There are some laws in cycling that seem almost unbreakable, defining the boundaries within which races operate and ascribing a certain rhythm to them. The early breakaway is almost always reeled in, its escape marking the end of the stage’s beginning and its catch the beginning of the end. When that breakaway is composed of just four, and then three, riders and there is a 45km long climb up to the summit finish, such familiar conclusions seem forgone.
But Davide Bais (Eolo-Kometa) defied all those conventions today as he triumphed from an unlikely breakaway to take a victory whose epic proportions were underscored by the snowdrifts behind him at the finish as he crossed the line with his arms aloft.
When he, along with Simone Petelli (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Henok Mulubrhan (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè) and Karel Vacek (Corratec - Selle Italia), escaped within the first 10 kilometres, it seemed a formality that they would be caught before the finish with all the firepower contained within the peloton. History suggested that the Gran Sasso would play host to a GC battle – after all, Simon Yates and Marco Pantani had won the stage on the Giro’s last two visits to the mountain.
But anything can happen in cycling, even on a day when almost nothing happened.
The leading trio – Mulubrhan dropped away midway through the stage – still had a lead of more than 13 minutes approaching the foot of the final climb up to the finish, and victory finally seemed within reach, after almost 200 kilometres out front, riding through almost every type of weather possible.
The stakes for a breakaway in such a situation are astronomically high. Opportunities for Grand Tour stage wins are few and far between, let alone a stage win on one of the most significant summit finish in the race. Not one member of the leading trio had ever recorded a win at a professional bike race.
And while the GC race remained stuck in neutral behind them, that tension at the front of the race propelled their fatiguing pedal strokes on the climb’s final kilometres. A series of accelerations from Petelli dropped Vacek with 3.5 kilometres remaining but the young Czech rider hung on grimly and regained contact. He was dropped again two kilometres later but again stuck to his own pace and even launched an attack of his own though it was ultimately short lived.
In the end, it all came down to a sprint between the leading trio, fought with pain etched all over their faces, and Bais jumped clear to take a convincing win ahead of his breakaway companions. Even he was shocked at the end that he had the opportunity to fight for the stage win, saying that he initially made the break to pick up mountain points and to be well placed for his team’s GC rider Lorenzo Fortunato. By the end of the day, he had won the stage and claimed the king of the mountains jersey.
There was another unlikely, though not entirely unexpected, result in the general classification as Andreas Leknessund kept his maglia rosa for another day, staying with the overall favourites who seemed content to call a truce on a day that ultimately belonged to the breakaway.