It’s a common misconception that winning a three week Grand Tour means being the strongest rider in the race. Of course, the number of watts a rider can produce throughout a time trial or up and over the high mountains is one crucial element to taking victory in a tour like the Giro d’Italia, but, as stage five of the race proved, there’s far more to it than that. What should have been a straightforward day for the general classification contenders turned into one of the most chaotic and stressful days of the 2023 edition so far.
This can, mostly, be blamed on one thing: the weather. This year’s Giro d’Italia is not being graced by the sunshine that so often frequents the popular holiday destination of the Amalfi Coast. Instead, it seems like April showers are arriving a month late and making their presence well known. Riders began the 171km stage wrapped up in wet weather gear with rain jackets flapping in the wind and the sky spitting huge droplets of water onto the greasy roads of Southern Italy.
The first crash of the day almost seemed inevitable, coming after less than ten kilometres of racing. Martin Marcellusi (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè) and Stefano Gandin (Team Corratec-Selle Italia) came a cropper on one of the first ice rink like descents as they attempted to establish a breakaway. Their misfortune set the tone for the rest of the day and such treacherous roads made for a slow moving and nervous peloton riding with caution behind.
But no amount of careful feathering of the brakes or attentive cornering could have prevented what came next in this wretched stage of the Giro d’Italia. As the peloton skirted through roads of Campania, a small, terrified looking stray dog found itself in the road with the WorldTour peloton hurtling towards it. With its fur dripping wet and eyes wide with the shock of it all, the dog ended up in the way of none other than former race leader and world champion, Remco Evenepoel. As the Belgian swerved to avoid the stray canine, he hit a curb on the side of the road, flipping over the handlebars and ending up face to face with the tarmac. Evenepoel may be the resounding favourite to win this race overall and he may have the best power numbers in the bunch, but his freak accident served as a reminder that nothing is a given in Grand Tours, and even on days which shouldn’t be so crucial to those targeting the overall, anything can happen.
Luckily, the Soudal-Quick-Step rider eventually remounted his bike and made his way back to the peloton, even gracing us with a thumbs up to the camera to signify he wasn’t injured. But the Giro d’Italia was not done with Evenepoel, or the rest of the riders in the bunch yet on this miserable stage five.
As the finish line approached and teams began to try and position their sprinters, while others fought to keep their GC contenders out of danger, the crashes came again. With 7km to go, so painfully on the final corner of the stage, rider’s wheels slid out from under them and they clattered to the ground. Among the affected in this mishap were the likes of Primož Roglič, Jay Vine and maglia rosa wearer Andreas Leknessund. Since it occurred outside of the three kilometre to go rule, a frantic chase ensued for these riders to get back to the peloton. Hard work was due for Jumbo-Visma and Roglič who had to put in a huge effort to regain contact with the bunch.
Next up, there was more bad luck for Evenepoel, who found himself in a second crash with three kilometres remaining. Visibly furious, he remounted his bike and rode to the line: a day to forget for the Soudal-Quick-Step rider.
As Kaden Groves sprinted to his eventual win on the soggy roads of Salerno, the final dose of misfortune was served to Mark Cavendish. The British rider collided with Alberto Dainese of Team DSM (who was eventually relegated to the back of the group for irregular sprinting) and he slid across the line. Cavendish crossed the finish in fourth place, the best result of his race so far, albeit on achieving it on his backside rather than on his bike.
What will result from a hectic day at the Giro d’Italia like today remains to be seen, but there are many who will be nursing bruised and battered bodies after the stage. Although the main GC favourites escaped without any time losses, the efforts they had to put in and the impact on their bodies could become important as the race continues. The most notable of these riders is Evenepoel – it is the second stressful day that Belgian has suffered after he found himself on the wrong side of a split in yesterday’s hectic opening to stage three, and such stress undoubtedly will accumulate and have an effect when the racing hits the mountains.
It can only be described as a hellish day at the Giro d’Italia and serves as a reminder of the difficulties and challenges that riding for general classification at a Grand Tour can throw up. Whether it is due to injuries from crashes, or the risk of illness from cold weather and dirt flying up off the wet roads, it is stages like today that can have an unexpected impact on the overall outcome of the race. The mountain stages will serve their purpose, but it may ultimately be the days that no one expects, and ones that the general classification teams cannot control, which end up as the most important of them all.