Elia Viviani's 100 per cent record in bunch sprints at this Giro d'Italia came to an end on stage 7 to Praia a Mare, although the Quick-Step rider placed second behind Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) to maintain his grip on the maglia ciclamino of points jersey leader.
On the day after the Giro's lengthy transfer across the Straits of Messina from the summit of Mount Etna, the first stage on the Italian mainland was always likely to end in a sprint, and so it proved.
A resounding winner in Tel Aviv and Eilat during the Giro's Israeli excursion last weekend, Viviani was the favourite to add to his running tally on the flat and fast run northwards from Pizzo. But he was to be denied in the sprint by Bennett, who had tethered himself to the Italian's rear wheel on the run-in.
"Bennett was always on my wheel and he had the upper hand in those last 50 metres, where there was some wind, which made it trickier," Viviani said. "I'm sad not to take my third win, but I am looking at the full half of the glass, namely the important points I bagged today at the intermediate sprint and the finish. The boys were again amazing, did a fantastic job and this defeat will only give us more motivation."
Viviani's Quick-Step Floors team, and Remi Cavagna in particular, worked prominently to peg back the day's early break as the race trundled along the Calabrian coast. Their effort lost important momentum in the run-in, however, almost as soon as the bunch swung off the Strada Statale 18 highway.
The Quick-Step Floors train unshipped briefly when the peloton hurtled through a poorly lit tunnel with five kilometres remaining, and when they emerged back into the light, Viviani was 40 or so positions from the front. Although he was manoeuvred back into position, and started his sprint on the wheel of Sacha Modolo (EF-Drapac), Viviani was overhauled in the final 100 metres by a rapidly finishing Bennett.
"We lost a lot of positions in the last 5km in the tunnels," Viviani said. "My guys and I had to spend a lot of energy to come up. I was on their wheel, but Bennett was always on my wheel. Tactically, he was very good. Modolo went early and so did I."
Speaking to Rai Sport after the stage, Fabio Sabatini agreed that Quick-Step had lost their way in the tunnels on the run-in, although they managed to re-organise themselves in time to give Viviani a chance at completing a hat-trick of stages.
"It was a bit of a chaotic sprint and very fast in the last 10 kilometres," Sabatini said. "The last tunnel wasn't very well lit, and we lost positions, and then had to make a big effort to move up. Still, in the finishing straight, we had a good position and Elia was just behind Modolo, but Bennett was the strongest today. Imola [stage 12] will be another chance. We'll look to win another stage and above all keep the maglia ciclamino."
Viviani holds a lead of 78 points over Bennett in the points classification, while third-placed Modolo is some 105 points off the pace. The battle for the jersey will become rather tighter in the latter part of the Giro, however, as the litany of mountain stages will see the general classification contenders enter the fray almost by default.
Viviani is aware that every point will count between here and Rome.
"The last three stages weighed in my legs today, and every sprint has its own story," Viviani said. "With 5km to go today, you'd have said I wouldn't be able to win, but the team brought me back to the front. We were fast, but today we were beaten by someone faster. Now we’ll move on to the next challenge."
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