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Parallel worlds


Merlier wins the first mass sprint of his first Grand Tour, while the quick thinking Ganna pounces to prevent Evenepoel seizing three seconds in time bonuses

9 May will always be the day Wouter Weylandt died after crashing on the descent of the Passo del Bocco during the 2011 Giro. His race number, 108, was removed from the startlist, hence Tejay Van Garderen wearing dossard 109 here. As Tim Merlier crossed the finish line to win the first sprint finish in the first Grand Tour of his career, he made the tragically familiar “W” sign with his hands, and pointed to the sky.

Behind him, Giacomo Nizzolo inadvertently broke many records: the tenth second place of his Giro career – he already had five thirds – gave him 15 top-three finishes without ever taking a stage win. It took him ahead of Pietro Rimoldi, with 4 second places and 9 thirds between 1936 and 1940. The look on Giacomo’s face said it all.

First and second are worlds apart. Then again, every a bike race is a multiverse. Its many parallel realities often have entirely independent existences, but sometimes touch. Take the second intermediate sprint at Vercelli today. Filippo Ganna was quick to see Deceuninck – Quick-Step riders moving to the front: he darted through to deny Remco Evenepoel the three bonus seconds. Extending his lead overall from 10” to 13” was an entirely coincidental by-product of protecting the GC hopes of his teammates Pavel Sivakov and Egan Bernal. Ganna has been the very image of professionalism in this race, while Remco is clearly already thinking about opportunities to extend his lead over Egan et al.

The first intermediate sprint might itself have taken place in an parallel universe. After all, Gaviria, Viviani, Sagan and Pasqualon swaggered gladiatorially towards the 40km to go banner, where Viviani won the sprint, at which point Gaviria was the first to notice that the intermediate sprint line was four hundred yards away, and darted away to take the points remaining in the wake of the breakaway riders Filippo Tagliani and Umberto Marengo: 6 Maglia Ciclamino points, 3 points towards the Traguardo Volanti (hotspot sprint) competition and 3 towards the Premio della Combattivitá (Combativity Prize), all of them belonging to different orders of reality in the peloton, and the latter two of little interest at all to the Colombian. After their quadruplicitous cock up, the four lined up so that their smiles of embarrassment could be caught by the race photographers. It was not the last red face in a sprint. As Sebastián Molano quite rightly lost speed after his lead out in the final kilometre, he involuntarily drifted towards the barrier and blocked his teammate Gaviria. Finishing the way Nizzolo did today, and suffering what Gaviria had to, are two very different ways of losing a race.

Or think of Umberto Marengo. In April 2020, when he should have be preparing for the Giro d’Italia, he spent the coronavirus lockdown delivering ice cream. “My girlfriend and I wanted an ice cream. We found an ice cream shop that did home delivery, and I asked they needed someone to deliver for them, I was the only one doing it on a bicycle. Watching the Giro on TV with his grandfather was an important part of his childhood. In an interview with Alvento, he said, “I’d like to do well at the Giro, maybe win a stage. But I’m not asking for much. It would be enough for me to stay here, in this environment. And to be one of those coloured jerseys in the middle of the group. Who knows how many other children at home see the races with their grandparents and want to identify with them. That’s all I want.”

The most modest among Piedmontese riders who are here, including Ganna, Matteo Sobrero and Fabio Felline, might as well belong to a world of his own.

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