Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) won the uphill finish in Filottrano and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) took the overall race lead, but Sunday's stage of Tirreno-Adriatico was all about the one rider missing from this year's peloton. The stage was dedicated to the memory of Michele Scarponi, who was tragically killed on April 22 last year as he set off for a training ride from Filottrano.
The hilltop town in the central Le Marche region is still mourning its most famous son and the 2009 winner of the race, but Filottrano wanted to host a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico in memory of Scarponi.
Bike races are traditionally a happy day out, a moment to admire the riders and enjoy the racing, a moment of pride for any town or village that hosts the finish. This time stage 5 was also a moment of reflection and coming together to celebrate Scarponi's life. It was a day of emotion for everyone.
Almost every Filottrano resident turned out, many holding blue and yellow balloons, which were then released when the riders reached the finish. Every village square, archway, shop front and balcony was decorated in the Astana blue and yellow colours, with huge photos of a smiling Scarponi at every turn.
Even Frankie the famous Macaw was present. He was released to fly alongside the peloton in the final kilometres of the stage and then flew to the bus parking as if looking for the Astana team bus and Scarponi.
The team had decided to park outside the cemetery and later paid their own moving tribute at Scarponi's grave.
Tirreno-Adriatico stage 5 winner Adam Yates greets the family of Michele Scarponi.
Cataldo makes emotional solo attack
Some riders and members of the Astana team staff were in tears at the finish line. Dario Cataldo, who often shared the long journey home from races with Scarponi, tried to win the stage for his former teammate.
He went on the attack on the Filottrano finishing circuits, determined to remember Scarponi the best way he could. He was joined by two other riders but attacked again on the steep climb up to the town with a lap to go and was only caught 11km from the finish.
"The plan was to do a strong race and to try to play my cards," Cataldo said. "I wanted to try to go in the break and to see if I can do something there. The final did not suit me quite well, it was more for the specialists. Anyway, I gave my 100 per cent today until the end. For me this race was more as a personal thing than just a race. In this way I wanted to honor Michele Scarponi."
Every member of the Astana team signed the cap he wore in the race and it was left with at Scarponi's grave with some flowers.
Scarponi's wife, Anna, and twin boys, Tommaso and Giacomo, bravely attended the stage finish and presented Yates with his prizes and flowers for winning the stage. He understood the emotions of the moment, shaking hands with the shy young boys and giving back his flowers to Anna. He admitted he did not know Scarponi but recalled often hearing him laugh at the back of the peloton.
"It was an emotional day for lots of guys in the peloton," Yates said. "It's a terrible shame he's not here."
Anna Scarponi held back her emotions and thanked everyone for their show of support.
"I want to thank the Astana team because they've always made us feel part of a big family," she told Italian television.
"They helped us to enjoy special days, helping the boys have fun as if their father was still here. I'm moved by all the affection that everyone in Filottrano has shown us with their banners and shop window decorations. Michele was proud to be from Filottrano."
Scarponi's parents, Flavia and Giacomo, attended but admitted it was difficult for them. Italian cycling has lost one of its most liked riders. They lost their son.
"It's right to be at the finish, but it's a difficult day for us. It's reviving difficult emotions," Giacomo Scarponi told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"It's a sad day for us simply because Michele is no longer here. We try to comfort each other and help each other in difficult moments. Our grandchildren are the biggest help because they reminds us so much of Michele."
Scarponi's brother, Marco, has started a road safety campaign in Michele's memory and again made a public plea for better understanding the risks cyclists face out on the roads.
"It's an emergency that is not really talked about. People are killed every day but it seems so normal. But it's not," he said on Italian television
"They describe them as accidents but they're not accidents; often they are due to human error. There are deaths but also lots of serous injuries, and so people who will have to live with that for all their lives. We're creating a memorial foundation in Michele's name to help fight for better road safety."