Three years ago, Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) was the last Dutch stage winner in the Giro d’Italia, when he soloed away for both the victory and a spell in the lead at the hilltop town of Orvieto in 2011.
Fast forward to 2014 and on the other side of the Apennines and Weening was once again triumphant, skilfully outgunning Europcar’s David Malacarne, the other survivor from a day-long break of 14 that boiled down to a two-man summit duel.
“That day [in 2011] we’d been racing over the Strade Bianche roads, it was a good win,” Weening said..
“And today I felt like one of the strongest guys in the break, which was perfect. I tried to drop him [Malacarne] with seven kilometres to go on the climb, but I couldn’t do it, so I decided to wait for the sprint.”
“Then in the last kilometres we had enough of an advantage to do some gambling” - by which Weening meant, with the two evenly balanced in terms of strength, battling for the stage win became a question of tactics, bike handling and keeping a cool head.
After the two had almost slowed to a halt at one point on opposite sides of the road, Malacarne, arguably under more pressure following Orica-GreenEdge’s spectacularly successful first week and as the local favourite, eventually cracked and led out the sprint. That spelled curtains for the Italian, with Weening galloping past Malacarne at full pelt for a relatively easy win. “It’s always best to come off the wheel,” the 33-year-old reasoned, “but then I went past him to take it in the last 50 metres.”
Orica-GreenEdge have not put a pedal stroke wrong since they started this Giro, with Weening’s stage win adding to a sizeable haul of triumphs that also includes the team time trial, eight days in the pink jersey for Michael Matthews, and a win for Matthews, too, at Monte Cassino. For a squad that does not have a gc contender or an out-and-out sprinter, in fact, you could hardly ask for more.
“There’s a good atmosphere in the team, everything is going perfectly and the pressure is completely off,” was how Weening viewed Orica-GreenEdge’s extraordinary run of success.
“When you have such a good start as we did” - going into the team time trial at Belfast as top pre-race favourites and handling the pressure to win it, and win it in style - “then it’s easier for things to continue to go well.”
Weening added his own personal ingredient to help keep the winning formula going - dropping back deliberately on Saturday so he would no longer be any kind of overall threat.
“I knew straightaway I had to lose some time to get in the breakaway, so I did that on Saturday. Then on Sunday the first break I got into it was like - 'Bingo!' - so that’s perfect.”
One of the few negative moments for Orica-GreenEdge on stage nine came when former leader Michael Matthews crashed early on, hurting his upper leg and finishing 23 minutes down.
“I haven’t been able to speak to Michael since he finished but I saw the crash happen,” Weening said.
“The racing [peloton] was [riding] a little bit in the gutter, it was a bad road, somebody went into somebody else’s back wheel and he [Michael] went over the top, all at 55 kilometres an hour.”
“But I didn’t see him again, I was up the road in the break by the time he got back to the peloton. Tomorrow hopefully he will be able to get some rest and he’ll be able to continue.”