Today’s stage in the Giro D’Italia was the best so far.
A couple of days ago, the individual time trial shook the whole top of the GC up. Then two days of flat stages with the inevitable bunch sprints and the inevitable win for Petacchi, and now they’re in the real mountains.
Cunego, who was in the leader’s pink jersey before the time trial was sitting in a pack with his SAECO team leader (and defending champion) Simoni, as well as the guy who took the lead after the time trail (Popovych) and some of the other main contenders, like McGee and Garzelli. There was a pack of 17 riders way ahead of them, and then one guy ahead of them. Suddenly Cunego accelerated. Nobody went with him. At this point, I figure this is a team SAECO test of Popovych to see if he’d go or not. If he had attacked, Cunego would have not ridden as hard and tried to let Simoni catch them again. The strategy for the day was probably to wear down Popovych with attacks until Simoni could have cracked him and attacked and taken the lead. But instead, Cunego went alone. He lept up the mountain. His gap kept growing, not just up that mountain but also on the descent. SAECO had a couple of riders up ahead, and they waited for Cunego and formed a small pack with him to take him to the next climb. They caught several people who’d fallen off that big group of 17, and one or two stayed with them for a while and stayed with them.
It seemed as soon as they started on the next mountain, the last of the stage, Cunego lost his two team mates, but one other guy Nocentini held on. The two of them slashed by the remnants of that early leading group, and Cunego was in the race lead. The group with Simoni and Popovych was so far behind that Cunego had the virtual GC lead almost immediately. Eventually even Nocentini cracked, and Cunego went on alone. All the way up the mountain, he looked strong and in control. He looked a little tired on a slight uphill just before the finish, but then he bore down and managed a pretty respectable sprint at the end.
Now *that* is what I love about bike racing. Great riding, interesting strategies, and changes of lead. None of this 5 hours of riding for a bunch sprint shit.