Berto has been seeking for il Pirata for twenty-two years. His real name would be Al-berto, but nobody has ever called him so. That day, Berto managed to see il Pirata more than anyone else on the road. Thirty-seven timed, calculated, precise seconds. It took him a week to find the right spot. Compass and map, not Google. Five thousand, nine hundred and sixteen meters from the start of the climb. The perfect view, to see Marco surging from below. And then follow him up, along the zigzag of the climb. Berto is still the proudest: «That day - it was May 30, 1998 - nobody could watch Pantani more than me. Not even Tonkov». And he laughs. Berto has been looking for il Pirata since that day. Sometimes he deluded himself, he thought he had a glimpse of him. But today - May 24, 2020 - was none of those days. It was a stage with nothing to say, except that cycling always says something. On the road to Piancavallo the riddle about Chris Froome was solved. And the solution was the obvious: it wasn't his Giro, it was never meant to be. Still beware: the next one could be his Tour. The stage was won by the wildest time triallist in the pink circus: Rohan Dennis. The leader’s jersey remained, surprisingly, on Tim Wellens' shoulders. At the start, you would have guessed a day in flying colors. Mostly three colors, like the ones in the acrobatic team demonstrating in Rivolto, above helmets and noses. Quite a show at the kilometer zero, with 183 more and four climbs to display the cycling show.
After 88 kilometers here is the breakaway. It's taken two hours and change with Team Ineos lining in front, up and down Sella Chianzutan climb, commanding as if it had the pink jersey. Pellaud and Neilands are dropped, Schachmann struggles but stays. Among the sprinters Cavendish, Ackermann and Groenewegen call it a day. All the others go on swearing and clinging to the gruppetto. Then they approach Forcella di Priuso. Narrow and humid roads, but quite easy. You get only one long hairpin with a 11 percent gradient, before a tunnel. No more than thirty meters of tunnel, but enough: the bunch enters it all together and exits with only one man in the lead. It's Rohan Dennis: the time trial specialist, double world champion but still empty-handed in this Giro. Dennis pulls without turning, from the head. The rest of the Ineos start pinching the radios. Not the kindest words being said. A couple of downhill bends and they start climbing again, towards Passo Rest. Dennis is joined but De La Cruz, Tolhoek, Warbasse and Caicedo. In the peloton everyone is enjoying the turmoil in Team Ineos, nobody seems to be up to taking advantage of it. Nothing changes at the top of the climb and not even on the next climb: Pala Barzana’s one. The breakaway gets to Montereale Valcellina - 28 kilometers to go - leading by 11 minutes and 26 seconds.
After three hills climbed in vain, all is up to Piancavallo. One of the most beautiful climbs in the Giro: very hard for the first six kilometers, pretty hard for the next five, more affordable in the last three and a half. If you want to attack, you have to attack early. No waiting. This is how Marco Pantani started here to blow up the 1998 Giro. Long time ago. Berto-Alberto knows that. To enjoy the stage, he has chosen the exact same spot as that day. Right at the top of the hardest stretch. When one guy in the Ecuadorian national jersey and a time triallist in his aero position parade in front of him, for Berto it’s hard to believe. After six kilometers of the climb, Caicedo and Dennis are well ahead the other three in the break. The biggest surprise is what happens behind them. That is: very little. Almost nothing at all. The rhythm is dictated by Astana, but just steadily. The group is reduced to 23 riders including Wellens - nobody was betting a dime on him holding pink. Here they go: Dumoulin tailing Nibali tailing Froome tailing Fuglsang. Among the big names, only Schachmann lost contact. Just over halfway up, Caruso makes his move then, as the road reaches a 10 percent gradient. Not much left to climb, not much left to make history. And still the history of this Giro is made.
Suddenly, Chris Froome is in trouble. For the four-time Tour de France winner it all falls apart when you wouldn't expect. The price for being sidelined too long, and for choosing the Giro too late. Rumors have Froome leaving the race on the rest day, aiming again at the Tour. Some would argue this was the plan from the beginning. The Briton rapidly loses almost seven minutes to his opponents, now regretting all the tactical games. Just behind a brilliant Caruso, Ciccone is now raising the pace: with him Nibali, Carapaz, Fuglsang, Bardet, Dumoulin and Bilbao, ordered by apparent shape. Just behind, another small group with Wellens plus Cattaneo and Evenepoel, Kelderman, Pozzovivo, Mader, Betancur, Majka and Zakarin.
For some time, the battle between Dennis and Caicedo is put aside. Quite a compelling battle, though. The Ecuadorian is from the Carchi region, just like the defending pink jersey Carapaz, and also a climber. He tries and tries to lose Dennis, but the Australian is effortlessly holding the wheel. And then he goes, just at the last bend, anticipating the sprint with 800 meters to go, at full speed. A time triallist triumphs in Piancavallo. Without even cheering, who knows if out of respect or rather to annoy the team more. Caicedo is 12 seconds late to the party, and well: at least his face is telling. Then Caruso comes in, getting the bonus plus 34 seconds away from the other favorites. The Nibali-Dumoulin group crosses the line at 2.53 from Dennis, the Wellens-Betancur one at 4.03. The Belgian from Lotto Soudal is still in pink, but just for eight seconds on Bilbao. Maybe it will take the third week, and some tougher battle, to get closer to the GC everyone was expecting.
Berto doesn’t mind bonus seconds and calculations. He’s more than capable with numbers, to be honest. He just doesn’t care about them, not when it’s about cycling. While Wellens wears pink again and gets kisses on the podium, Berto is already walking home, among the people swarming away from the Giro and murmuring in distaste. «You know, Pantani». «Well, you know».
This jersey will be signed by the stage winner and auctioned for charity at the end of the Senzagiro. Design curated by Fergus Niland, Creative Director of Santini Cycling Wear, based on a design by the illustrator Oscar Diodoro.