The late start and pleasant sunshine contributed to a relaxed ambience as the gruppo signed on outside Modena's baroque Palazzo Ducale ahead of stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia, but a general classification contender can never allow himself to be lulled into a false sense of security.
"I think every day is a GC day," Jai Hindley told Cyclingnews at the start. "Even today, the conditions could be pretty testing."
Prescient words. The pace was languid as the peloton trundled slowly through the vines outside Modena and then followed the Via Emilia towards the Adriatic coast, but even the most temperate days on the Giro can fall prey to sudden storms.
The speed ratcheted upwards in the finale and so did the tension. Separate crashes ended the races of Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers).
Hindley, like his Team DSM teammate Romain Bardet, was glad to arrive safely in Cattolica without conceding any further ground. Five days in, he lies 24th overall, 2:20 down on maglia rosa Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation).
At this point in the game, staying in the hunt is half the battle. The Australian conceded over 34 seconds to Egan Bernal (Ineos) and the strongest general classification contenders on the tough, rain-soaked finale at Sestola on Tuesday, but even before Landa and Sivakov's crashes, he could put his early setback into perspective.
"It was a pretty hard day out in the end, with the rain and the course at the back half of the race," Hindley said. "It was actually a super tough day and I think everyone had to go super deep at the end there. But I think as a team we were OK. Romain was in that second group of GC guys and I was just a bit behind that, so in the end, it's not too bad. We didn't lose too much time in the big picture. To be honest, I'm not really stressed about it too much."
Hindley now finds himself almost a minute behind Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), the best placed of the favourites in the overall standings, and he is 17 seconds down on Bardet, who fared slightly better than he did on the Colle Passerino on Tuesday.
Those margins, still slender in the grand scheme of things, will do little to discourage Hindley, who sustained heavier losses on the first summit finish of last year's Giro before recouping that ground in a series of imposing leaps once the race hit its final, decisive third week.
"It would have been nice to have been up there in contention, but the race is three weeks long and that was only stage 4," he said. "When I look back to stage 3 on Etna last year, I think I lost a minute and a half to a lot of guys. Obviously, this is a different race, but I think you can't be too worried about losing a bit of time in the first week. And the guys who lost more time, I wouldn't write them off either."
One of the men who so impressed out in front at Sestola, of course, is now out of the race altogether. Hindley, like so many in the group of favourites, was impressed by Landa's turn of pace near the top of the final climb, while the apparent ease of Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), did not go unnoticed. "They were really on a pretty high level, super strong," said Hindley.
Thursday's summit finish at San Giacomo above Ascoli Piceno will be the next rendez-vous for Hindley and the podium contenders. Though the climb is long at 15 kilometres, its gradients are relatively benign, averaging just over 6 per cent. It isn't immediately clear if the ascent will be selective enough to provoke skirmishes among the favourites, but at the Giro, it always pays to be prepared. "Every day is a GC day," Hindley said. "You always have to focus 100 per cent if you're going for GC."
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