Near the end of what had been, up to that point, a remarkably slow and quiet Giro d’Italia stage 6, the pace picked up in the peloton as a sprint finish loomed. At the front of the race, a chaotic battle for positioning ensued, and then the big names hit the front in a desperate race for the line.
The margin of victory in the nail-bitingly close finale was so narrow that the tiniest differences in the way things played out in the final kilometer could have led to entirely different results. At the end, it was Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) who carried the day for a second straight stage victory.
His win was the result of several factors that weighed just enough in his favor to put him past Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) at the last, with the result only confirmed by the finish line photo.
So intriguing was the finale (and thankfully so, after so many hours of inaction) that we decided to break down the sprint for a closer look at just how things happened. Here are the moments that made Demare’s seventh career Giro stage win a reality.
Groupama-FDJ takes control
Démare’s teammates did a stellar job of getting their sprinter into the right position at the end of 192 km of racing from Palmi to Scalea.
The team was lurking at or near the head of the race throughout the last few kilometers. Going under the flamme rouge, Groupama still had three riders ahead of Démare as they started to pull to the front. Multiple teams had strong contingents in strong positions with 900 meters to go, but Groupama took the lead from there.
That’s Australia’s Miles Scotson at the front of the Groupama train at first, with Dutchman Ramon Sinkeldam behind him and Italy’s Jacopo Guarnieri as the final lead-out rider in front of Démare in the Maglia ciclamino.
The numbers and firepower – of a lead-out that has flown a bit under the radar thus far – allowed Groupama to keep the pace very high, putting rival trains on the proverbial back foot in the ensuing seconds.
Démare gets an armchair ride, Cav loses a leadout man
Groupama-FDJ took a clear lead in front, and then with some 700 meters to go, chaos descended on the trains of basically every contender except for Demare As a Cofidis rider peeled off right into the path of the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl lead-out. The move pushed Quick-Step’s Bert Van Lerberghe out of contention, leaving Cavendish with only Michael Mørkøv, who swung calmly back to the left. Given that Cavendish was eventually dropped off just a hair early, losing Van Lerberghe was a key moment.
As riders hit the brakes to avoid crashing, Groupama’s strong position strengthened even more. Rival trains were forced to scramble to catch back up to the Dutch-Italian-French trio at the head of the race.
It didn’t take long for most of Demare’s marquee opponents to work their way back into contention, but energy was undoubtedly expended in the doing.
Gaviria gets involved in some argy-bargy
Two would-be rivals who did not ultimately factor in the final showdown were Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Cees Bol (DSM). With around 400 meters to go, Bol’s teammate Alberto Dainese powered up the right side of the road and Gaviria tried to jump onto his wheel, leaning into Bol in the process.
This American writer was not brought up using the term “argy-bargy” but can’t help but turn to the British-ism here, where it seems pretty darn applicable.
The contact took both Bol and Gaviria out of the battle altogether. Gaviria slammed his handlebars as he realized that another opportunity had slipped through his fingers. He was later relegated for the contact with Bol.
Cavendish launches with Ewan on his wheel and Demare just behind
Out front, Mørkøv did a respectable job of pulling Cavendish to the head of the race, in front of even Guarnieri, Démare’s last lead-out rider. However, with Quick-Step’s resources depleted (by the Cofidis-induced loss of Van Lerberghe), Cavendish hit the wind with some 250 meters still to go and some very fast finishers now enjoying his slipstream.
When Cavendish launched, Ewan was glued to his wheel. Meanwhile, Demare did an expert job to make his way through the traffic and onto Ewan’s wheel, with Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) to his right. As powered up to speed, Girmay found himself facing some pesky pushback in form of aerodynamic drag.
Cavendish may have gone from even farther out to take stage 3 last weekend, but things would not go quite as well for him here. Ewan stayed protected behind the Manxman until the 100-meters-to-go mark, when he began to pull around on Cavendish’s right.
Even as the line approached, Demare bided his time for just a few more moments in Ewan’s slipstream, while Girmay faded out of contention.
Demare times it to perfection
Finally, with only around 50 meters to go, Demare made his move.
Coming around on Ewan’s right, he pulled even with just moments left before the line. At the last, the Frenchman executed an excellent bike throw, extending just a few millimeters past Ewan.
Neither rider celebrated at the line, as the finish was too close to call without the wonders of modern technology. After some anxious waiting for the finish line photo, however, Demare was declared the winner, and the Frenchman and his teammates broke into celebration of a job well done for the second straight day.
Jonny Long contributed to this report.