Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep) wasn’t letting this last opportunity to fly out of pack in a hunt for stage victory at this year’s Giro d’Italia go lightly, leaning into his time-trial abilities and launching well out from the finish to try and take his breakaway companions by surprise. For a while it really looked like it could work.
There were 23 riders out the front in the break on stage 18 – the longest stage of the race – with a gap to the peloton of around 15 minutes, which meant that no matter what games they played the victory was bound to come from within their ranks. What’s more, with the battle for the overall set to dominate the final stages, the chances were running out.
“The goal was to join the break, because it was the last opportunity to try something,” said Cavagna in a team statement.
The 25-year-old was far from alone in his determination to make it into that front group and then 'try something', with the waves of attacks in the opening kilometres to try and get into the break then turning into waves of attacks to try and get away from the break once the race approached the 30 kilometre to go mark. The co-operation in the group completely broke down and that presented an opportunity for Cavagna.
If the Vuelta a España stage winner wanted to take his second Grand Tour victory on the rolling roads of Lombardia, he knew he wasn’t going to do it on the climbs as others in the group were far better suited to that terrain. Instead he would play to his strength and put everything into a time-trial-like solo run for the line.
Launching just as the pace went off when one group of attackers were brought back into the fold, most were slow to respond to Cavagna's move, looking for someone else to take up the chase instead. The exception was Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix), but even with a quick reaction from a rider used to dealing with the fast accelerations of cyclo-cross, there was no holding Cavagna’s wheel.
”When I attacked, I gave everything and had a solid gap with 15 kilometers to go, which made me believe in my chances,” said Cavagna.
Using every last bit of the slim roads that wound through the hills and vineyards Cavagna had stretched the gap out to around 30 seconds then, just as the break looked to be sitting up and letting the French rider fly even further, Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Nippo) and Nicolas Roche (Team DSM) launched the chase.
They pulled the gap in on the climbs, while Cavagna’s powerful turn of speed on the flat stretched it out again, but unfortunately for Cavagna, that 30 second gap ultimately disappeared even more quickly than he had carved it out.
Bettiol dropped Roche at 8 kilometres to go and then with seven kilometres to go the Italian rider quickly reeled in Cavagna on the final climb and, with no hesitation, just rode straight on past. Cavagna fought his way onto the back wheel, held it with gritted teeth for a moment but then was dropped like a leaden balloon. Bettiol rode off to take the victory and then Roche quickly rode on by as well.
The tank emptied and the tilt at victory clearly over, Cavagna lost another six spots on the run into the finish, coming across the line in Stradella in ninth place. In the end, Cavagna said, he was missing something.
“Nevertheless, I enjoyed being at the front today, although the result was frustrating.”
However, unlike many of his break companions, he still has another chance at this year's Giro d'Italia which closes with a 30 kilometre time trial in Milan. Cavagna started with a fifth place at the opening time trial and his skill in the race against the clock has already put him on three WorldTour stage podiums so far this year.
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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and as a correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.
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