Sprinting isn’t only about speed. It’s often a waiting game. Just 300 meters past the finish line in Scalea, Arnaud Démare and his Groupama-FDJ team stood waiting for confirmation of the outcome of stage 6 of the Giro d’Italia. When the news crackled over their earpieces, their cheers must have carried all the way down to the seafront. Demare’s patience in the finishing straight had been vindicated, and he had won his second successive stage.
Jacopo Guarnieri led the race into the final 200 metres with Démare tucked safely on his wheel, but the Frenchman opted to not strike out from a distance on the gently-curving finishing straight. Instead, he allowed Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) to launch first before unfurling his own effort once the Giro Arrivo banner fully emerged into view.
Démare had ground to recoup but he also had the speed – and confidence – to do so. He overhauled Ewan at the very last with an expert bike throw, but the race jury needed to consult the photo finish before they could call a winner.
The half-minute wait for white smoke felt like an eternity. Time always seems to slow down for the fast men, who already had to while away the slowest stage of the race so far before the sprint in Scalea.
“It’s clear that it was very close on the photo finish, and I didn’t really know if I’d won, although I did feel I was coming back and might have done it. Still, I had to wait for the verdict,” Démare said afterwards.
“This pays back the work of all the team, who did a formidable job for me. It’s not normally my style of sprint to come back from behind like that, but I felt I had the strength, and I found the space to move.”
Cavendish and Ewan
While Démare preferred to bid his time in the sprint, Cavendish was perhaps compelled to open his effort a touch sooner than he would have liked. His penultimate man Bert Van Lerberghe was bumped out of position with 500 meters or so to go, and while Michael Mørkøv calmly guided Cavendish back towards shelter on the left-hand side of the road. The Dane was left with more work to do than initially planned, particularly given the conditions.
“I think Arnaud made the right choice not to launch his sprint first and to come from behind,” said Démare’s lead-out man Guarnieri. “The finish was very slightly uphill and there was a bit of a headwind too, even if the leaves aren’t moving. We knew, he knew, and I think he timed it perfectly.”
Cavendish won in Balatonfüred on stage 3 by opening his effort from 300 metres, but no two sprints are the same. This time around, although he hit the front at full speed, he wasn’t able to fend off the chasers all the way to the line, and Ewan careered past him with a shade over 50 meters to go.
When Ewan spied open road to his right, he must have thought victory was his, but Démare crept up on him at the last. Both men dived for the line at the same time, but the Frenchman’s throw proved decisive. “When I’m out training, I throw my bike in sprint, so I work on it without realising, really,” Démare said. “That worked in my favor today.”
Ewan, like Démare, endured the interminable vigil for the verdict of the race jury past the finish line. The Australian’s dismay was evident when the news filtered through to the huddle of Lotto Soudal riders around him. “It’s disappointing. It was super hard and super messy, but Démare was just faster,” he said.
Ewan crashed heavily on the opening stage in Visegräd while vying for the first pink jersey with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux). He placed eighth in Balatonfüred on stage 3 but was dropped before the sprint in Messina on Wednesday. Second place here marked progress of sorts, but it didn’t feel that way. “I was second, so it’s not so good,” Ewan said.
Démare, meanwhile, was already making his way towards the podium to toast the seventh Giro stage win of his career. His victory here also puts him in pole position to claim the maglia ciclamino for the second time after his four-stage haul netted him the points competition in 2020. Démare’s running tally of 147 points puts him 53 points clear of Girmay.
“I’m thinking about the points jersey but it’s a long Giro and it’s also won through endurance,” Démare said. “We have to work very hard over the next weeks and you can’t allow yourself to crack. I know there are difficulties waiting for me, but maybe I can get more points in the days ahead.”
The terrain turns rugged in the coming days, as the Giro reaches its most southerly point in Basilicata and then moves back up the peninsula to Sunday’s summit finish on the Blockhaus. The sprinters face another kind of wait until the next likely sprint in Reggio Emilia on stage 11.
“The next chance will be after the rest day,” Démare said. “We’ll try to stay calm and work well in grupetto.” With two wins under his belt already, he can afford to be patient.