Wednesday morning the riders rolled along flat roads in the sunshine, a welcome change from the day before. Conditions were relatively warm and sunny as the peloton made its way eastward, toward the Adriatic coast town of Cattolica. In fact the first few hours were uneventful: no attacks, no mishaps to speak of, just an easy pace giving rise to the inevitable breakaway group.
We should’ve known that wouldn’t last.
With about 30 kms to go, Eurosport/GCN+ (who are doing a fantastic job airing the race) went to their commentator at the finish (and former world tour rider) Bernie Eisel for a preview of the run-in to the line. Oh boy.
He warned us of several treacherous twists and turns as the race route wound through downtown Cattolica. A virtual obstacle course of traffic rotaries, concrete medians, and tight 90-degree turns lay in wait. As the kilometers ticked away, the sprinters’ teams aligned at the head of the peloton, carving out space for their leaders. The closer they got to the town center, the narrower the road became, squeezing too many bicycles into too small a space.
There were crashes.
Pavel Sivakov of Team Ineos-Grenadiers was the first victim of the squeeze, forced left into the gutter by a rapidly compacting peloton. Whether he touched wheels with another rider or clipped the curb with his pedal, we don’t know. But he tumbled into the hedges, perhaps injuring his back. He was able to finish the race but seemed to have lost heart.
A bit further down the road we saw another incident, this one looking much worse. American Joe Dombrowski, winner of Stage 4 and current King of the Mountains ended up in a heap with Mikel Landa of Team Bahrain Victorious, François Bidard of AG2R, and a race official whose job had been to warn the riders away from a traffic median in the road. Not enough of a warning, I guess. Dombrowski pedaled glumly to the finish (no word on whether he would start tomorrow’s stage). Landa, who lay on the road for several minutes, was transported to hospital shortly thereafter. First report is an injury to his wrist and/or shoulder. Still waiting on the official word.
By the way, Caleb Ewan outmatched efforts by Viviani, Nizzolo, and Sagan to take the victory. I don’t think there’s anyone faster at this point: he came from quite far back in the pack to win with clean wheels. In other words, he cleaned everyone’s clock today. Take a look:
Can’t We Do Better Than This?
In the post-race show on GCN+ the commentators chatted about the hazards of routing Grand Tour races, which host about 200 riders, through small towns veined with narrow streets studded with traffic “furniture.” The big issue turns out to be balancing rider safety with the commercial interests of the race organization and host cities. While I understand the economic considerations at hand, as a fan, I’m tired of watching preventable accidents that end a rider’s chances for a stage victory or, worse yet, his entire season. Let’s hope Landa is okay and that his season can continue. And I hope the race official suffered nothing worse than a bad scare and a few scrapes.
Looking Ahead to Stage 6: Southward into the Apennines
We go from a flat, coastal plain to the foothills of the Apennine Mountains (also known as the spine of Italy.) I think this will offer us our first glimpse of the true climbers in the peloton. As you can see from the profile map, it’s a day for the scalatori; expect the big guys to have a hard time keeping pace.
It might also show us which of the GC contenders are in the best form. The season is still young, and many of the riders are about to get their first taste of mountain competition. While most of the top riders train at altitude, there’s something extra about racing at altitude: How strong is your team? Are you mentally focused? Are your legs ready for three weeks of pain?
I’m looking forward to watching Joe Dombrowski (assuming he starts tomorrow) defend his King of the Mountains jersey. I also think it could be a day for Simon Yates of Team Bike Exchange. And don’t forget to keep your eyes on Egan Bernal (Ineos-Grenadiers); Jai Hindley (Team DSM and last year’s runner-up); and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo and a former Giro champion).
What to Sip as We Watch: Verdicchio di Matelica from Le Marche Region
Our route runs right through the town of Matelica, one of the main areas of production for Verdicchio, a white wine with high acidity and lovely aromas and flavors of green apple, lemon, fennel, and almond. The simpler wines are fresh and fruity (and very budget-friendly). More complex versions may have a creamier texture from extended lees contact and aging in neutral oak barrels.
Verdicchio di Matelica comes from plots at higher altitudes, where nearby mountains block the warming influence of the Adriatic Sea. The climate is more continental with cool evenings and warm, sunny days resulting in a large diurnal temperature range that slows ripening and allows the grapes to retain acidity. Matelica wines differ from their counterparts made in Castelli di Jesi in that they tend to be fuller in body and higher in acidity, with more of a mineral character.
This one, from Cantine Belisario cooperative, was made from grapes grown on a raised sea bed (450 meters above sea level) originating from the Jurassic period. Nearby are saltwater springs (salse) that give the wine its name. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion but there is a saline character to the wine; a nice complement to the citrus and fennel flavors. It has some weight on the palate but clocks in at just 12% alcohol.
I love Verdicchio with vegetable dishes and with fresh seafood. It’s also a lovely apéritif on a hot summer day. Why not enjoy a glass as you cheer the peloton on to glory?
That’s what I plan to do. Cheer them on – and pray for their safety.