A well-executed team strategy and a fine turn of individual speed have captured Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) his second Giro d'Italia stage victory in as many years and simultaneously netted the former World Champion the points jersey at the Giro d'Italia.
On stage 10, the German team made full use of a lengthy fourth category climb some 40 kilometres from the finish to lay down such a blisteringly fast pace that one sprint rival for Sagan after another was jettisoned from the back of the bunch.
Sagan, though, stayed firmly in the front four or five all the way up the climb and then received an armchair ride to the finish in Foligno.
Ably guided through the last kilometres by Maciej Bodnar and Daniel Oss, whom he both specifically thanked after the stage, Sagan first glued himself to the back wheel of UAE Team Emirates lead-out man Juan Sebastian Molano, then charged away to take the 18th Grand Tour victory of his career.
Bora-Hansgrohe's collective delight at the finish at how they had managed to pull off a notable group triumph was palpable, with Sagan hugging and thanking his teammates after the finish line before heading to the victory podium. And Sagan's first words in his press conference was again to thank them, too, for what he called an "amazing job, all the way from the last climb to the finish."
As for his own role in the Bora-Hansgrohe gameplay, he explained that "I am more competitive when the route profile is tougher, and it's more difficult for the sprinters. The first stages here were very flat, and the rhythm was often very slow. But today, when it's hillier suits me better."
If one image summed up the effects of the Bora-Hansgrohe team strategy for stage 10 of the Giro, it was with about 20 kilometres to go when Qhubeka-Assos' Victor Campenaerts, desperately trying to bring teammate Giacomo Nizzolo back across to the main bunch after he had been dropped on the fourth category climb, eased up and put an arm around the Italian's shoulder as if to say 'not today, mate.'
Nizzolo was far from alone from suffering that fate after Bora-Hansgrohe tightened the screws on the climb: Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), Matteo Moschetti (Trek-Segafredo) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) all were dropped and all ended up throwing in the towel.
Meanwhile, Sagan forged on for his third victory of the 2021 season, his first Grand Tour bunch sprint win since 2019 in Colmar and the lead in the points competition, too, with a total of 108 points ahead of second-placed Fernando Gaviria (UAE Emirates), who has 91.
Asked if he would try to add a Giro points jersey to the seven he has taken in the Tour de France, Sagan answered with a non-committal "maybe. It's great to have the maglia ciclamino but let's see if I can keep it. The Giro's toughest stages are yet to come, so we'll have to take it on the day by day."
There was an unexpected crossover between the Giro's GC battle and the points competition on Monday when Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) skirmished for bonus seconds at an intermediate sprint.
"There wasn't a break ahead so they went for it… It's enough for one GC rider to go for it, for the other to try for it, too," Sagan wryly observed. "But it wasn't much of a battle, mostly it was staying on wheels."
Neither Belgian nor Colombian were visible in the final bunch sprint, logically, where Sagan proved, once again, that rumours of his decline as a racer when he went through a lengthy spell of near-misses in 2020, were greatly exaggerated.
Sagan referred to such speculation indirectly by admonishing journalists for their attitude towards Elia Viviani (Cofidis), when he was asked by one reporter about what he thought of Viviani's year-long failure to net the big wins with the same regularity as in previous parts of his career.
"So what do you think?" he retorted to the journalist. "In the end, Elia is always up there, he holds on well in the climbs, he just maybe needs a bit of luck, like everyone, you know.
"There was a stage earlier on where I got closed in on the barriers, and maybe I could have won there. Instead, I didn't win. I think Elia is always there, he's been third twice already, it seems he's not missing much."
He then turned the question on its head by telling the press conference that "You", as in the journalists, "are always saying that if someone doesn't win he's already finished and not going well. Sometimes you need to think about the criticism that you write."
And in Sagan's case, the Giro d'Italia has once again shown, just as last year when he took one of his most spectacular victories in the rain at Tortoreto, that if the Slovak was ever in danger of going off the grid, he is certainly back on it again now.
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