In lavishing praise upon Mark Cavendish and his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team for slowing the pace at the front of the peloton after Bradley Wiggins was caught behind a crash in the finale of stage 6 of the Giro d'Italia, Sky manager Dave Brailsford also implicitly pointed the finger at FDJ and Katusha, who were controlling affairs at the head of the peloton.
Speaking to Cyclingnews after the finish in Margherita di Savoia, however, FDJ directeur sportif Frédéric Guesdon rejected the idea that his team had done anything in contravention of fair play.
"Our aim was just to stay in front on the finishing circuit, we weren't riding, we just wanted to stay out of the trouble," Guesdon told Cyclingnews. "We were just controlling the race, we weren't riding full on and our aim certainly wasn't to drop Wiggins given that we don't have a man for general classification. We were only there for the sprint."
Katusha directeur sportif Valerio Piva explained his team's presence on the front of the peloton in similar terms, pointing out that they were simply ensuring that maglia rosa Luca Paolini stayed out of trouble. "Paolini told me that they'd stay there on the front but not pull. That's normal, that's fair play," Piva said.
As Guesdon noted, "It all ended well," with Wiggins and his Sky cohort soon latching back onto the main peloton, and the stage was quickly set for the anticipated bunch finish on the Adriatic coast.
FDJ's man for the sprint was French champion Nacer Bouhanni, who arrived at the Giro with a burgeoning reputation and lofty ambitions after a string of near misses during his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España last year.
Bouhanni was to be frustrated in Marghertia di Savoia, however, and had to settle for fourth place as Elia Viviani (Cannondale) managed to nudge his way ahead of him and into the FDJ lead-out train in the finishing straight.
"It was all going very well until 500 metres from the line when Dominque Rollin had Murilo Fischer and Nacer on his wheel," Guesdon said. "Unfortunately, Murilo lost Rollin's wheel to Viviani and so Nacer lost contact with his lead-out man and that made it very hard on that finale."
Guesdon acknowledged that it would require a pitch-perfect performance to beat a Cavendish who is currently firing on all cylinders. "It's always possible but the thing is that you can't allow yourself the slightest error," he said. "Today we had a small error and you can see that you pay so dearly for the slightest error."
The outlook for Bouhanni and the sprinters at large in this Giro is not promising. Flat stages are few and far between, and bunch sprints are at a premium, even for those who make it all the way to the finish in Brescia.
"There aren't too many more sprints left but we'll see day by day what comes along," Guesdon said. Nacer has been up there for the win the past few days. yesterday, he got caught in the crash and today he wasn't able to get the win. He's not far off but there aren't too many opportunities here either, so he needs to take them when they come."
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