Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Modern-day cycling huh,' exclaimed Greipel. 'No grupetto'

Saturday May 13 - Stage 7, Molfetta to Peschici (189km)

Colombia’s Nairo Quintana of team Movistar celebrates after winning yesterday’s ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia. Photo: AFP/Getty
Colombia’s Nairo Quintana of team Movistar celebrates after winning yesterday’s ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia. Photo: AFP/Getty

Sam Bennett

With everyone expecting the GC contenders to keep their powder dry for the first-category summit finish to Blockhaus tomorrow, we knew there'd be a good chance that a breakaway group could stay away to the finish today if it had enough riders in it to open a big advantage in the first half of the stage.

Because of this and with 84km of exposed coastal roads coming before the first mountain, the attacks came thick and fast this morning. With groups jumping up the road left, right and centre, only to be chased down and replaced by another set of hopefuls, we covered 55km in the first hour of racing.

Sky’s Geraint Thomas shows the effects of a crash caused by a police motorbike which saw him trail across the finish over five minutes in arrears. Photo: AFP/Getty
Sky’s Geraint Thomas shows the effects of a crash caused by a police motorbike which saw him trail across the finish over five minutes in arrears. Photo: AFP/Getty

My team-mate Jan Barta made it into the first move that stuck today, while we also had Gregor Muhlbergher and Lukas Postlberger make contact with that group alongside Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez about 6km later.

As Gregor was the best-placed rider in the break, more than 10 minutes down on race leader Bob Jungels, there was no threat to the pink jersey, so it was the perfect group to let go.


After such a hard start to the day everyone expected a breather but I don't think the Wilier or Gazprom teams got the memo.

The only two teams to miss the move, they took up the chase and there was no respite for another 40km or so.

By the time we reached the top of the 13km climb of Monte Sant'Angelo after 100km they had closed the gap to under a minute.

Thankfully, today was the first day I felt powerful on a climb and I managed to stay in the front portion of the bunch as we went over the top.

With the break splitting into three distinct groups ahead of us, Jan got dropped while Lukas and Gregor hung on out front, even after Lukas hit the deck on the descent. When Gazprom and Wilier eventually gave up the ghost in the valley below, things calmed down in the peloton and they opened their advantage.

With a four-minute lead and less than 40km to go, Gregor made it into the new five-man split, which looked like it was going to stay clear to the finish.

With 35km to go, the peloton chasing hard and a 2km, uphill finish, I radioed back to the team car and we agreed it would be better to save my energy and sit up rather than try to contest the finish.

As it became more and more likely the break was going to stick, a few of the sprinters were looking at each other to see who was going to sit up first. In the end Caleb Ewan and I just looked at each other with 15km to go and nodded.

Once we eased up, a load of guys joined us and we rolled to the finish about 14 minutes down on stage winner Gorka Izaguirre of Movistar.

We made the right choice as four of the breakaways managed to stay clear and contest the stage victory.

Unfortunately for Gregor, who was fantastic on a tough stage, he ran out of steam in the last 10km or so and the front of the peloton snatched fifth place off him with just 150m to go and he finished 31st. He's been superb all week and it would have been nice to see him get a top-five finish today.

Sunday May 14 - Stage 8
Montenero di Bisaccia to Blockhaus (152km)

With the huge 25km climb to the summit finish at Blockhaus coming at the end of today's stage, as a non-climber I had two main objectives.

The first was to stay in this Giro by finishing inside the time limit, calculated on a daily percentage of the winner's time, and the second was to get through the stage using as little energy as possible in order to try and be as fresh as possible for when the next sprint stages come next week.

With more than 100km of flatter roads before the last two climbs today, I made the decision to ride the most aero bike we have on the team, the Specialized Venge, with 50mm Roval wheels for that part of the stage.

The more aero you are, the less power you have to use and the less power you have to use the fresher you are going to be at the end of the day.

Having agreed with the mechanics last night that I would swap to my climbing bike, the lighter, stiffer Specialized Tarmac with 32mm Rovals on the final climb, they mounted it on the outside of the roof rack on the second team car this morning for ease of access later on.

While the rake-thin climbers are going at it hell for leather up front, those of us with lower power-to-weight ratios usually try to stick together and form a little group or grupetto of our own.

As the more experienced and most respected sprinter on this Giro, Andre Greipel is usually the one who calls 'Grupetto' on a big climb.

On an especially tough day, the big German will have a lot of team-mates around him to help drive the group down on the descents and along valleys to make up time before the next climb.

However, when he called 'grupetto' today a lot of guys kept riding hard for no apparent reason.

We were already suffering with the pace the Movistar team were setting on the front and both knew they hadn't even opened the throttle yet.

"Modern-day cycling huh," exclaimed Greipel. "There's no grupetto. Everybody keeps racing!'

Once the grupetto formed, the pace eased so I radioed back to the team car for my climber's bike. They were able to drive up alongside me and pull in before I hopped off and swapped bikes.

The change was so quick that I was only halfway down the group when I got back on.

With a small chainring of 39 teeth and a dinner-plate back cog of 30 teeth, I was able to sit down and save my legs on even the steepest parts of the climb today and the responsiveness of the stiffer frame gave me a little boost.

Movistar kept the pace on to the top and Nairo Quintana became the new race leader today, although I was half an hour back the road so I didn't see much of it.

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