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Midway along the path through life

21/05/2021

Midway along the path through life. Stage 14

32 years and 111 days is no age at all.

It can certainly be called Nel mezzo del camin di nostra vita – midway along the path through life, to quote a line of verse known to 99.9% of Italians. How appropriate, on the stage dedicated to Dante Alighieri, whose Divine Comedy is sometimes thought of as evidence of a profound midlife crisis, precisely because of its famous first line. Since the Second World War, only 12 Italian riders have won their first Giro stage older than Giacomo Nizzolo is today (that comes from Michele Merlino, the extraordinary Giro d’Italia statistician, although it’s not really a record at all, more a curio).

Not that there is ever only one path, as is proved by the soigneur who was waiting for Nizzolo on the finish line. Five seasons a WorldTour rider, all of them as Nizzolo’s teammate at Trek-Segafredo, Eugenio Alafaci retrained as a sports masseur, but remains Giacomo’s faithful gregario.

The breakaway riders were fully away of the different paths that lay ahead of them today. Defeated in the first intermediate sprint by Umberto Marengo, and displaced from the top of the hotspot sprint standings, Simon Pellaud took another tack by setting an a punitive solo ride which gained him 17 Fuga Bianchi kilometres, at least guaranteeing him leadership in that competition for another day. Behind them, Fernando Gaviria regained three Maglia Ciclamino points on Peter Sagan, who commented, on the finish line, “There’e aren’t many points at the intermediate sprints, so I only do them on the wheels.”

When Dries De Bondt drifted ahead of the bunch to pick up some combativity points at the second intermediate sprint, just to keep his hand in on the competition he was leading this morning, Thomas De Gendt accelerated, trying to form a counter-attack. The peloton would not let them go, and spent the rest of the stage trying not to catch Pellaud, Marengo and their breakaway companion Samuele Rivi.

Rivi, by the way, is from Trento but is half-Tyrolese, and says he felt entirely at home as the only Italian rider on an Austrian under-23 team until last season. On the day the Italian national anthem was played before roll-out to celebrate verona native Elia Viviani’s appointment as the Italian flagbearer at the Tokyo Olympics, it is good to reminded of the breadth of Italy’s many identities.

The Maglia Rosa and Maglia Bianca – one person, two manifestations – had the day off today. So did the Maglia Azzurra, Geoffrey Bouchard, who leads the mountain competition by 48 points but could very well concede 40 of them tomorrow on Monte Zoncolan. With all these different interests dispersed across so many sub-competitions, and so many parallel lives going on in the peloton, does the Giro d’Italia even make sense as a single competition? Rather than Dante’s singular path through life, the Giro follows the philosophy of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who wrote, “Countless lives inhabit us.” Each rider is free to choose from moment to moment which role he wished to play, in the knowledge that every one leaves behind the slipstream that is the lifeblood of the peloton.

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