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12 May 2016

Citius, Altius, Borealius

The Bocca di Forlí, between Rionero Sannitico (the junction is at km 130.4, or 26.6 km from the finish line) and Castel di Sangro (3.8 km later), regarded as the geographical boundary between Central and Southern Italy, sees the peloton cross from Molise into Abruzzo. And Abruzzo means Ignazio Silone, and those angry, impassioned, extraordinary words of solidarity with the peasant farmers of the village of Fontamara, in the 1933 novel of the same name:

At the head of everything is God, the Lord of Heaven. Everyone knows that. Then comes Prince Torlonia, lord of the earth.
Then come Prince Torlonia’s guards
Then come Prince Torlonia’s guard’s dogs
Then, nothing at all.
Then, nothing at all.
Then, nothing at all.
Then come the cafoni.

So it is, or can be, with sport, where only the headlines count. “Second Place is the First Loser” was the motto of the motor-racing driver Dale Earnhardt, and almost every sportsman in history. There is, after all, only one Maglia Rosa, even if the collective is provides the necessary condition for the individual to emerge – and, unlike Fontamara, the hierarchy is not inherited but rigorously meritocratic.

But, unlike most sports, and certainly unlike motorsport, cycling places huge value on the huddled masses. The television cameras and commentators spend long hours focusing on the riders in the long breakaway. To draw another literary parallel, the breakaway riders are like the damned in Dante’s Inferno.

The more damned they are, the more airtime they get. And the champion sprinters, for example, ceaselessly celebrate the subordinates who deliver them to the decisive point. In his post-stage comments yesterday, the imperious André Greipel said, “The whole stage was quite hard, but before we set off we decided that we would have to ride the whole final circuit in the front ten to stay out of trouble. We knew it would be hard, but the team did a great job. Jurgen Roelandts led from 5 km out until 1.5 km before the finish. He did an amazing job. When we saw the finishline for the first time, I thought, “OK, this isn’t what I expected.” But I still had some power in my legs and I really believed in it, and I thought, ‘I’ll give it a try’…”

Which brings us back to the first of the mountain stages which will decide who is to be this Giro’s Prince Torlonia. The Maglia Rosa, Dumoulin, and the Maglia Bianca, Bob Jungels, were both of the opinion that today’s final climb up to Roccaraso (17 km at an average gradient of 4.8%) should suit them, “although it depends on my legs,” said Dumoulin. “Yesterday they were really good. Today, not very, although today was a good day to have a bad day, and tomorrow, I should be fine again. If tomorrow I have yesterday legs, it should represent an opportunity for me.”