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Van Der Poel Rex

12/03/2021

All tragedy depends on the same ineluctable impulse:  the dogged, implacable struggle against the inevitable. And even Sophocles would balk at a 219 km stage. Every breakaway stares into the same void, and the five man group of Mark Padun, Davide Bais, Tobias Ludviggson, Guillaume Boivin and Niki Terpstra was no exception.  

Davide Bais, the 22 year old brother of Mattia, who is riding here with Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec, and was in the breakaway on Stage 1, won both the only mountain prize of the day, and took the intermediate sprint too, but the peloton was less concerned with the riders ahead of them than with the stragglers. 

At km 105 (with 114 km still to ride and the gap to the leaders  8’40”), Caleb Ewan, wearing the Maglia Ciclamino, was among the team cars. Exiting a roundabout in the town of Sinalunga, Team Arkea riders Laurent Pichon and Łukasz Owsian, with Nairo Quintana in third position, increased the pace. A kilometre later, a possible explanation appeared: a 90 degree turn, where there might just have been a breath of wind. The pace remained high enough for Maciej Bodnar to have a moment of difficulty with his feedbag at the front of the group. At the back of the group, riders were having to sprint to stay in contact. 

As the domestiques repositioned their leaders towards the front,the pace increased still further. Suddenly, Caleb’s predicament came into focus. He was back at the life raft as the mother ship’s engines revved up to full speed ahead. 

It was all over in not much more than ten minutes. When even Mathieu Van Der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe started taking turns at the front, Caleb’s fate was sealed. Barely ten minutes after the first acceleration, his race was over, the first casualty of a stage that could equally well have been for the out and out sprinters, if the disrupters – and you know who I mean – hadn’t taken things in hand. 

So, with with 93. 8 km to go for the leaders, Caleb stepped off his bike and into his team car. He is going to have to find another means of preparing for Milano Sanremo in just 8 days time.

Then it was a matter of wondering what anyone could do about the two flying Vs, WVA and MVDP. *DQT* had some ideas. I have a theory that, if Wout and Mathieu didn’t exist, we would all be raving about Davide Ballerini’s skills set. In a stage that might have suited him to perfection, he moved to the front and, on the descent after Umbertide, tore the peloton to shreds. Then, on the flat, Van Lerberghe and Alvaro Hodeg took series of powerful pulls at the front – 90-second, two-minute efforts calibrated to break up the steady pace set by Jumbo-Visma and Alpecin-Fenix. That as part two. Part one was already well under way. Zdeněk Štybar, variously windcheater and leadout man so far this seasson, became team leader. 

With 2.2 km to go, Alaphilippe was suddenly in 2nd place on  Štybar’s wheel. 1000m later, no doubt feeling the world’s eyes on him, he let a gap open. In a flash, Štybar was away. 

As Mathieu Van Der Poel said after the stage, “Wout immediately reacted, otherwise it could have been dangerous. As for me, I think I made the right decision and waited. It was a really hard sprint, slightly uphill, and after such a long stage today – yeah, it hurt. For sure, that was my… I really wanted to win a stage, that’s why I was a bit frustrated about myself yesterday when I made the mistake, I am glad to win today’s stage.”

Then, behind the two flying Vs, another figure shot towards the finish line: as Sergio Higuita faded to fourth, through came Davide Ballerini, to take third.

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