Leknessund delighted to remain Giro d'Italia leader after Gran Sasso
Giro d’Italia leader Andreas Leknessund surprisingly emerged from the race’s toughest mountain stage of the first week still in pink and with his overall advantage intact. But the DSM racer is all but putting a limit on how long he will stay on top of the GC.
“Tomorrow [Saturday] will be a hard stage, but possible to get through,” Leknessund said after stage 7’s summit finish on the Gran Sasso, “but Sunday will for sure be harder. The time trial will most likely be my last day.”
Leknessund’s talents as a time triallist are well known, one reporter pointed out, with two national and a U23 European title in that category to his name. But as the Norwegian succinctly put it, “Yes, but here I have Remco [Evenepoel] at 30 seconds.”
“It will be a huge surprise if I can keep the jersey in the time trial.”
'It was almost impossible to attack' – Remco Evenepoel on Giro truce at Gran Sasso
Giro d'Italia: Bais wins stage 7 from breakaway trio atop Campo Imperatore
Giro d'Italia: GC standings after stage 7 - Evenepoel, Roglic hold fire
Rather than think too much about Sunday, the Norwegian was delighted that there had been no GC battle at all on the Gran Sasso. That made for a singularly dull stage, but it also meant that he had pushed his four-day spell in the Giro lead out by another 24 hours at least.
However, it wasn't all about good luck that he was still in pink. As Leknussund explained, the team had deliberately let a break go to soak up the bonus seconds, and then done ‘a really good job’ defending the lead, but “making sure the break took the stage.”
Although one of the riders in the break, Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), was 7:49 back on GC, DSM’s strategy was first to let the break’s gap yawn to over 12 minutes on the mammoth 218 kilometres stage. However, that this was a tactical move to keep the lead became clear when Leknessund’s teammates then worked hard as far as the top of the climb immediately Gran Sasso, the second category Calascio, to pull the break’s lead back below eight minutes.
With the break too far ahead for the GC bunch to reach, DSM’s second half of the pink jersey gamble was that the overall contenders like Evenepoel and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) might then not attack en route to the finish on the Gran Sasso. To Leknessund’s great fortune - but also with that planning in place to take maximum advantage of the lack of GC action - that proved to be the case.
Asked if he was surprised there were no attacks on the Gran Sasso, Leknessund offered multiple suggestions as to why. “It was an easier day than expected, there were a lot of headwinds, and not many teams wanted to take things on too early because it was a long way to the top,” he explained.
“Also, there were no bonus seconds." “Maybe the snow and the cold helped, too, perhaps nobody wanted to fight because of the cold.” So if the Giro GC remained frozen in the ice and snow of the Sasso as a result, Leknessund argued that "It was a bit unexpected. But that’s how it can be on a day like that.”
“I enjoyed the last climb, though,” he concluded- and now the chances of him enjoying a few more days in pink are very high, too.