Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) claimed the first Grand Tour stage victory of his career on stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia, winning from the breakaway on a brutal and breathless stage to Potenza.
It took some 70km for the breakaway to form on a rugged parcours that totalled 4500 metres of elevation gain, but it went all the way and Bouwman’s celebrations were shadowed in the background by his teammate Tom Dumoulin.
Bouwman had in fact been dropped by a Dumoulin attack on the final categorised climb with just under 30km to go, but they came back together with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) for the run down into Potenza and the sharp fine kick to the line.
Dumoulin led it out and Bouwman, who’s showed a strong turn of speed to take mountains points throughout the day, showed his rivals a clean pair of heels, crossing the line with a sizeable gap. Mollema pipped Formolo to second place, while a celebrating Dumoulin rolled across for a fourth place and an assist that revives his Giro after falling out of overall contention on Mount Etna.
Davide Villella (Cofidis) trailed home in fifth as the last of the breakaway survivors after a series of mishaps, before the overall contenders arrived in a reduced peloton three minutes in arrears. Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe), second overall, led the bunch home but race leader Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) survived a treacherous day to retain the overall lead.
Despite the chaotic start, which included a brief attack from 2019 Giro champion Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), the race eventually settled down as the breakaway stayed away, and there were no time gaps between the pre-race favourites.
"It's unbelievable. I can't believe it," said Bouwman. "It was such hard day. We were in the final with four riders and two of us. Tom did a superb job in the last 2km.
"I was feeling good all day. One time on the climb I was in trouble but I came back and actually I was confident for the sprint. It was steep but when I started to sprint I felt so much power left. I looked behind with 50 metres to go and saw I had a big gap - perfect."
Bouwman ended up with the stage win but also the blue jersey, collecting maximum points on three of the four categorised climbs - including the big mid-stage cat-1 Monte Sirino - to take the lead in the mountains classification.
For a while, it looked as though he could end up in pink, starting the day 5:30 down on López as the best-placed rider in what was initially a seven-rider breakaway that also featured Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) and Diego Camargo (EF Education-EasyPost). Despite Trek-Segafredo controlling the gap for Lopez - even though they had Mollema in the break - the gap yawned out to six minutes at the top of the cat-2 Montagna Grande di Viggiano with 60km to go, putting Bouwman into the virtual lead of the Giro.
Ineos Grenadiers, however, soon appeared at the front of the bunch, perhaps wary of letting former Giro winner such as Dumoulin recover too much time, the Dutchman having started the day eight minutes down at the start of the day. Dumoulin looked to rip the breakaway up on the final climb - a cat-3 test at La Sellata - attacking three times. The first dropped Camargo, the second dropped Villella, and the third dropped Bouwman. However, Dumoulin then found himself under attack from Mollema and Formolo. Bouwman ground his way back on a kilometre shy of the summit, where he once again sprang clear for mountains points in an indication that his legs hadn’t gone completely.
From there, Dumoulin switched to domestique mode, setting tempo while Bouwman responded effortlessly to attacks. Dumoulin was dropped three times before coming back in the final 2km to set up a win that finally kickstarts Jumbo-Visma’s Giro.
How it unfolded
After such little interest in the breakaway on stage 6, this one saw attacks from the gun. However, they didn't last long, and after a few kilometres the peloton was bunched up with no one moving. It was not a sign of things to come - more a calm before a storm that would last for 60km.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) went solo, while Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) was active behind but didn't manage to force a group clear. There was brief lull when Lopez had to stop for a bike change, but it then kicked off again. De Gendt was swamped by a group that was soon reeled in, while Alessandro De Marchi (Israel-Premier Tech) had a brief foray alone before a new group went clear ahead of the day's first climb.
However, on the lower slopes of the category-3 Passo Colla - 9.3km at 4.5% - everything came back together but stretched out once more. Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) went clear on his own after a steep section. Several moves came and went behind - including from Van der Poel, EF's Merhawi Kudus, and Ineos' Ben Tulett - but nothing stuck until Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) went near the top and took Anthony Perez (Cofidis) with him. At the summit, Poels led by 17 seconds over that duo, with the stretched peloton 10 seconds back and the race far from settled.
On the subsequent 10km descent, Formolo and Perez linked up with Poels, and the group grew to five when Fabio Fellini (Astana) and Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa) skipped away. Soon after, it grew to 12, as Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) made his way across in a seven-man group.
And soon after that, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) made his way over in a shock early attack from one of the top overall favourites. He was piloted by teammate Jhonatan Narvaez and had Van der Poel for company as they made their way across to the front of the race with 140km to go. Trek-Segafredo sensed the danger and shut the move down.
As that happened, Formolo attacked again, taking Jorge Arcas (Movistar) with him before going it alone. Further back, Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe), second overall, applied some pressure, with Lopez following his wheel closely. They briefly went clear in a move with Ineos' Pavel Sivakov but then drifted back.
The road then tilted up for the imposing climb of Monte Sirino, a first-category climb some 24.4km in length. With gentler stretches mixed in with steeper slopes, the gradient averaged out to 3.8%. The climb finally saw the day's breakaway form.
There was a flurry of attacks on the lower slopes, but it was Davide Villella (Cofidis) who succeeded in bridging across to Formolo. Further back, Poels bridged across to a group of attackers before dropping them, while Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) joined him and the pair went across to Formolo and Villella. That wasn't case closed.
Behind, Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) suddenly became very active and went clear with Diego Camargo (EF Education-EasyPost). Mollema was late to the party but soon burned a string of second-division team riders off his wheel as he made his way across. A few kilometres later, that trio linked up with the leading quarter to form a seven-man break: Dumoulin, Bouwman, Poels, Mollema, Formolo, Camargo, Villella.
And that was that. With 120km to go, and the gap at one minute, Lopez called for a comfort break in the peloton and the race settled down at last. When the gap hit four minutes, Trek-Segafredo came to the front to control proceedings through Jacopo Mosca. They seemed keen to defend the pink jersey, even though they had a rider in the breakaway, with Mollema appearing to do less work than his companions.
At the top of Monte Sirino, with 106km to go, Bouwman was quickest in the dash for the mountains points, helping himself to the full haul of 40 ahead of Poels and Mollema. The peloton reached the summit 5:30 in arrears, which just put Bouwman into the virtual lead of the Giro as the best-placed rider in the break.
After a short descent, the road tilted uphill towards the day's first intermediate sprint, where Bouwman led the lead group through. Another shorter descent followed ahead of the day's third climb, and it saw Villella misjudge a corner and take himself out of the running briefly.
The third climb was the cat-2 Montagna Grande di Viggiano, 6.1km at a savage 9.6%. Poels, who'd briefly dropped on the uphill approach to the sprint, lost contact again, and would only slip further and further back - his chances over. Villella managed to skip past the Dutchman on his way back but was soon stopped again as he required mechanical assistance following his earlier crash. Camargo was also dangling but got back on.
At the steep top section of the climb, with 60km to go, Bouwman produced a zippy sprint to grab the full haul of 18 mountains points ahead of Formolo, putting himself into the blue jersey for Saturday's stage. The peloton had appeared to speed up on the previous descents but took its foot off the gas and reached the summit nearly six minutes in arrears.
The final climb and finale
On the descent, Ineos began to take control of the peloton, while Villella remarkably managed to regain contact up front. Ineos continued to work on an uncategorised climb that led towards the final categorised climb, the cat-3 ascent to La Sellata. As that climb began, with 31km to go, the remaining six riders in the breakaway led the bunch by 3:35. Chances of the stage win hung in the balance.
Dumoulin took responsibility to set the pace on the climb, with Camargo soon struggling but hanging on. Dumoulin then turned his effort into an attack, which dropped Camargo for good and then Villella. With 30km to go Dumoulin kicked again, Formolo, Mollema, and Bouwman grimacing but following. In the bunch behind, Ben Swift led an Ineos train.
After a short lull, Dumoulin attacked for a third time. Formolo and Mollema were alive to it and the move only distanced Dumoulin's own teammate Bouwman. Mollema looked to profit from that situation with a counter-attack of his own. Dumoulin set about steadily dragging it back and Formolo in turned profited from that to launch an attack of his own. He lasted nearly 2km, but Dumoulin and Mollema eventually worked their way over. A brief lull allowed Bouwman to regain contact 1km from the summit.
At the top of the climb, with 23km to go, Bouwman still had enough zip to skip away again to go clear and take the maximum haul of mountains points, once again ahead of Formolo, who tried to steal a march onto the descent. Behind, the peloton crested the climb 3:12 in arrears, Ineos simply setting a pace that allowed the breakaway the stage win but not a dangerous overall time gap.
The situation remained stable on the subsequent 15km descent and the true finale was signalled by a short uncategorised climb to the second intermediate sprint with 7km to go. Dumoulin did most of the work on the approach and continued onto the kicker, but Mollema soon attacked. Bouwman quickly responded before Fromolow clawed his way across. Dumoulin was dropped but a lull allowed him back on and he quickly went back to the front to set the pace. Mollema went for a second time towards the top of the climb and through the sprint, with the same outcome - Bouwman following instantly, Formolo joining, and Dumoulin dropping. Before another lull allowed Dumoulin back on, Formolo accelerated. Mollema was distanced slightly but Bouwman didn't miss a beat. In the peloton behind, Pavel Sivakov took it up for Ineos, now three minutes behind the leaders.
A downhill run led into the final 2km, which steadily ramped uphill towards the line, reaching 8% in the final 800 metres and 13% in the final 100 metres. Mollema and Formolo both issued testing accelerations as things got tactical on the approach, but the games being played allowed Dumoulin back in once more. The Dutchman duly hit the front to set a steadier pace and ended up leading out. He too it to 300 metres to go, when Bouwman hit out furiously. Mollema and Formolo launched their responses but it wasn't much of a contest as Bouwman sailed clear to claim only the second win of his career.
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