Polymath Pozzovivo moonlights as lead-out man for Girmay at Giro d’Italia
‘It’s going to be a very open Giro, decided by small details’
The great polymath of the peloton adds another string to his bow. Already an economics graduate, a sports science student, a pianist, a climber, and an amateur meteorologist, Domenico Pozzovivo tried on the role of lead-out man for size during the breathless finale of stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia in Jesi.
After guiding Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux teammate Biniam Girmay over the stiff final climb of Monsano in the finale, Pozzovivo popped up to deliver a towering lead out for the Eritrean on the deceptive drag to the line on Viale della Vittoria.
Girmay, second on the opening day in Visegrád, won his rematch with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) here to claim the first Grand Tour stage win by a Black African rider. Pozzovivo wheeled home in 18th place, content to have played his own, unexpected part on an historical afternoon.
Girmay would later be taken to hospital after suffering an eye injury during the podium ceremony, but in the immediate aftermath of the stage, Intermarché’s celebrations were unfettered. As Girmay was being whisked towards the podium amid a phalanx of television crews, Pozzovivo was asked if he had ever led out a sprint like that in his life before.
“For the win? Never,” Pozzovivo smiled. “But it was a finale where the road was climbing slightly, and I think I was able to do it quite well as the speed wasn’t that high. And then Biniam has spectacular legs…”
Another Girmay-Van der Poel duel seemed the most likely scenario when the Giro left Pescara on Tuesday morning and it duly materialised in Jesi, though the rugged terrain in the second half of the stage meant that a reduced bunch sprint was not an inevitability.
While the bulk of the fast men survived the penultimate classified ascent up Recanati’s Colle dell’Infinito, immortalised in poem by Giacomo Leopardi, they were altogether fewer in number come the summit of the day’s final climb in Monsano with 8.5km to go, after Alpecin-Fenix had forced the pace on Van der Poel’s behalf.
“During the stage, I spoke to him and tried to keep him calm, and then in the finale I told him to follow me on the climb,” said Pozzovivo. “When you’re working like a star talent like Biniam, it’s only right that the whole team works for him and I think we did an exceptional job, like a really great team.”
Although Girmay endured a moment of panic when he almost missed a corner on the run-in, he still had three Intermarché teammates for company in the 30-strong group that contested the finish. Improbably, the role of lead-out man fell to Pozzovivo, but he proved to be up to the task.
“At a certain moment, I found myself in front and then Biniam was able to finish it off,” he said. “It’s a great satisfaction.”
A balanced Giro
At the start in Pescara, Pozzovivo hadn’t anticipated a day of such drama, telling Cyclingnews that he expected few frissons among the general classification contenders until the weekend’s demanding stage around the hinterland of Turin. Instead, the fraught finale in Jesi called for vigilance, with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) among the attackers on the descent from Monsano.
As well as moonlighting as a lead-out man, Pozzovivo is, of course, chasing a high overall finish at this Giro, and he underscored his form by finishing in the six-man leading group on the Blockhaus on Sunday. He lies eighth overall, 54 seconds behind the maglia rosa Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo), and he would be even closer had he not lost contact with the group of favourites due to the wind atop Mount Etna on stage 4.
Pozzovivo was almost forced into retirement last winter after the Qhubeka-NextHash team disbanded, but he found a berth at Intermarché in February. On Sunday, the 39-year-old was among the strongest when the pink jersey group splintered into shards on the Blockhaus.
“I have to say I expected to have that kind of level on the climbs and then the day itself suited me because I normally like racing in the heat,” Pozzovivo told Cyclingnews. “I was able to manage myself well. I just had to deal with back pain that bothers me on some days more than others, but that was the only worry I had on the day.”
Although men like Simon Yates and Giulio Ciccone exited the general classification race on the Blockhaus, there was unusual parity among the riders in front. Richard Carapaz, Romain Bardet and Mikel Landa briefly stole a march, but they were joined at the summit by Jai Hindley, João Almeida and the evergreen Carapaz.
“I rarely saw a stage as hard as that finish with so many riders in and around the same level,” Pozzovivo said. “There are a lot of riders with the same level here, so it’s going to be a very open Giro, one that will be decided on the little details.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.