If the thousand-yard stares on the faces ghosting their way up Viale Crispi in the heart of L'Aquila already told much of the story, then the reading on the screen near the finish line confirmed it. Stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia, which brought the gruppo into the rugged hills of the Apennines, was run off at an average speed of 45.040kph. It was, by any metric, a brutally tough day of racing.
Pello Bilbao (Astana Pro Team) emerged victorious in the capital of the Abruzzo region, clipping clear of the break as they began the final rise towards the line, but this was a day of races within races. While the escapees squabbled over the stage honours, Valerio Conti's UAE Team Emirates squad chased grimly to retain his maglia rosa. Earlier, teams with an eye to final overall victory battled to shut down moves by their rivals. Throughout, riders battled simply to survive, to fight another day.
The Giro’s last visit to L'Aquila in 2010 coincided with one of the most unexpectedly tumultuous days in the race's recent history, when a break of almost 40 riders gained more than 12 minutes on the gruppo and threw the general classification picture into disarray.
That day, it seems, was on preying on many minds when the peloton left Vasto on Friday. Some 49 kilometres were covered in a searing first hour of racing as attack after attack was ignited and then snuffed out, like a malfunctioning lighter. A group of 19 opened a gap at one point, but they were soon pegged back. After two hours of racing, the average speed still stood at 48kph.
"It was really tough, it was really full on," Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos) said afterwards. "Nobody wanted to let anyone go, I think everyone remembers a few years ago when Arroyo nearly won the Giro d'Italia. It was a really hard stage. At one moment it was a really small group of the favourites, so it was really full on all day."
De Plus and Gaviria abandon
Laurens De Plus (Jumbo-Visma) had been suffering with a throat infection for much of the first week of the Giro, even if Friday morning’s Gazzetta dello Sport wondered if his daily time losses had in fact been a deliberate tactic to spare his legs for the mountain stages, where he was due to be among Primož Roglič’s key lieutenants.
The answer arrived a little over 85km into the stage, when De Plus – suffering at the rear of the field since the beginning – wheeled to a stop on the roadside and brought his Giro to an end.
General classification détente
In keeping with the tenor of the Giro thus far, the principal podium contenders eyed one another warily on the punchy run-in to L'Aquila but ultimately no jabs were thrown as Nibali, Roglič, Yates and Miguel Ángel López (Astana) all finished together in the reduced peloton, 1:07 down on Bilbao.