To say stage 11 winner Omar Fraile's love of the Giro d'Italia comes from a long way back is no exaggeration – some of the Spaniard's first memories of the sport, he said on Wednesday, date from watching the race with his grandmother.
"She was always a huge cycling fan, particularly of the Giro d'Italia and of Indurain winning here [in the early 1990s]. I can remember sitting with her watching the Giro on TV in her living room as she knitted away. She always said it was her favourite race," Fraile told reporters afterwards, "and it was always the one that mattered the most in my family."
More than two decades on from the time when Indurain won back-to-back victories in the Italian Grand Tour, Fraile was the Spanish hero of the day in the Giro d'Italia, clinching Dimension Data's first ever victory in the race.
A winner of the king of the mountains title in the Vuelta a España in 2015 and 2016, Fraile said he had been focused on this complicated stage through the mountains of Tuscany ever since the Giro d'Italia began. "Me and Igor Anton are sharing rooms, and when it got to last night, he said to me 'well, tomorrow's going to be your big moment.'" Then when Mark Cavendish visited the Dimension Data squad this morning at the start in Firenze, it turned out Anton was not the only Dimension Data rider who thought the 161-kilometre stage could suit Fraile well.
"Mark was in the best of spirits this morning on the bus and his good mood gave us all a boost," Fraile said afterwards. "He said it was a good stage for us, and particularly for me! I know he'll be very happy about how it all worked out."
Fraile's stage victory had several ingredients in the making, starting with his getting in a 23-man break, then going clear with Mikel Landa (Team Sky) at around kilometre 50. When the duo was caught by the big break after 70 kilometres, Fraile then still had the energy to go for it when former World Champion Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) went up the road in hot pursuit of Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac).
The trio was caught by Tanel Kangert (Astana Pro Team) in the closing kilometres, but Fraile managed to out-sprint his three closest rivals, dedicating the win to his girlfriend and highlighting team backer Qhubeka's Giro d'Italia campaign for BicyclesChangeLives during his press conference.
Fraile explained, too, that going on a long-distance attack with Landa had an unexpected benefit: tiring out the remainder of the break. "When Landa and I went for it, it might have looked a bit crazy," the 26-year-old said later. "But we got a big, three-minute gap pretty quickly, partly because there was a tailwind, partly because we paced ourselves well on the climbs and descents. So then it cost the break so much to pull us back, I could easily see that the rest of them were in pretty bad shape.
"Once the three of us were away and over the climb, I knew Rui Costa was the wheel to follow because he's so cold-blooded when he's in a break. So when Rolland went for it on the climb, Bingen [Fernández, sports director] radioed through to me to wait, because he knew that Costa would wait and wait but would finally close it down and that's what he did.
"I knew that Rui Costa was the rider I feared the most, but that he would be tired after making that effort, and so in the final sprint, I think I had more energy than he did."
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