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9 May 2016

A bridge too far

A second win for Marcel Kittel yesterday, and the Maglia Rosa that will be airlifted to Italy, at the end of a day that created a tiny piece of cycling history.

We’ve seen consecutive stages with the same finish: Asiago-Corvara and Corvara-Corvara, for example, won by Argentin and Chiappucci respectively in 1993. But not yesterday’s end as today’s beginning, and yesterday’s beginning as today’s end. There and back, every child’s first experience of cycling, although stages 2 and 3 of this Giro d’Italia shared only their extremes: they were not raced over the same roads.

Gelderland may be a province of waterways, fords, bridges, and river trade along the Rhine, Waal, Meuse, and IJssel, but, even here, the Giro never quite steps into the same river twice. (IJssel, by the way, contains not a typo but the Dutch digraph IJ, which, in Steven Kruijswijk, appears twice into the same name).

“It’s all a question of bridges,” says Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning, deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, in the film A Bridge Too Far. Spread out over both banks of two rivers, the Nederrijn and Sint-Jansbeek, Arnhem was famously the theatre for a failed World War II operation called Operation Market Garden, which the Allies hoped would allow them to break through German lines, seize a number of strategic bridges in the occupied Netherlands, and outflank the German defences. The hope was to end the war by Christmas 1944 after overwhelming the enemy with the largest airborne assault ever attempted. Before the mission went wrong, Browning is said to have addressed Field Marshal Montgomery with the immortal words, “I fear we may be going a bridge too far.”

If Browning was anything like as articulate in real life as he was in fiction, by the way, he might have been as good to listen to as the eloquent and charismatic Kittel, who said, post-stage, “Winning the Maglia Rosa is a great way of finishing these first Dutch days of the Giro. It dots the ‘i’s and crosses the ‘t’s in pink for me.” It might be worth investing in rose-tinted ink, in case Kruijswijk takes the race lead and dots all those digraphs in celebration.

Just one more dispatch from the front: the major casualty of the campaign so far fell on a roundabout while riding at the front of the group. Jean-Christophe Péraud, 2nd in the 2014 Tour de France, was loaded into an ambulance after a nasty spill in a village called Borculo.