It might occur just two days after a rest day, but stage eleven is itself a rest day of sorts, with a completely flat parcours featuring nothing to disturb the riders as they head westwards through Emilia-Romagna. That means that the sprinters will enjoy the first nailed-on bunch sprint since stage six last Thursday. Arnaud Demare’s victory that day sealed his status as the sprinter to beat, following his first sprint win the day before, but the way both Caleb Ewan and Mark Cavendish pushed him close to the line suggests there isn’t much in it.
Santarcangelo di Romagna > Reggio Emilia, 203km
Not only is this a completely flat stage, it’s also significantly long too, with the riders set to spend more than 200km in the saddle. Expect, therefore, something like a repeat of stage six, when the riders ambled along without a care in the world for the television commentators trying to keep the conversation flowing.
Those in the box will be relying on incidental titbits about the towns passed through, like the fact that residents of Santarcangelo di Romagna used to be referred to derogatorily as ‘Cipollini’, which translates at ‘onions’ in English, for their use of the foodstuff in local dishes.
‘Cipollini’ is of course a word that resonates in the cycling world, and today’s finishing straight, with its wide roads and roundabouts to negotiate, is one that would have suited Super Mario and his famous lead-out trains. Positioning ahead of a 45 degree turn 350 metres from the finish will be pivotal.
One thing that could ruin the hopes of those expecting an easy day, though, is the risk of crosswinds. Plenty of flat exposed sections could mean that teams need to be alert if anyone fancies trying to split things early on.
Although sprinters’ teams usually find it harder to control breakaways in the last two weeks of a Grand Tour compared with the first, they really shouldn’t have many problems on a stage as flat as this.
The chances look so remote that there may not be any kind of battle to get up the road at the start of the day — Drone-Hopper are sure to be keen, with perhaps Mattia Bais and Filippo Tagliani again putting themselves forward (if only to solidify their respective leads in the Intermediate Sprint and Breakaway classifications), but for everyone else a day spent using up energy while the peloton enjoys a leisurely time behind them could be too grim a prospect to consider.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
The top sprinters’ teams are also in the advantageous position of either having suffered none or just one abandonment so far. Groupama-FDJ still have a full roster of riders to help their man Arnaud Demare, and the additional presence of Jacopo Guarnieri in the stage six lead-out after being dropped the day before helped give them the edge in the sprint. The Frenchman is now chasing three successive sprint wins in a row.
Lotto-Soudal are only missing one rider (Rüdiger Selig), from the eight that started, and they too will be committed to making this a bunch sprint after Caleb Ewan found his sprinting legs to finish second on stage six.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
QuickStep-Alpha-Vinyl are also only down one rider, but in their case it is a very important one — Michael Mørkøv, the undisputed best lead-out man in the world. The onus will therefore instead be on Bert Van Lerberghe to deliver to victory a Cavendish who is growing increasingly frustrated having missed out in both of the last two sprint finishes having won the first.
Of the other sprinters, Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) has fond memories of Reggio Emilia having won a stage here in 2017, and could be in contention if he both gets a clear run-in to the line, and keeps his cool, unlike during six when he was disqualified for dangerous sprinting.
Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) has so far been Peter Sagan-esque is his consistency in the bunch sprints, ability to withstand the tougher terrain, and avoiding crashes despite some hairy bunch sprints. Unfortunately Girmay won't start stage eleven due to an eye injury which he sustained from a champagne cork on the podium after his win on stage ten.
There wasn’t much to choose between Demare, Cavendish and Ewan in the most recent bunch sprint in Scalea, but Demare got the better of them that day, and at the moment is on the kind of roll he enjoyed two years ago, when he won four stages. The absence of Mørkøv will be pivotal, and give the Frenchman the edge today.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix