Yesterday, in the preview of this stage, I did mention the possibility of the big climb in the middle of the stage making a difference in the end. That was about the end of the extent to which I was right, though. Mark Cavendish and Caleb Ewan were, in fact, the only two of the main sprinters to be left behind and Arnaud Demare took advantage of this to end his drought of stage wins in Grand Tours (GTs), and claim the 6th Giro stage win of his career.
As is apparent by now the race most certainly did not unfold as expected. About halfway through the Portella Mandrazzi, Alpecin Fenix pushed the pace in front of the peloton. This distanced a lot of the main sprinters including Ewan, Cavendish, and, initially, Demare as well.
Girmay never felt any difficulty to stay in the peloton so after Alpecin Fenix left the head of the peloton after the climb, Intermarche took it over to keep the most dangerous sprinters at bay. Soon Giacomo Nizzolo’s Israel Premier Tech join them. Demare wasn’t that far off the peloton which is why Groupama FDJ managed to get him back on and also began working in front. These alliances proved too much for Cav’s and Ewan’s groups and the two sprinters were definitively distanced.
From that moment on the peloton rolled to the finish where Groupama was far and above every single one of their adversaries. I have to point out by name the work of Ramon Sinkeldam because it was that supreme. It was one of those cases where Demare really only had to finish the job. It reminded me of Cavendish’s sprint on stage 3, only this time at the service of a teammate. I kept waiting for Sinkeldam either to open up to let Demare pass or for somebody else to launch their sprint and overtake the Dutch rider. This only happened with slightly less than 200 meters to go. By which point Demare was clearly the strongest sprinter in the bunch, and also the one left in the best situation to win.
Mark Cavendish & Caleb Ewan
Not much to say but if they get distanced enough on a 4%, 2nd category climb, that they can’t come back after 100km… There’s not much to do. Their teams worked hard but ultimately there was cooperation in front which was the key factor I mentioned in the preview for the peloton to be successful in leaving some sprinters behind. I never expected Ewan to be in this situation, though. I could see him getting dropped like Demare but not like he did. I wonder if the crash on stage 1 is affecting him after all.
I did mention earlier that Mathieu Van Der Poel, at one point, was something like, 60 points ahead of his next rival for the maglia ciclamino. Well, with him wanting to act as a leadout man for Jakub Mareczko (already abandoned the race) on stage 3, and just the outright failure to contest the sprint today, he already has points to make up in the points’ classification. To be fair, he never mentioned he wanted to contend for that, so I doubt he’s too upset about that. This Giro is likely too tough for Cavendish to seriously be in contention for this jersey so that leaves Demare, Girmay, Gaviria, and Nizzolo as the likely contenders. The Frenchman has a 22-point lead over Girmay at the end of stage 5.
João Almeida & Romain Bardet
Both GC riders were active on the last intermediary sprint of the day, with the Portuguese even picking up a couple of seconds. The Frenchman wasn’t as lucky but I’d say it’s a good sign that both of these GC favorites are making moves on a seemingly “irrelevant” stage for the overall standings.
The Dutchman once again lost time, arriving 1m26s back on the peloton. Maybe he’s already looking to make himself not a threat in terms of GC so teams will let him hunt for stages more freely but if this was the case he’d have lost 10 minutes, not 1. Weird outcome but this should remove any doubt from the people that still considered the Dutchman a potential top-10 candidate.
STAGE 6 PREVIEW
Stage 6 is the first inside of “continental” Italy, if you can call it that – the strait of Messina is just a few kilometers long after all. The only mountain pass tomorrow will be a 4th category climb, right at the start, 35km into the race. It’s a flat stage with a flat finish and a flat approach to the finish. The profile does include a few bumps on the latter half of the stage but these shouldn’t have any influence on the outcome which will likely be a sprint finish. Wind also won’t be a factor, according to the forecasts.
There have been two sprint finishes and I’ve twice picked Caleb Ewan. As I said above, I don’t know if there’s something physically wrong with the Australian. Assuming there’s not, he’s my pick for the third time. If healthy, he always wins at least one stage in every GT he takes part in and I’m not predicting that this trend is going to stop any time soon.