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Merlier, Pogačar, Thomas, crazy stuff


If we had to choose one word to describe the Novara – Fossano stage, that would probably be: unconventional. Ready, set, and… nobody breaks away! And we mean… nobody! Not one single attack! This stuff happens rather rarely in cycling, but it does happen. Fortunately, after a rather subdued first half of the stage, things did kick off in the middle and in the end.

The last 90 kilometres were, in fact, nothing short of jaw-dropping. After a failed and rather sad breakaway attempt by Davide Ballerini and Lilian Calmejane, the race was ignited by the intermediate sprint of Masio, RCS President Urbano Cairo’s hometown, where the sprinters battled it out to take home the 12 points for the Maglia Ciclamino. On the adrenaline of that sprint, however, this prestigious group of champions realised they had split off the front of the peloton and decided to push on: the sprinters in a breakaway!

24 men found themselves with a remarkable gap on the lazy peloton, which grew kilometre by kilometre to 1’30”. That breakaway included riders such as Tim Merlier, Jonathan Milan, Olav Kooij, Caleb Ewan, Kaden Groves, Alberto Dainese, Biniam Girmay and the Maglia Ciclamino, Filippo Fiorelli. And they all found enough cohesion to actually try and push all the way to the end.

Unfortunately for the lead group, Phil Bauhaus and Fernando Gaviria were left behind, which meant that Bahrain Victorious and Movistar began to pull hard to come across, assisted by Giovanni Lonardi’s Polti Kometa. The strong pace broke the peloton into three sections, catching the Maglia Bianca Cian Uijtdebroeks in the rear group and about 30 seconds down on the main pack. This group needed no less than 10 km to close the gap and rejoin the peloton.

In the end, after almost 40 km of insane chasing, the situation came back together with 40 km to go and only flared up again in the finale. Thanks to whom? The sprinters’ train you might think. Wrong! Mr. Tadej Pogačar! Those who thought he would seize the chance to take it easy after a hard weekend had to think again. As Mikkel Honoré tried to attack on the short climb leading to Fossano, less than 3 km from the finish, the Slovenian first held his wheel and then placed a full-blown and very serious attack. With him was a remarkable Geraint Thomas, who at 38 years of age has seen a lot in his career, but probably never expected to attack in the finale of a stage for sprinters, on the third day of a Grand Tour, to follow a madman on the loose.

The two were caught with 200 metres to go, which meant no time was left for any decent lead-out to get organised after such a strong work to close the gap. The fastest man was Tim Merlier, who powered to victory ahead of Jonny Milan and Biniam Girmay. The Belgian celebrated by showing the ‘W’ sign in memory of Wouter Weylandt. Very nice indeed.

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