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Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 8: Foggia – Guardia Sanframondi. Taking all back

14/05/2021

Tappa 8: Foggia – Guardia Sanframondi. Taking all back

Over the last fifty or so years, the Giro d’Italia has grown used to starting and finishing in its hometown, Milan. However, Campania has been a frequent host of the race. The Giro’s journey of discovery of the Sannio began just a few years after the first edition of 1909. Only once, still, did these roads feature in the closing phases of the race, in the run-up to the final podium.

On its 100th birthday, in 2009, the Giro reversed its route, starting in Venice, tackling the Dolomites straight away, heading south and building up to a grand finale in Rome. The final verdicts would be up to the Blockhaus and the Vesuvius, with a journey across the Apennines in between. An adventure on roads once haunted by bandits that would ignite the fighting spirit of GC contenders and spark the initiative of the attackers. This is the account of the unpredictable Sulmona-Benevento stage. The route starts uphill, touching the Majella, drops towards the plain, in the shade of the Matese, and then weaves through a brace of undulations across the Sannio. Anything could happen along this diverse and mixed route –one sixth of the pack may pull away, the break may be whittled down to just a small bunch, and perhaps a climber may take the final sprint. After all, the roads of the Sannio are not new to rituals and miracles, such as the processions held in Guardia Sanframondi, which have warded off draught, famine, floods and earthquakes throughout the centuries.

 

A 25-men break had escaped, but as soon as the race entered the Sannio, it was down to just seven riders, including Bak and McCartney. According to the singer Andrea Satta, who was commentating on TV, the two were going to «beat everyone good». Michele Scarponi, who had already won stage 6 and was aiming at an encore, was also in the lead. This Giro was the right occasion for him to make promises, after coming back from disqualification and learning that he had become a celebrity of Italian cycling, at last. Smiling again, and willing to take back everything after wrestling with disappointment for years. His friends from Filottrano, who would be seen running through the centre of Benevento embracing each other that afternoon, had planned of throwing a party for him in Rome to celebrate all of this.

«I wasn’t even hoping I could do it, but after I got in the breakaway, I started believing it a little. When it was down to just the six of us, I believed it even more»

Michele, too, felt like embracing everyone after his winning sprint, because the strong will that helped him through those rough years was finally paying off. Moreover, he wasn’t even expecting such a stunning win. «I wasn’t even hoping I could do it, but after I got in the breakaway, I started believing it a little. When it was down to just the six of us, I believed it even more. When I finally saw the road rise towards the finish, I told myself “I might just make it today”».

Despite this achievement as an established finisseur, Scarponi would only clinch one more sprint finish. At the 2017 Tour of the Alps, he would push the big gear, control a dozen opponents, and sprint to the finish line with his arms aloft – a cry of deliverance after four years. Nobody could have imagined it would be the last time.

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