Friday 24 May 2019

Conor Dunne's Giro d'Italia diary: 'After 35km we were told to stop attacking - the leader had gone down in a crash'

Race leader Primoz Roglic was one of the victims of the crash at the Giro d'Italia today.
Race leader Primoz Roglic was one of the victims of the crash at the Giro d'Italia today.

Conor Dunne

How Italian people drive to work every day is beyond me. It took us 35 minutes to travel the last 4km of our drive to the stage start today.

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Apart from the traffic, the biggest drama of the morning was that the toilet on the team bus was blocked.

Not being able to go about my pre-stage business on the bus created an extra bit of panic for me as I had to go and find a nearby cafe, where my six foot eight frame - kitted out in full cycling gear managed to turn a few more heads than usual.

At least the sun was out for the longest stage of this Giro, so morale was good leaving Cassino this morning.

My Israel Cycling Academy team directeur sportifs had looked at the route this morning and agreed that the day was suited to a breakaway group staying clear to the finish. The climbs at the start would be good for enticing a breakaway clear and the climbs at the end would do nothing to encourage the sprinters' teams to chase.

My teammates and I tried to cover every move that went up the road in the early kilometres. I got into a few moves myself but was reeled in each time.

After about 35km of non-stop aggressive racing, there was a bit of confusion at the head of the race when some of the older riders, including Vincenzo Nibali, came up and tried to get everyone to stop attacking.

We didn't know it at the time but there had a been a big crash involving race leader Primoz Roglic, Vuelta winner Simon Yates and about 20 others further back in the peloton and by then Roglic was 40 seconds off the back of the race with the arse hanging out of his shorts after hitting the tarmac.

It had been a very fast start and it took a few minutes and a lot of shouting to get the message across but eventually things calmed down for about 15 minutes and after getting treatment from the race doctor's car, Roglic returned to the front with his Jumbo-Visma teammates, who set the tempo on the front of the peloton for the remainder of the stage.

By then, a 13 man group had opened a decent gap and we had our experienced Spanish rider Ruben Plaza in the group. Although Italian rider Valerio Conti of UAE was also in the break and was only three minutes down on the race lead, they opened a maximum advantage of seven minutes and that was the last we saw of them for the day.

With Ruben away, we could relax a little bit more and it was pretty steady as Jumbo Visma set a pace that would eventually see their team leader lose the pink jersey, albeit to someone who won't be a threat in two week's time.

Losing the jersey also means they won't have to ride on the front for the next few days and Roglic will be back in his hotel quicker and able to recover better without attending podium ceremonies, interviews and everything else that comes with being race leader.

As we climbed again after 135km, I could hear a spoke in my back wheel ping and had my first mechanical of the year. I radioed back to the team car before easing up, pulling in to the right hand side of the road and waiting for a new wheel and a shove back into action from our team mechanic.

There was about a kilometre left of the climb, so I made use of the convoy as I rode back up, sheltering behind each car for a few seconds before skipping to the next one and eventually regaining contact on the descent.

I took a few minutes respite at the back here, only for somebody to let the wheels go ahead of me and cause a split in the bunch. Thankfully it didn't last long and I was back in the shelter of the bunch soon after.

With 40km to go and the stage certain to be settled between the breakaways and nothing to be gained by hanging onto the peloton on the final 10km climb, the word "Grupetto!" was being called halfway down the bunch by the time we got a kilometre into the ascent.

Grupetto literally means small group in Italian and the Giro grupetto usually consists of heavier riders who can't climb as well as the mountain goats and others who just want to save their energy for the rest of the race.

Today it was Italian sprinter Elia Viviani and a few others who called for a grupetto to be formed. I was one of 50 riders who joined him and rode to the line together, saving the legs for another day.

Up ahead, Conti had gone clear of the breakaway to take second on the stage behind compatriot Fausto Masnada of Androni-Giocatelli-Sidermec and give the tifosi something to shout about by becoming the new race leader of this Giro.

Ruben did a very strong ride to finish fourth on the stage, the best result for the team so far. We came here with ambitions of a stage win and have been knocking on the door for a few days now. Hopefully we'll get one before the end of the race.

After crossing the line 12 minutes later, my misadventures on the team bus continued. I hit the shower straight away, only to find the power cut out halfway through. At least I was almost finished, Davide Cimolai had to rinse the shampoo out of his hair with a bottle of drinking water out of the fridge afterwards. We have a long transfer to our hotel tonight. Hopefully the bus makes it.

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