It’s the second week of the Giro now, and so we return to what has become an institution — the almost unbelievably flat stage before the mountains kick off. 2017 had it on stage 13, 2016 had it on stage 12 and 2015 on stage 13. Only last year missed out but wouldn’t you know, we’re making up for it by having another one on stage 11. Don’t you just love it? I don’t. I do not love it. This was the Giro stage that nobody at Podium Café towers wanted, and can you blame us?
I can do a good approximation of that diagram using an underscore. Then again, I can do a good approximation of that diagram by holding down the z key. The wind will be a non-factor. The rain might get involved but not to the extent that it has so far in this goddamned summer’s Tour of goddamned Italy. I’m adding the watered-down expletive to that sentence not to reflect my own feelings, but those of the riders. I’m perfectly fine with the rain. I’ll just be extra careful next time I book a holiday.
Speaking of which, this is the second-last stage a good number of riders will finish, if they know what’s good for them so (and I’m looking at you, Elia) there’s extra pressure to perform and very little time to waste. The points jersey is not the hugest deal in the world — Mark Cavendish once asked who could remember the last three Tour de France points jersey winners to prove a point; if he’d done the same in the Giro it would have worked much better. The answer would be Viviani, Gaviria and Nizzolo. I did not know that by heart though the fact that if Giacomo Nizzolo is the answer, you shouldn’t be asking the question is something I remember very well.
Anyway, back to the stage at hand and it’s not the worst finish of the Giro. The roads aren’t the widest but the final turn is at two kilometres to go so this finish isn’t what you could call conventionally dangerous. I’ll use this time to make a point though — after a good while watching and writing about this sport I’ve gotten more and more convinced that crashes will just happen where they happen. Innocuous bits of road claim more victims than even the most controversial of twisty stage finishes and that makes a lot of sense. A DS never sends out a directive to watch out on an innocuous bit of road and since nobody is crashing on purpose (in fact I’m told that ‘don’t crash’ ranks reasonably highly on a rider’s list of priorities) a crash is more likely to be caused by complacency and a moment’s inattention than any combination of corners. Riders will cite dangerous stage finishes before a stage and more often than not they’ll pass without incident. I think I remember talking at length about a dangerous Tour de France stage finish a while ago after a first week that had seen its fair share of crashes and of course everyone made it through. Cycling comes with a risk, a certainty in fact, that you will crash at some point if you go on long enough. The peril of this does not seem to be increased to a great degree by stage finishes. I’m not telling race organisers to find towns with nine hairpin turns in the space of a kilometre and finish all the sprint stages in those places. Obviously. However, I think it is fair to say that in general, stage finishes are as safe as is reasonable to expect and race organisers do as good a job as it is reasonable to expect them to do.
My, that was a tangent, and not one that’s going to make me any more popular. Let’s get on to deciding the winner. I could go and name people and pretend I’m discussing with myself who’s going to win but this time I won’t bother: Viviani is going to do it this time. Here is why: he has not been on top this Giro but at the same time there are mitigating circumstances: he has been in the front group for four sprints. On one of them, he was the fastest rider and crossed the line first. The relegation was fair but I believe that I just described the sprint accurately. On another, he didn’t have the position and didn’t sprint. In the third, he was second on a stage that can most properly be compared to Milano-Sanremo, a race in which stage winner Caleb Ewan is far more proficient than him and one that bears no resemblance to Stage 10. In the fourth Ackermann beat him fair and square but that was nine days ago and he still had the highest top speed. Hence the prevailing line of “Elia is struggling,” while not totally wrong, still has me doubtful. He’s got two more sprints to go including this one and needs to hold nothing back and he’s the same guy that’s been winning like it’s nothing for the last three seasons. When circumstance swings back in his favour he’ll be back to winning ways. Ackermann and Ewan are the only real threats. Neither have the speed of Viviani on his day, and I think that his day will soon dawn.