Sestola owes its place on the sporting map to Alberto Tomba, who began his glorious downhill skiing career on its slopes. Thanks to his natural flamboyance as much as his technical brilliance, 'Tomba la Bomba' bestrode the world of alpine skiing in the 1980s and 1990s.
On Tuesday's stage 4 at the Giro d’Italia, the day’s main test was uphill rather than down, but, perhaps fittingly in Tomba country, it was a rider with an inherent sense of theatre who illuminated the first general classification showdown.
Mikel Landa’s ferocious acceleration a kilometre from the summit of the stiff Colle Passerino splintered the group of favourites and provided the first real indication of who might challenge for the maglia rosa in Milan. On a sodden afternoon in Emilia-Romagna, only Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) and, eventually, Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) could match the Bahrain Victorious rider’s brisk pace on the approach to the summit.
That quintet reached the finish over the other side in Sestola with 11 seconds in hand on Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), while Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) were more than half a minute back. Deceuninck-QuickStep's Joāo Almeida, meanwhile, conceded more than five minutes.
The maglia rosa is on the shoulders of Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) after the day’s break went the distance, but Landa is now 15th at 1:49, and just 21 seconds behind Evenepoel.
Given the miserable conditions, most riders preferred to descend immediately to their team buses rather than ruminate on the day’s action with the reporters corralled in the small, social distancing-compliant mixed zone by the finish line. Landa, by contrast, was content to linger a little longer. After taking a jacket from his soigneur, he freewheeled over towards the barrier and explained the rationale behind his attack.
“I saw that people were a bit tired and they weren’t trying anything, so in the final kilometre I had a go,” Landa said. “I’m happy with how it went, we gained a few seconds.”
On the eve of the stage, much attention was devoted to Evenepoel’s chances of seizing the maglia rosa in his first Grand Tour appearance, while the finale also seemed to lend itself to Yates’ abilities as a puncheur. Instead it was Landa – and an impressive Bernal – who marked themselves out as the strongmen among the overall contenders, though the Basque rider gently dismissed the idea that his odds had now shortened.
“For me, I felt I was already a favourite from the start of the Giro. But we’ll see, there’s still a lot Giro to go,” Landa said, while his press officer pressed a mask into his hand.
Asked what he had made of Yates and Evenepoel on the final climb, Landa shrugged. “I didn’t see them,” he said. “I looked behind and the group was together. From the faces I saw, everybody looked a bit tired so I went for it.”
The Caruso card
This latest manifestation of Landismo wasn’t constructed entirely on instinct, of course. Bahrain Victorious had placed Jan Tratnik in the day’s early break, and the team began to work en masse in the group of favourites in the rugged final 50km of a stage played out in driving rain.
The general fatigue was evident from the reduced size of the group ahead of the day’s final climb, where Pello Bilbao and Damiano Caruso were notable in teeing up Landa’s eventual acceleration. Caruso finished strongly himself, coming home in the same time as Evenepoel and Yates, and the Sicilian is his team’s best-placed rider on GC, 12th at 1:43.
“It was a difficult day. The weather conditions made it feel like I was still in Romandie, but I had good sensations and Mikel showed that he did too. So we’re on the right road to do well in the next days and the stages that suit us best are still to come,” said Caruso.
“On a wet and cold day like this, anyone can lose time. I know it sounds a bit blunt, but fortunately it happened to other people today and not us.”
Caruso, it hardly needed to be said, was certain he was racing in support of a potential Giro winner on the road to Sestola.
“If we’ve come here with this team, it’s because we believe it,” he said.
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