Giovinazzo is a place that has always intrigued me, ever since the results of roller hockey were read in the “Domeniche Sportive” presented, as chance would have it, by Adriano De Zan. I knew all the cities of the championship. All but Giovinazzo, whose location was a mystery to me. It can so happen that a stage of the Giro d’Italia is also useful to solve old unanswered questions and to realise that having never visited Giovinazzo is a real shame, because there is so much there. On the other hand, and some might have forgotten it, we are in Puglia, and after Giovinazzo the peloton will pass through Trani, Margherita di Savoia, will just about brush Canne and, above all, will be under the spell of a spirit that, in these parts, has been hovering over everything for the last seven and a half centuries: the spirit of Federico II. Consequently, early this morning, I strolled through piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where the race will start, I said hello to the peloton and then headed to Ruvo di Puglia – another place which should really be visited sooner or later – and went up to Castel del Monte, because you can’t come here without paying tribute to the Emperor.
Anyhow, I did not forget about the race, also because I imagined how the stage would roll out. Already before Trani there would be a breakaway attempt which the peloton would let go at least up to Manfredonia, maybe even further than that had Dario Cataldo, Giulio Ciccone and Giovanni Visconti not shaken up the group to gain as many points as they could on Monte Sant’Angelo. After Coppa Santa Tecla the radios would have started to take control and tighten the ranks because, even though the final kilometres are somewhat “nervous”, the peloton would wear the emperor’s clothes and play its inescapable role. I have consequently hung around as much as I could and, while doing that, I started to think that Puglia must really be the most beautiful region in Italy, because nobody has ever seen a mountain grand prix like Monte Sant’Angelo, wonderfully above the Gargano and brightened by the Santuario di San Michele (that UNESCO rightly decided to protect).
Then, once the Frederician tour was over, I went to the press room and, as usual, I sat next to the Bidons, after all we have the same vices and, well, we bear each other. Before getting any news, I told them how I thought the stage was going and in fact at Madonna dello Sterpetto, right before Barletta, four riders took off: Kaakko Hänninen of AGR La Mondial, Davide Martinelli of Astana, Olivier Le Gac of FDJ and Marco Frapporti of Vini Zabú and, as it was rightful, the group let them do whatever they wanted. The peloton was so kind to start getting serious in Manfredonia only, so that the breakaway passed unhindered on Monte Sant’Angelo, and Jakko Häkkinen, who must be one of those northerners who always wished to bask in the Southern Italian sun, was first at the Mountain Grand Prix.
After that, though, Cofidis’ Consonni and Rossetto went at the head of the group, followed by Adam Hansen who beat the time, and the gap went down quickly. Before Coppa Santa Tecla Hänninen and Le Gac were caught but Frapporti, who cannot escape his own nature of eternal breakaway specialist, must have convinced Davide Martinelli to follow him in his rebellion. They managed to hold for another 10 km and arrived in Vieste still in breakaway, but as soon as they passed the sign of welcome to the city, Cesare Benedetti and Daniel Oss got them back into the peloton, with Oss giving a thumbs up to Frapporti who waved back. So, after the action, I asked to the Bidons: «Who do you fathom: Elia Viviani?». «Not so sure, there’s the ascent of Via Saragat which could mix things up». «The ascent of Via Saragat? They’ll go over it at 58 kilometres per hour, they won’t even notice it».
As a matter of fact, it was not the ascent that made the difference but the bottleneck four kilometres away from the finish line. There has been a sudden slowing, which hogged the head of the peloton and so eleven were left in front, all riders who were working for their captains who ended up in the jam, where luckily nobody got hurt, and were hopelessly cut off. Eleven with a blessed go ahead to get a chance, were even surprised by the blessing, because Marco Benfatto, Fabio Felline and Alex Howes got tangled up in the game of trajectories and lost ground. In the end eight of them were left for the final sprint in Viale XXIV Maggio, each without any point of reference but himself: Jan Tratnik, Lorenzo Rota, Ryan Gibbons, Cesare Benedetti, Andrea Vendrame. The other three were Roger Kluge, Davide Cimolai, Krists Neilands. With the latter two racing for Israel Start Up Nation, a glance was enough to understand who had to sacrifice himself for whom. Neilands blocked all accelerations, took his teammate to the 250 meters sign and got out of the way, but the sprint was so hard that the Latvian finished third, while Cimolai, free at last, left Kluge a bike behind and won, at the age of 31, his first stage at the Giro d’Italia. I must say that this ending has been a slap on my hands, because it showed that almost everything can be told in advance – that the stage breakaway would have been caught at the right moment, that the pink jersey would have not changed owner and that Puglia is wonderful. But that, at the Giro d’Italia, there always is something magically unpredictable.
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 Marija Markovic.