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Journey to the centre of the earth

17/05/2021

Everyone knew Bora-Hansgrohe were going to make the stage as uncomfortable as possible.

Before the stage, Elia Viviani had said as much: “There is a climb with 40 km to go, where a guy like Sagan can set a nice pace.” Of course, knowing what is coming is one thing; doing anything about it is an entirely different matter. Simon Pellaud had already tasted the truth of this earlier in the stage. Before the first intermediate sprint at Santa Rufina, he was up against two better sprinters in Samuele Rivi and Umberto Marengo. His only recourse was to attack early, but they sped after him, caught him, regrouped, and then the whole ordeal started all over again, leaving Pellaud, with empty legs, trailing in third place.

The breakaway was swept up a few minutes later when Peter Sagan’s Bora – Hansgrohe team raised the pace decisively with 54 km to go. The peloton twisted and writhed up the Valico della Somma, as Groenewegen, Merlier, Dekker, Nizzolo dropped out of its flow. Remembering Cimolai’s excellent second place the last time Bora tried these tactics, in stage 3, Israel Start-Up Nation  sent Brändle, then Dowsett and De Marchi, to contribute to the speed. At the sprint, Molano went early, leaving his teammate Gaviria on Sagan’s wheel, but even then there was no stopping the Slovakian. Gaviria, Sagan’s host during his Colombian holiday two years ago, finished 2nd. Israel Start-Up Nation’s Cimolai came in third.

The stage finish, Foligno, is one of a number of locations along the stage with claims to be the centre of Italy, if not Europe or the world itself. At Antrodoco (km 28.7), the supposed point is marked by a small obelisk outside one of its churches. At Foligno, the exact point was identified, tongue in cheek, with the central billiard ball in the triangle on the table in the old Caffè Sassovivo at 60, Corso Cavour. Imagine a journey to the centre of the earth in first class, with trolley service. Some journeys are supposed to be gruelling. The comfort of modern transport deprives of its true significance the enigma of arrival. By torturing the rest of the peloton, Bora was merely restoring equilibrium to the universe.

The intermediate sprint at Campello di Clitunno 17.8 km earlier was, if anything, even more compelling. Deceuninck – Quick-Step  had been floating around the front, threatening a repeat of the Vercelli sprint in stage 2. Again, Keisse led out Evenepoel, and Ganna burst past them, although this time Bernal was on his wheel. They opened a gap which Evenepoel closed in person. He darted past, with Egan trailing, before Jhonatan Narváez (IGD) took the situation in hand and sprinted to the 3″. Evenepoel came through for 2″ and Egan Bernal took 1″. It brought Egan’s lead down to 14″.

Egan’s post-race summary, with no mention of Evenepoel, or of the dropped second, was a classic example of the unreliable narrator: “I was just following Pippo. I saw the opportunity to take a second for minimum effort, so why not? We are here to enjoy the race and that’s what we are doing.”

Even so, it is impossible to listen to any of these interviews without thinking of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s psychology of optimal experience, which he calls flow: “The best moments of our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is something we make happen.’

We tend to get lost in our little parcels of time. The Giro gathers up riders and viewers and carries us all in its flow.

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