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Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 6: Grotte di Frasassi – Ascoli Piceno. The camels and the giants

12/05/2021

We could be in for a stage that is best suited to fast and sturdy riders, and the roll of honour of the race would seem to confirm this

The concretions in these unique underground caves, which are large enough to contain the Duomo of Milan at points, give no clue as to how the stage is likely to be or evolve. The stalagmites of the so-called ‘Giants’ complex, rising up to 20 metres, are thousands of years old. We could be in for a stage that is best suited to fast and sturdy riders, and the roll of honour of the race would seem to confirm this, because the list of winners in Ascoli Piceno includes the likes of Di Paco, Bontempi and Petacchi. Someone you would really call a giant. If you look at other concretions, however, you may get a different hint. There are ‘camels’ and ‘dromedaries’. Should we expect a load of work ahead for water-carrier domestiques, then? How about the ‘bacon strips’, the ‘leopard skins’, the ‘organ pipes’, the ‘obelisks’ and the ‘witches castles’? Are they hinting at anything? The womb of the earth does not appear to be fit for fortune telling. We should rather go back to the surface. The rough and bumpy surface, at times the setting of gruelling trials. To recall a really impressive one, we should go back in time to the dawn of the cycling era, when the Giro was a points race, and the Maglia Rosa was yet to come.

On 18 May 1913, in Campobasso, the peloton set off to tackle 313-something kilometres.

For Clemente Canepari, the stage should be yet another opportunity to prove himself a reliable domestique for his captains at Legnano: Pavesi and Albini. The route travelled from south to north, heading for Ascoli Piceno at the end of a rough and challenging stage. Struggling with the effort of the previous days, Pavesi offered his domestique something quite unexpected: “Why don’t you go for it?” It was the chance of a lifetime.

No need to be asked twice. Fired with enthusiasm, Canepari pulled away from afar, when the summit finish in Rionero Sannitico was still a few kilometres away, and off he flew, scoring the only Giro win in his career. On top of that, ‘Mentu’ also sealed the longest successful breakaway ever, at 238 kilometres, totalling 12 hours and 34 minutes in the saddle. Along the route, he was even caught in a hailstorm, which he tried to fend off borrowing jute sacks from a farmstead, to at least cover his shoulders – such a fragile armour against the fury of the elements. Winning in the city of a hundred towers is not always a sprinters’ thing. Sometimes all it takes is a bold attempt. Maybe by a ‘camel’ trying to be a ‘giant’.

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