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Gift from a stranger

20/05/2023

16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 minutes! Yes, Bruno Armirail is the new Maglia Rosa of the Giro d’Italia 2023, a competition which, despite the undeniable lack of action among GC favourites, is providing thrills left and right for everything else. Today, for instance, the following menu was expected: rain (obviously), a large breakaway, and a big tussle in the finale. In short, everything that actually happened, except one thing, a change in the Maglia Rosa.

It is not unheard of for a breakaway to also play for the leadership symbol – the same thing happened with Andreas Leknessund just a few days ago – but this is usually first week stuff, as the rankings are short and the favourites don’t want to expose themselves in the Maglia Rosa too early. It is much rarer, however, for this to happen at the end of the second week, when the gaps are wider. Of the 29 riders in the breakaway today in the Sierre-Cassano Magnago stage, the closest in the GC was Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), but he was a good 18’37” behind leader Geraint Thomas.

Yet, the peloton hardly ever picked up the pace today, and with the final 60 km being tackled at a thousand miles per hour by the breakaway, the gap skyrocketed from 13 minutes to 21’20”. Armirail, by his own admission, was not on his best day – he had shown great form in the first part of this Giro, and even yesterday he was one of the promoters of the breakaway that led team-mate Pinot to second place – but today, as he struggled to hold the wheel of those riders who would go on to fight for stage win, the conviction grew in him that this rainy day in Lombardy could indeed become the best day of his career.

In the last 5 km he knew stage win was gone, but he kept on pushing, regardless, and crossed the finish line in 15th position before waiting some 20 minutes to see whether the peloton would accelerate or not. It did not, and so, out of the blue, the disappointment of not even competing to win the stage turned into the joy of having truly crowned a career.

Meanwhile, a thrilling finale was being staged up ahead, with Nico Denz sweeping past Derek Gee and Alberto Bettiol after catching the leading trio of Stefano Oldani, Davide Ballerini and Toms Skujiņš inside the final kilometre, and pulling off yet another great stage win. In case there was any need at all, the German proved that the victory in Rivoli had not come about by chance: Denz times his actions to perfection and is nothing short of eye-watering fast.

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