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The Tyrrhenian Circus

11/03/2021

It is like watching a brilliant circus act, a juggler who keeps seven, eight, nine projectiles in the air while dancing on a variety of obstacles underfoot. The flying objects, in this case, are the usual suspects: Julian Alaphilippe, Wout van Aert, Mathieu Van Der Poel, Tadej Pogačar, Egan Bernal, Adam Yates, and the rest. So far, so fast does the juggler go that, inevitably, in his exhilarating display, some of the flying objects spin out of their controlled orbit. Today it was Adam Yates. 

The early breakaway contained the irrepressible Simon Pellaud, Marcus Burghardt, Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert road captain Pieter Vanspeybrouck, yet again two riders from Eolo-Kometa – the mountains leader Vincenzo Albanese and, this time, the Scotsman John Archibald – and the exciting Simone Velasco, who startted the day 4th overall, just 7″ behind Van Aert.  They were allowed a maximum lead of 5’46”, but were then caught on the climb to the Poggio alla Croce with 35 km to go. 

Moments after the catch, with Lotto Soudal riders swarming at the front of the group, Egan Bernal took off. It was a generous, if not entirely uninhibited move. Quickly joined by Kasper Asgreen and Jasper De Buyst, Bernal never opened a substantial lead. Scenting an opportunity to disrupt the disruptors, and forestall the expected fast finish of Alaphilippe, Van Aert, and Van Der Poel, five, then seven, then ten riders gave chase – Higuita with Soler, Yates, Vermeersch, Konrad, Almeida, Bilbao, Sivakov,  Wellens and the remarkable Quinn Simmons. Van Aert, Van Der Poel,  Alaphilippe and Pogačar never flinched, and it was Pogačar’s team-mate Jan Polanc who eventually closed the gap with 31.2 km remaining. At that moment Bernal’s team-mate Pavel Sivakov attacked, followed by Yates and Almeida (again) and Mikel Landa. 

From then on, it was cycling’s compelling numbers game.

With 14.5 km to go, the lead was 43″. Then, –10 km: 26′. -7.1 km (start of the final climb); 19″. -4.2 km: 21″ (despite Formolo, Majka and Polanc working at the front of the peloton for Pogačar). -3.5 km; 16″. -2.5 km: 8″.

-2 km, and the peloton almost on them, Yates drops off the group of leaders. 

-1.8 km: Sivakov attacks. -1.7 km; Almeida counters. -1.2 km: the chasing group drops Simon Yates, whose hopes of winning this Tirreno end. 

With 1.1 km to go, Almeida attacked again. This time, Sivakov dropped limply onto Landa’s wheel.  With 800m to go, Sivakov made an effort to sprint after Almeida, but there was nothing left in the tank 

700m from the finish line, Almeida seemed to have a good lead. Behind him, Astana’s Gorka Izagirre was leading out Alex Aranburu. With 550m to go, Geraint Thomas accelerated, perhaps working for Bernal, but providing Julian Alaphilippe with the perfect leadout. The World Champion waited and waited, then, with 150m to go, launched his sprint. He opened several bike lengths and passed his Portuguese team-mate with 70m to go.

Pogačar, seated, and Van Aert and Van Der Poel, standing, were closing fast as Alaphilippe leaned back to celebrate. For an instant, a Liège-Bastogne-Liège moment looked possible. But Alaph was over the line – just! – when Van Der Poel passed Van Aert to snatch second place, with Pogačar fourth and Aranburu fifth. 

Most of the favourites – Bernal, Thomas, Higuita, Nibali, Fuglsang, Quintana and Bardet – made the leading group of 36 who finished in the same time as Alahilippe. So too did Sivakov, Asgreen, Almeida and the excellent De Buyst. The exception is last year’s champion, Simon Yates, who paid for his attack and conceded 1’22”. Ineos Grenadiers look to have the most options for putting riders in attacks, with Sivakov, Thomas, Kwiatkowski and Bernal all well placed and looking strong.

That said, in this Tyrrhenian circus, it takes a Tiresias to see what’s coming.

 

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