Giro Stage 4 Preview

A sprint stage with the finish in Andora, not that one, the one four metres above sea level on the Ligurian coast.

Merlier earlier: RAI’s journalists were on strike for the day but the lack of audio commentary on Italian TV wasn’t disastrous given little happened for 98% of the stage. Nobody attacked at the start, even the invited wildcard teams have house sprinters to back.

The bunch let the sprinters contest the intermediate sprint in Masio only for 30 or so to get a gap and press on, prompting panic in the peloton. But the move was too big to be cohesive, many top sprinters were up ahead but this meant the group was loaded with riders wanting to sprint at the finish but not drive the pace there.

With 4km to go Mikkel Honoré attacked the regrouped bunch on the climb up to Fossano and Tadej Pogačar went with him, then Geraint Thomas too. Soon Honoré couldn’t hold the wheels on the flat and the two GC contenders were away going past the flamme rouge. So much for Pogačar saving energy but both he and Thomas were in the right place thanks to their teams and so why not?

In the sprint Tim Merlier switched trains from the left to the right of the road and this was probably the winning move, he jumped onto the right wagon and while others led out, including Tobias Lund Andresen and Jonathan Milan both from a very long way out. Merlier was able to make his final sprint later and was half a wheel ahead on the line.

The Route: 190km and if the profile looks pointy goes beyond 1,000m above sea level it’s still a gentle stage. Acqui Terme has a Latin name that means thermal waters and is still known 2,000 years later for its gushing “boiling spring”.

Its into the hills but for the most part via the main road and alongside a railway line, it’s all gradual climbing. The defining feature of the Colle del Melogno is the fort at the top and the way the road rides through it.

The Finish: another day, another 1.5km climb at 5% with 3km to go. This time it’s around the Capo Mele, the easiest of the three capes that feature on the coastal road to Sanremo. One difference today is the climb doesn’t have the same bends to help string out the bunch; another is that it’s downhill into town, all on the Via Aurelia road.

The Contenders: yesterday’s sprint can help hone today’s picks but only so far, it’s hard to extrapolate too much from one outcome. Still Tim Merlier passed the climbing test yesterday, likewise Jonathan Milan. While Olav Kooij was in the mix as was Tobias Lund Andresen but team mate Fabio Jakobsen wasn’t.

Milan, Kooij, Merlier
TLA, Girmay, Vernon

Weather: cloudy and rainy at times inland with 13°C, then warmer temperatures, sunshine and a tailwind on the coast.

TV: KM0 is at 12.35pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in for the sprint finish.

Postcard from Cairo Montenotte
Text from the Giro describes today’s stage, writing “the gentle ascent of the Val Bormida leads through charming towns and villages”. True but today’s route passes through Cairo Montenotte in the same valley. Once a village amid a large plain used for farming, in the early 20th century it was quickly transformed into an industrial base with a giant coking plant and large chemical works.

With no coal or iron underground, what happened? They built the world’s longest ropeway in 1912 to take coal from the port of Savona, traversing the mountains for 17km. Today the tall pylons rust while cables and buckets dangle idly in the air surrounded by birdsong and babbling rivers. If the improbable supply of coal from the sky supplied Cairo with raw materials problem is that most of the activity, including the cables, has stopped today. The coke plant, Italy’s last, still works but only a few hundred workers are employed. Much of the land and buildings around it lie derelict. This isn’t in the guidebooks.

No more so than with nearby Ferrania, a company that made photographic film and cameras. It’s not one building but a complex of factories, offices and even apartment blocks for workers. You might imagine a gradual story of decline, think Kodak faced with digital cameras and smartphones. Only here things seemed to have halted one day in the mid-1990s.

The factory gates have a sign saying biciclette a mano (“cyclists dismount”), ok. Peek into the office by the factory turnstiles and cards are waiting for workers to punch. Push… and the heavy door opens. A file rests on a reception desk, perhaps with the day’s appointments. Dusty sofas opposite allow guests to wait for a manager who will never show up.

If a picture is worth a thousand words then local photographer Samuele Silva has visited, documented the site with plenty of pictures and written up more of the history at where you’ll get the vibe.

There are some broken windows and kids have got in and left their marks but this is place where time has been frozen from one day to the next. The electricity is cut but you half expect an TV to be flickering as Jan Svorada and Fabio Baldato contest an intermediate sprint in the 1994 Giro. While the Giro speeds toward the coast today, something stopped in Ferrania.

48 thoughts on “Giro Stage 4 Preview”

  1. Sprint stages should be no more than 100 km. The first half of this stage served for no more than a reminder of Bitter Rice.

    • We’d know nothing of Zabel, Petacchi or Cav himself while the big stars in sprinting history would be Quaranta, Guardini and Marezcko.

    • Why bother having a Grand Tour? Just do one 75km mountain stage and a 10km TT…
      Its not that the stages need to be shortened it just that some of it doesn’t need to be televised in my opinion.

      • There’s not much else on TV during a mid-week afternoon and live events bring in audiences so it does work… but we’re not obliged to watch it all; in Italy there is radio coverage on RAI and this works well too.

        • I don’t think this suggestion from 150 Watts is as mad as it seems – not that I’m in favour but it starts a relatively healthy debate and that’s never a problem…

          To me it’s an Overton window kind of conversation:

          What 150W suggests is extreme – but sprints been changing recently already, especially in the Tour, essentially with there being fewer and those there are more lumpy profiles, and so the teams/types of sprinters have had to change in response – so clearly shifts are already in the offing… some of these Giro stages almost feel a bit of throwback to the recent past… On the other side of the debate when it comes to boring stages are TT’s, where you regularly hear of people saying *’let’s drop time trials’* (not me, always been fan), so it seems both flat sprints and pan flat TT’s get people’s goat for relatively understandable reasons which means it’s fine to have a conversation of how to improve both – whether dropping sprint stages below 100km is the answer may not be the case but it’s not a stupid suggestion just an extreme one.

          There are hundreds of options anyway as it is a well worn debate – I was a huge fan of the Naples street circuit stage last year and would love to see more circuit/crit like stages in Grand Tours, this might be something to improve sprint stages and create more of a spectacle (now it seems more inner city stages in Italy could be possible again) – but you could argue for shorter or more lumpy stages also, as has been seemingly happening, and consequently change the type of sprinters who win – maybe in time sleep inducing transition stages will be thing of the past, who knows? But considering the formats of the sport we know and love are already constantly shifting and are relatively random anyway, were they to lean toward any of these options I’m not convinced it would irrevocably harm or alter the sport we follow.

          At the same time, a peloton can turn almost any stage into procession and sprint if it wants to so who knows where any evolution will go? It’s an interesting balance between how new generations of athlete’s develop, retaining the traditional soul of the sport and trying to make sure it moves with the times and retains fans interest.

          I probably like many quite like some of the sports slow and boring sides but that shouldn’t stymie debates and new ideas (or even old ideas revisited) of how to continue developing for the future.

          As for changes reshaping the types of riders who can win – I find this kind of interesting, as every kind of sprint from track to grand tour already tailors itself to very specific but relatively arbitrarily decided skillsets, so I find it hard to be wedded to the idea that there must always be space for Cavendish type rider over any other type of rider as the reasoning for it is so random in the first place.

          • Thanks Gabriele, always charitable. I would be happier for longer, shorter, whatever stages, was just saying any debate is healthy and no need to dismiss 150Watts out of hand.

          • I’m not dismissing him or her, just the argument. Of course we could spend loads of bandwith debating, dunno, if “octagonal wheels would make for better cycling because it’s a sacred shape”, the somebody dwelving into the fact that “circle is a sacred shape, too, maybe even more so”, but I’d rather stick with real cycling.

          • In fairness, I probably made a mistake not saying the other extreme to 150W’s suggestion, as it is true a 100km stage can be as boring as 250km. If you’re arguing for 100km sprint stages maybe you might as well be arguing for zero sprint stages at all? Or the other end of the scale that would be the illusive holy grail: stages that managed to strike a perfect balance between allowing different types or riders, breakaways, sprinters etc to win daily outside of GC/TT days… effectively multiple classics inside GT’s. Easier said than done unfortunately.

            But there’s always the other side of the debate as to whether the consistent entertainment that the 100km sprint stage might aim for needs to be the aim at all?

            In all of these debates I’m pretty much square in the middle and happy sitting on the fence.

      • I was thinking something along the same lines, the famous:

        “At this restaurant, dishes taste awful, but the good news is that at least portions are very small”
        (= 100 km stages)

  2. I watched yesterday’s stage on RAI, and the lack of commentary, while still giving the sounds of the race, was a refreshing change, and didn’t detract from it, for me at least.
    Other broadcasters are not as bad, (saying nothing where there’s nothing to say), but the incessant babbling of the english-language commentators is ridiculous. They seem to feel that every second must be filled!
    Many thanks for the Ferrania story and the link – fascinating, and wonderful photos.

    • I like to enjoy the local versions, eg RAI for the Giro, FranceTV for the Tour etc as they have more moto reporters in the race and the reporters are on the ground and close to the organisers, they get more info. Plus it’s just fun and varied to see how different teams work and by and large they are all good at it.

      It’s a point remarked on before that Eurosport’s English service doesn’t have many pauses if at all. I should go and ask if this is deliberate or just normal, cultural. It’s a tough job for the commentators and a break can help them and audiences alike. Try it sometime: mute the audio and see how long you can supply an uninterrupted voice-over.

      • I don’t think it’s cultural. Famous old commentators such as Richie Benaud and Tony Lewis in cricket, Barry Davies in football and Clive Everton in snooker would go ages without saying a word. I think its a modern thing in most sports now and perhaps an attempt by Eurosport/GCN/Discovery to ‘tart up’ cycling a bit to attract viewers.

        • Australian commentators (in all sports) are the worst. They feel compelled to rave and hype endlessly. Ritchie Benaud wad the exception.

          • It is rare to hear long pauses in cricket now.

            I never listened back in the day so cannot say whether there were more or less pauses but interesting if so. Either way I enjoy what they have to offer now with groups of ever changing natterers, it does feel like the model for the GCN era of British cycling commentary, and I’m a big fan of Dan Lloyd and Adam Blythe dropping in amongst others with a story/joke or two, whether it’s related to stage or not. In fact the camaraderie across the whole GCN team is a real joy, feels like hanging with friends.

            But maybe I just love hearing people chat, and almost prefer it when it’s about inane things as if you eavesdropping in the pub… it’s probably what makes Carlton Kirby so annoying as everything feels so overly forced, if he just calmed down it would be fine.

        • There’s also the focus on being able to distil the coverage down to a highlights package, and therefore the commentary needs to be mindful of that

          But yes, a bit less Hatch hyperbole or Kirby constant wittering would be well received (are they really going to use much of the footage of the peloton winding its way through the countryside mid-stage?). On ES, Matt Stephens seems to get the balance right, but is largely unused so is doing the world feed comms for the Giro

          • I find Lloyd, Blythe and McEwen much more entertaining to listen to than the ‘pro’ commentators (and Kelly) who say little of interest, but I won’t complain too much about Hatch as he’s not Kirby.
            When I watch the Dutch commentary in order to avoid Kirby, I notice how little they speak and how calmly they do so. It’s very refreshing. (I don’t speak a word of Dutch so I can’t comment on what they’re saying).

        • I wish Ray Hudson could go ages without saying a word. You’d think a guy like that would be easily rendered speechless, but no. And if Taylor Twellman never said a word again I’m pretty sure I could live with that.

    • Sometimes i wish all commentators were octogenarian misanthropes. They understand the futility of words and would happily let the helicopter rotors do the talking.

  3. Tobias Lund for the win today please.

    I can remember Ferrania, the hipster choice with high silver content for better pictures

    • A bit leftfield today but during the recon ride I was really struck by Cairo and the area around it, for what it is today and for what it must have once been. A more cycling-related topic tomorrow.

  4. Oh yeah, of course 100 km of nothing at all are way more entertaining than 166 km of nothing at all. Surrrrrre…

    That said, yesterday’s stage was actually pretty fine even against reasonable expectations and I think that inrng isn’t doing it justice, above, a bit negative as if not watched live but rather with hindsight. The crosswinds aren’t even mentioned but they were decent watching as they always are. Cian being back was a big thing.

    Obviously the peloton riding at 30 some km/h with nobody wanting to try the break was terrible, but it tends to happen every year in this or that stage, at the TDF too.

    Italy had no commenting on RAI because of a journalist strike due to the heavy impact of censorship and more by the Government on public TV. This means that the “suicide squad” represented by the invited teams had less of a reason to go on the attack, they live merely out of direct commercial impact, it makes sense to keep your slim energies for better days. And, as I said, at the TDF you see the same with no strike and despite the huge impact the Tour always has whatever it happens.

    To me, it’s a beautiful part of cycling that the racing is determined by the collective dynamics of the peloton. Not commercial for one day? You’ve got many more. And Pogi reverted the possible negative impact all alone (many will watch today only because… who knows…). Want exciting racing nearly granted? Watch Classics.

    • Let me add that track cycling is great and very entertaining, that’s why it’s got a long story of public success, and it provides part of what people look to be asking to any GT stage now, including the sort of athletes who can give their best there. For some reason it’s declining in several cycling countries and at the Olympics, too, which is a shame.

  5. Following up on JS’s factoid yesterday, I see that Torsten Traeen DNF’d. Oh, well, there goes his shot at being the next Giovanni Pinarello.

      • 1.3.054? “The wearer of the leader’s jersey shall be entitled to match the colour of his shorts to that of the jersey.” These didn’t match, so he should have worn his standard UAE shorts and failed to do so.

        Under 1.3.072, the penalty for wearing the wrong clothes can include being prevented from starting.

        • They sort of match, the Giro has gone with two tone kit where the shorts are a bit darker for each of the jerseys except white and they match some of the trim on the jersey. All this probably should have been explained before by the organisers and their sponsors Castelli.

  6. Why have rules if they’re not enforced? I for one enjoy a good sock length crackdown. Don’t want the peloton looking like triathletes. Somebody should enforce something on Healy. He looks god awful on the bike.

  7. Nothing about another Chinese President in France,getting a yellow jersey? Not making rubber boots but a visit on the Tourmalet instead.

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