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History is written by the victors


In 1806, Joseph Bonaparte, King of Naples, abolished feudalism in the Kingdom of Naples, although read Ignazio Silone's “Fontamara” or Carlo Levi's “Christ stopped at Eboli” (both about the inter-war years in southern Italy) and you wonder.

Either way, until then, towns and villages in the south, and the inhabitants, were passed between feudal overlords like chattels. So today’s stage finish, Guardia Sanframondi, derived its name from the noble Sanframondo family, who provided it with a castle to guard the Titernina Valley. Of course, these dynasties themselves rose and fell over time. In 1440 the Sanframondo’s swore allegiance to the new ruler Alfonso V of Aragon. 20 years later, they were dispossessed and forced them into exile by Ferdinand I of Naples, who gave their fiefs to the Carafa family, dukes of Maddaloni and counts of Cerreto Sannita. The town and its people were their playthings until 1806, when Napoleon’s brother abolished the system.

Italy is full of buildings, roads, dividing lines defined by the old regime. The peloton darts between them, its own dynasties enjoying their moments of dominance. The 22 year old Maglia Rosa, Attila Valter, said after the stage, in yet another interview memorable for its charm, “I could never get used to this feeling. I mean, at the start of the Giro I wondered what it must feel like to be Filippo Ganna in Italy. Now I have some idea!”

In his own version of events, “We let the perfect breakaway to go, and with 9 riders with a large gap in the GC, and then we controlled the whole day.”

Filippo Ganna might dispute that. With Egan Bernal on his wheel, the gladiatorial Ganna covered 44.5 kph in the first hour, most of it uphill, controlling the race almost singlehandedly until a breakaway he could deem acceptable was allowed to go. By the time it did, another exceptional power merchant, Caleb Ewan, had packed his two stage wins and abandoned. Meanwhile, world hour record holder Victor Campenaerts, currently leading the futile chase competition – remember his heroic, two-man attack with Quinten Hermans on stage 4, around which the successful breakaway eventually formed? – chased the 8-man group for about ten kilometres before finally making it across.

Three riders of the nine had no wins in professional races. Two of them are no newcomers to followers of the sport: two years ago, Giovanni Carboni wore the Maglia Bianca at the Giro d’Italia for three days, while Kobe Goossens has been a wonderfully aggressive rider this spring. The other was Victor Lafay, whosse nlhy win the last 7 years  was in the 2018 Tour de Savoie, and whose team, Cofidis, had not won a Giro stage since 2010. Knowing his forte was the intense 10 minute effort, he attacked with 3 km to go, rode passed Carboni, and sped away to make his first pro win a stage in a Grand Tour, like Taco Van Den Hoorn, 4 days ago.

Behind him, the feudal dynasties eyed each other suspiciously, Martínez escorting Bernal up most of the final climb, Almeida doing the same for Evenepoel. Tomorrow’s stage is the first of the seven classed “Of great (or “severe”) difficulty” and, as allegiances shift and overlords bear arms, expect a reshuffle in the court of the Giro d’Italia.

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