A breakaway could well go the distance although it is also prime terrain for a GC ambush. Whatever happens, it’s fair to day that the principal animators of Thursday’s finish will have very little to say in matters.
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