Stage 10: Modela to Salsomaggiore Terme, 173km
Nacer Bouhanni claimed his third stage victory as Cadel Evans avoided a big crash 700 metres from the line which brought down dozens of riders.
Does Cadel hold the ultimate trump card: luck?
All grand tour winners have talent, form, a good team and the ability to seize the moment. But a champion must also have good luck. All those hours of training and preparation mean nothing if you are an innocent victim of someone else’s accident or suffer a puncture at an inopportune moment.
BMC’s Cadel Evans has ridden into the pink jersey with a minimum of fuss. A strong team time trial performance got his campaign off to a good start. He was near the front when the major crash towards the end of stage six occurred, in which every one of his major rivals lost time – a little bit of luck, a lot of nous. It’s no coincidence that you always see a mass of red-and-black jerseys at the sharp end of the peloton when things gets serious near the end of a day’s racing.
Today, however, despite all his team’s planning and flawless execution. Cadel got lucky. BMC had moved to the front on the uncategorised climb 8km from the finish, keeping Evans out of harm’s way and also guarding against opportunistic attacks. But in the final couple of kilometres they gave way to the sprinters’ teams – as a GC team must do on a flat day – with the pink jersey floating in optimum position about 30 places back, with teammates around him.
But when Garmin-Sharp’s Tyler Farrar initiated a mass pile-up as the speeding bunch approached a sharp right-hander with 700 metres to go, dozens of riders either came down or were held up. As the crash occurred inside the final 3km, any time losses were nullified, but that means nothing if a rider is seriously injured. Even a relatively minor scrape can have a big impact on energy levels later on as the body staves off infection.
Evans was fortunately just far enough behind the crash to respond, and he was wise enough to make a gentle course correction rather than a sudden swerve. But there was an additional large slice of luck in that he had empty space to manoeuvre into, and that he wasn’t the unwitting victim of someone else’s evasive action or hard braking.
A less fortunate rider might have been caught up and suffered serious injury – remember Bradley Wiggins doing exactly that at the 2011 Tour de France, which Cadel went on to win? – but, despite losing domestique Yannick Eijssen to a crash, he will consider himself lucky today. And that’s often the only difference between a champion and a historical footnote.
Wild boys failing to make an impression
This year’s wild card teams – which are, basically, last year’s wild card teams – haven’t made anywhere near the same impression they did last year. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of riders from Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani-CSF, Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo and Colombia animating the daily breakaways – today it was the turn of Androni’s Marco Bandiera and Neri Sottoli’s Andrea Fedi – but the results aren’t coming.
By stage ten in the 2013 race, Bardiani’s Enrico Battaglin had won stage four, and riders from wild card teams had registered a total of five podium finishes – and that was before Vini Fantini’s (now Neri Sottoli) Mauro Santambrogio got busy in the high mountains. By comparison, so far this year the best result from a Pro Continental squad has been Matteo Rabottini‘s fourth place on stage six. Battaglin, incidentally, was fifth today.
It just isn’t happening right now for the wild-card teams. But with lots of tough mountain days to come, the GC contenders will increasingly be more concerned about watching each other, providing more and better opportunities for breakaways to succeed both in the mountains and in the later transition stages. Here the top riders will be happy to conserve their energy for the decisive stages, while the sprinters and their teams will be fewer in number and lower in energy than they were in the opening week. But who will be in the right place at the right time to grab the opportunity when in presents itself?
VeloVoices rider of the day
In Marcel Kittel’s absence, FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni has established himself as top sprinter. But he’s too easy a selection as rider of the day, so let’s look elsewhere.
Instead, let’s recognise Trek’s 25-year-old Italian sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo, who has been a revelation in this race. He has consistently beaten more established names such as Elia Viviani (Cannondale), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Ben Swift (Sky).
However, he must be sick of the sight of Bouhanni now. On stage two, he was third behind the Frenchman as Kittel took victory. Then on the three stages that Bouhanni has won (four, seven and today), he has been runner-up on each occasion. He’s been doing it without the benefit of a strong lead-out team too.
His consistency means he’s well placed in the red jersey points competition, where he is … second. Behind Bouhanni. Obviously.
Hang in there, Giacomo. That elusive victory will come. In the meantime, your performances have been noted, and this is one occasion where you don’t have to worry about being behind Bouhanni.
Stage 10 result
1. Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) 4:01:13
2. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) same time
3. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
4. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) s/t
5. Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF) s/t
1. Cadel Evans (BMC) 42:50:47
2. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:57
3. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) +1:10
4. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) +1:20
5. Steve Morabito (BMC) +1:31
6. Fabio Aru (Astana) +1:39
7. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) +1:43
8. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) +1:44
9. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +1:45
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Trek) +1:49
Points leader: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ).
Mountains classification: Julian Arredondo (Trek).
Best young rider: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Team classification: Omega Pharma-QuickStep.