This article is exactly what it says on the tin but first I’m going to clarify the exact differences between stage ten and stage eleven in bullet point format and then point out why they don’t matter:
- Stage eleven is eighty kilometres longer than stage ten. This doesn’t matter when you’re ensconced in a peloton and riding slower than the roadbook’s slowest option on the timetable to the extent that my television thought the stage had ended by the time there was fourteen kilometres to go. The only thing which piano is a more descriptive way of talking about is a Tim Minchin show. It does matter in the sense that it sends me into a fit of unimaginable rage that one of the pointless flat stages is forty kilometres too short and the other one is forty kilometres too long. Obviously this is because Modena and Novi Ligure were most willing to pay for stage finishes. That’s also presumably why the race is skirting round the Appenines to do these almost unbelievably flat stages and it does rankle a bit but this is what funds the race. So. Suppress the rage. Or try your best.
- Stage eleven has a slight uphill finish. This doesn’t matter* because it is uphill at half a per cent.
So two things happened on stage ten and we can use both of them (actually, that’s pretty much all we can use as we seem to be on a clean slate from week one) to say what might happen on stage eleven. The first is the big crash and to state the obvious it rules out Pascal Ackermann (who I can now say was certainly the best sprinter in the race until a very specific point in time this afternoon) due to an obscene amount of road rash and Matteo Moschetti owing to the things that happen to you when you hit the barriers and the road at both the same time and forty kilometres an hour. To look back at it we can blame Rudiger Selig and Jacopo Guarnieri. The latter moved a few centimetres to the right and the latter moved a few more, knocking Ackermann onto the floor and ending the day of Jakub Mareczko on the one stage that he could make it over all the climbs.
* Except for Jakub Mareczko.
Ackermann was missing enough skin that he won’t sleep tonight, nor will he be very flexible. Moschetti looked badly beaten up and his team mates were gathered round him anxious that he’d be okay; that’s the most worried a Trek rider not named Jarlinson Pantano has been this year. However, he was back on his feet so even if he is to abandon, I’m confident he’ll be back.
The other thing that happened on stage ten (and arguably the one with much less far-reaching consequences) was the sprint and my, was it a strange one. Everybody...forgot what leadouts were. Caleb Ewan had a perfectly good train. If you look at a snapshot of the sprint with four hundred metres to go, he has both Kluge and De Buyst in front of him, with the latter not having taken a pull all day and the former admittedly at the end of his tether. Soon after this he pulls off, leaving Kluge with a two hundred metre leadout and himself with a one hundred and eighty metre sprint. Which sounds achievable, if you ask me.
What happens instead is, Guarnieri (him again!) turns up at the front and kind of does a slow-burner, seated pull on the front that I suppose can be classed as a leadout which ends with about two hundred to go. At this point Démare, Ewan and De Buyst start sprinting and the Australian rounds his team mate for some reason. De Buyst sits up, undoubtedly confused after being dragged all this way to sprint for twenty metres and at this point it’s a matter of speed between Ewan and Démare. They’re on opposite sides of the road and exactly as close to the finish line.
But I haven’t even talked about Viviani. With four hundred metres left, he also has two guys, Florian Sénéchal and Fabio Sabatini. I had a joke ready that they’d disappeared to wherever Michael Mørkøv went, but I now realise that they didn’t. Sénéchal gets a free pass because I think he’d already been doing work on the front and he kind of sprints up the side to help Viviani get into position before getting dropped immediately. Sabatini however...I can’t even speculate. He nearly swerves into Guarnieri (because all the cool kids are doing it) then Viviani overtakes him and he just starts glass-cranking because there’s nothing he can do. This leaves Viviani on Ewan’s wheel and means he’s the third and final contender for the stage. At this point it looks like they all have a thirty-three per cent chance of winning. Viviani is on Ewan’s wheel and Démare is level with Ewan.
Ewan starts off marginally the fastest but my god. His style is about aerodynamics and leg speed and for a hundred metres, he had both of those things but there is a stunning dropoff. He will not win a real sprint stage of this Giro. Viviani realises this with about a hundred metres to go and makes more lateral movement than your average soldier crab in trying to get on Démare’s wheel when he should be going on his own. He doesn’t have the speed and gets squeezed.
I was wrong about Démare in my preview and it’s become clear that he’s one of only two guys who should be able to win tomorrow, barring a Lazarene recovery from Ackermann. Viviani needs to trust his leadout — he probably has the speed to win from the front. This wheelsurfing business is not something that is going to prosper him so here’s my stage prediction: if he changes his way of sprinting he’ll win. If he doesn’t, Démare will.