Ewan chalks up second win as Viviani falters again
Australian pocket-rocket Caleb Ewan doubled up on the Giro d’Italia with a strong stage 11 win ahead of Arnaud Demare and Pascal Ackermann in Novi Ligure as the out-of-sorts Elia Viviani’s woes continued.
Lotto Soudal’s Ewan won by a bike length over Frenchman Demare of Groupama-FDJ with Germany’s Ackermann (Bora Hansgrohe) finishing third and conceding the maglia ciclamino to Demare after the pan-flat 221km stage from Carpi.
But Viviani’s troubles showed no signs of abating – the Italian national champion making a hash of his positioning and being boxed out for fourth place ahead of compatriot Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data).
Ewan launched from the wheel of Ackermann and showed his speed and strength to hold his rivals at bay in a strong cross-headwind and a slight uphill rise to the line.
“Ackermann was the first sprinter who came by me on his train so I decided to jump on him,” Ewan said.
" Ackermann went quite early so I could wait and then time my sprint to perfection. My team did a great job and I’m really happy to pay them back with another win. This is the most successful Grand Tour I have done so I’m really happy with my progression."
On the eve of three days in the Alps, there was no change in the general classification with the Italian Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) retaining his 1’50” lead over the hot favourite Primoz Roglic of Slovenia.
Always destined for a bunch sprint finale, Wednesday’s flat five-hour slog up the Po Valley was animated – relatively speaking – by a three-man move of familiar faces from the Italian wildcard teams.
Having featured in the eight-man break in stage 2 before forming a trio in stage 4, Marco Frapporti (Androni-Giocattoli-Sidermec), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF) and Damiano Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizanè) got the band back together in stage 11, building up a maximum lead of around six minutes in what was by all accounts a seemingly thankless task.
But scratch a little deeper under the surface and the motivations of each escapee became apparent, for beyond the simple requirements of getting their smaller sponsors some airtime on TV, the leaders had bigger individual fish to fry.
Going into the stage, Frapporti led the breakaway standings having ridden a total of 620km off the front of the peloton – almost the entire length of the River Po that the riders passed at the half-way point in Piacenza.
With Cima having racked up 564km in breakaways himself and Maestri a little further back on 374km, the trio made ideal breakaway bedfellows. Then there was the small matter of the niche intermediate sprint classification, which Cima led by 13 points over Frapporti going into the stage.
Cima extended this lead at the sprint in San Zenone al Po with 73km remaining, his fellow escapees happy to let him ride clear to take the spoils. When the peloton came through some three minutes later, the Bora-Hansgrohe team of Ackermann made a right botch of their tactics.
As Demare rode clear of Ackermann, Rudiger Selig did his best to deny the Frenchman the points for fourth place – only to pip his German teammate to the line. As a result, Demare leapfrogged Ackermann at the top of the maglia ciclamino standings by one point – the same deficit he held entering the stage following his victory on Tuesday.
The gap was down to 1’30” when Maestri led the trio through the second intermediate sprint at Pontecurone with 30km remaining. With no points for the maglia ciclamino available, it was stalemate back in the peloton, which was nevertheless led through by Demare’s teammate Miles Scotson, a regular fixture on the front of the pack in his debut Grand Tour.
With 26km remaining, the three escapees shook hands and sat up – just enough for Frapporti to have broken the 800-kilometre barrier for breakaways since the start of the race.
With the finish in Novi Ligure located a stone’s throw from Fausto Coppi’s old house, the scene was set for the current Italian champion to end his winless streak ahead of the mountains.
A tight right-hand bend with three kilometres to go stretched out the peloton in the shade of the Museo dei Campionissimi dedicated to Coppi, the five-time Giro winner, and his champion of champions predecessor Costante Girardengo, another former resident of what used to be Italy’s capital of cycling.
But after a long home straight into a debilitating cross-headwind, Viviani forewent the opportunity of launching his sprint in space from the wheel of QuickStep teammate Fabio Sabatini – opting instead to latch on to the back of Ewan, who himself was stuck to the wheel of double stage winner Ackermann.
Showing echoes of Mark Cavendish in his pomp, it was Ewan who powered past Ackermann on the right-hand side of the road with Demare in his wake. Viviani twice had to check his speed after finding himself boxed in as Ewan surged clear to win by a bike length capping another frustrating day for the rider who won four times in last year’s race.
A second win of the 102nd edition of the Giro sees Ewan draw level with Ackermann, who conceded the maglia ciclamino to Demare. The Frenchman now leads the German by 194 points to 183 points with Ewan lurking in 159 points: motivation, perhaps, for all three riders to continue the race all the way to Verona.
The first Cat.1 climb of the race comes 35km from the finish and will put Conti under pressure from Jumbo-Visma’s Roglic, the winner of both time trials who tactically conceded the race lead to the Italian last week.
But the arrival of the mountains will also open the door to the likes of double champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) and British Vuelta champion Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). After 12 rather subdued days, the 2019 Giro is finally about to start.