It’s ascension day on the Catholic calendar – Italy’s national religion – but today offers one of the flattest stages of the Giro. It’s a festival for the sprinters, Stage 6 allows the race to make northerly progress and probably a day without incident.
Normally a flat stage without features would be greeted with indifference but the sprinters have so few chances in this year’s race and today is the only flat stage left in the race until the final day’s finish in Brescia.
Yesterday’s Stage: an exciting end to the stage after hours of nothing. The bunch rolled past the scenic Ionian sea but the racing rhymed with I yawn. But that’s normal, it’s impossible to have hours of action a day, a grand tour is after all three weeks long. But you can still have suspense each day. The daily breakaway was reeled in on the first climb of Montescaglioso and as soon as the road went up riders were being ejected. Mark Cavendish wasn’t the first to go, he was trying but as predicted it was too much of an effort.
Sadly the actual sprint was ruined by a crash. It means we’ve yet to see a full field sprint. Degenkolb won but not via a sprint, he stayed upright whilst team mate Luka Mezgec didn’t and prompted a pile up, leaving the German to catch and pass Canola to win the stage.
The Route: flat and fast, it’s only 130km to Margherita di Savoia but the race will do two laps around the town to add more kilometres. It’s the last chance for the sprinters to shine, especially as Stages 13 and 17 have some climbs thrown in before the finish.
The Finish: the race enters Margherita di Savoia and does two 16km circuits. The approach to the finish itself is flat, wide and without any sharp bends in the final.
The Scenario: never say never but it’s almost certain we’ll get a sprint finish. The hope this time is that it’s incident free. Several teams have brought sprinters to the race but there are few chances in this year’s edition and so today is the day to make it count. Katusha will work to defend Paolini’s lead so any breakaway won’t get far but we can expect OPQS, Cannondale and Orica-Greenedge to take over the work. Or at least it would be polite if they did so.
Saturday’s opening stage was a sprint finish but distorted by the crash. Mark Cavendish won impressively, chasing down gaps and leading himself out so he’s the prime pick but in the chaos of a bunch sprint the configuration is always changing. Cavendish will count on Orica-Greenedge to string the field out and impose some order.
TV: if you can’t find it on TV, cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv are the go-to sites. The live feed starts at 3.10pm Euro time, but the action is probably only for the last 30 minutes. The finish is expected around 5.15pm.
Weather: calm and sunny, temperatures will reach 23°C (73°F) and there will be a light headwind of 10-15km/h which might delay the race but should not be strategic.
Local info: Wikipedia says the Queen of Italy had an affair in the town so it took its name from this incident but that’s an example of false information. Instead municipal pride saw the town of Barletta rename itself to celebrate the Italian royal family in 1879. The town’s name goes back over time to the Romans when Bardulos was important for salt production. This common mineral was highly prized and if it’s cheaper today, Margherita di Savoia is Europe’s largest producer of salt giving it a direct link to almost every Italian dish.
Word of the Day: W as in viva. The letter W is rare in Italian, I can only think of the first name Walter from the north. But you’ll often see graffiti saying W Il Giro, what does this mean? It means Viva Il Giro or “long live the Giro.”
Why the W? well Wikipedia has it right.
In Italy, the nationalist phrase “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia!” (“Long live Victor Emmanuel king of Italy”) was hidden from the Austrian enemy by its acronym Viva VERDI!, that passed for a praise of the music of Giuseppe Verdi. In Italian graffiti, viva is often abbreviated as W.
Look closely and the W is more two Vs that have been crossed. Fausto Coppi famously rode past a “W Coppi” written in the snow. Today we remember Wouter Weylandt, the rider with two Ws, who died two years ago descending the Passo del Bocco on Stage 3 of the Giro in 2011.