Is Arnaud Démare the fastest rider in the world at the moment? Schelderpris winner Caleb Ewan might dispute that claim, but their head-to-head comparison makes for interesting examination.
Démare is certainly the most joyful in victory. He's also got the best lead-out. As his pilot, and Rouleur blogger, Jacopo Guarnieri said yesterday: "There's been three sprints and we've won four of them." It might not quite make up for the disappointment of the Tour for Marc Madiot, but it must come close.
No other sprinter has come close to Démare in this race and it's no wonder that three of our five panelists picked him yesterday. Peter Sagan's fourth second place, the day after his first first, demonstrated that it wasn't as terrible a pick as The Cycling Mole suggested. If you went for anyone else then, frankly, you're an idiot.
He won't win today, though. The stage possesses a certain poignancy, taking place entirely around Marco Pantani's birthplace of Cesenatico. Plenty of hills to negotiate but no mountains, which should favour the breakaway and those with punch. But who?
Cesenatico to Cesenatico
Thomas De Gendt - Lotto-Soudal
It reminds me of the stage he won into St-Etienne on the Tour last year. I feel like he’ll have had this circled in red pen for the last fortnight. Possibly a tad hard even for him, but no point doubting Thomas.
Diego Ulissi - UAE Emirates
Ulissi is my favorite. He always has an edge in races that have a particular meaning, and tomorrow is Marco Pantani's stage. If Ulissi has good legs, I'm sure he will try something.
Fausto Masnada - Deceuninck Quick-Step
Though with the maglia rosa in his team, you’d normally expect Masnada to be on team duties. But I am thinking maybe DQS is getting pretty tired dragging the peloton around, and with no other team strong enough to control the pace on these sorts of days, the best way to avoid having to do all the work is to get one of their strong riders into the break. With all the climbing and mountain points available on this challenging circuit around Cesenatico, I certainly see a strong break forming with guys like Ruben Guerreiro, Giovanni Visconti, and Ben O'Connor. We know Guerreiro is cold blooded enough to take another win, but I’ll be pulling for my old Etna choice Masnada in spite of the fact there is quite a long way from the top of the last climb to the finish. O la va o la spacca, as they say.
I was going to go for Ulissi, to make sure someone had, but then Emilio tossed that particular hat into the ring, covered that. I thought about Masnada before ultimately deciding it's probably going to be one more day of Almeida bodyguarding for him, before he takes on leadership responsibilities for that team. With Andy picking De Gendt, I like the look of the other Lotto Soudal rider who's had a fine Giro so far, and a very good debut season in the World Tour.
The Cycling Mole says...
Démare landed the inevitable win today, and that was some lead out by FDJ. Stage 12 and another that’s too hard for the sprinters, but not hard enough for the GC boys. That’s right folks strap yourself in for some more breakaway fun. Everyone knows it, which means the break could take a considerable time to form. We’re not talking one cup of tea, more like three and half your lunch.
The team all got the memo, everyone has gone breakaway mad. The picks even allow me to get on my high horse. I’ll start with my normal pick of Diego Ulissi. I’m fed up with the Italian, he’s a little cry baby. Instead of going full gas to make the break, he puts in a false move and complains when others follow him. He seems to think everyone should block the road to allow him off the front, he needs to get a grip and start racing. My feelings towards Ulissi is nothing to do with him blocking me on twitter a few years ago. Then we have Fausto Masnada. When the QuickStep boys are all going deep to follow moves at the start of these stages, the Italian is conspicuous by his absence. Then he pops up later on to take some glory. What really annoyed me was back on Sunday. Instead of staying with Almeida, he sprinted ahead of him on the ramp finish taking a handful of seconds. This really annoyed me, the guy’s not a team player. Nick’s got his English rose-tinted spectacles on, with the pick of Matt Holmes. The wee guy from Lancashire’s good, but to win this stage you must be amazing. Speaking of amazing, that’s exactly the word that should be associated with Thomas De Gendt, he could well win this one.
As the final climb tops out with 30km to go, I’m going with someone who can climb and sprint. That’s right, a win for Ben Swift.