General classification fireworks fizzle out thanks to headwind on stage seven of the Giro d’Italia
Ahead of the Giro d'Italia, stage seven was one that many would be circling in red - or pink - on their calendars, certain that there would be fireworks on the road up to Gran Sasso d'Italia.
Why wouldn't there be? The day ended with a 26.5km-long climb, with over 4,000m of climbing throughout the day. It's near the end of the first week, and there are tired and bruised bodies throughout the peloton. With the second individual time trial looming, surely there would be riders and teams trying to build up a bit of a buffer, to take some time on their general classification rivals?
However, the the road book, the stage profiles, do not mean the race will behave in a certain way. It is one of the joys of cycling, that nothing is really predictable, that anything can happen, but that also means nothing can happen, too. On Friday, that meant things were a lot less exciting than possible, rather than more.
In the end, there was not a single meaningful attack from a rider hoping to be anywhere near the top of the general classification come the end of the race, not one over the 218km of the stage. Davide Bais had the victory of his dreams from the break, but the break was gifted the win.
A fierce headwind meant that attacks were discouraged, and combined with the 14 hard stages of the Giro yet to come, stalemate was pretty much agreed upon, overtly or not.
"We were quite lucky with how the stage unfolded," pink jersey holder Andreas Leknessund (DSM) said, who would have been expecting to come under more pressure at the top of the GC on Friday.
"It was only full gas in the last few kilometres," he continued. "I get another day in pink, but I was expecting it to be harder. It was also a bit boring, I was looking forward to a really hard fight today. I’m happy and grateful it ended like that."
Another day in pink for Leknessund, but also perhaps an opportunity lost for anyone to take time on their GC rivals. The headwind was cited as the reason why by many of the leading protagonists, but also one of the reasons must be the knowledge of the tough stages to come, especially in the final week. That final week, already striking fear into the riders.
"It was a pretty calm day for us," Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) told the Belgian media before boarding a helicopter off the mountain. "There was a lot of headwind and it was not easy to take the initiative. It was almost impossible to attack today."
The headwind excuse was echoed by Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), who seemed annoyed to have an opportunity taken away.
"It was a super strong headwind and everyone was just waiting really," he explained. "No one wanted to push the pace because in the wheels it was a lot easier. It was a bit of a stalemate, I kinda wanted to race a bit, but it wasn’t the conditions to.
"I feel alright. Feeling better, we will see once the race really kicks off in the last week."
The only action was in a final sprint, which saw no gaps created. Thomas explained his part: "I was staying out of trouble and then I saw Eddie [Dunbar] come past."
Evenepoel beat his big rival Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in the sprint, but did not appear overly excited by this.
“But the fact that I won that doesn't mean anything,” he said. “That sprint was to stay out of trouble, because on an uphill finish you have to sprint anyway. You never know if riders will come to a standstill and that there will be gaps."
One does get the sense, however, that the day worked to the young Belgian's advantage, still licking his wounds from his crashes earlier in the week.
"The fact that I didn't win back the pink jersey makes it even more ideal," he said. "Now to get through Saturday's stage well, which could also be tricky, and then everything is on Sunday in the time trial."
Everything will come down to that final week, after all. So rub out any days you have circled before then and instead, in marker pen, star stages 16, 18, 19, and 20.