Argos-Shimano sprinter John Degenkolb maneuvered through two dozen fallen riders and sprinted for an exhausting 800 meters to take the win in Stage Five of the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
“The final was unbelievable hard especially the last kilometer,” Degenkolb told an Italian interviewer on Eurosport.com. “Yeah, there was a push at a hard speed and in the end of course there was a crash, then I had a gap, looked back—I saw [Cannondale sprinter Elia] Viviani behind me and I knew, “Now I have to go full gas otherwise he will catch me.”
I went the last 800 meters full ahead and in the end I was totally dead. I am so happy that I could take this win.”
Degenkolb elaborated on the Argos-Shimano website: ““When I crossed the finish line I couldn’t really enjoy it because I was so tired. After such a long sprint you are just completely empty. At the end I couldn’t see anything anymore—I was just trying to reach the line.
“This was one of the toughest wins of my career. But now that a bit of time has passed we can really enjoy the victory. We will definitely have some champagne tonight with the whole team, including all the staff, of course.”
Another Surprise Winner
Like most of the stages so far, Stage Five had an unexpected ending. Before the stage started the only question seemed to be whether Omega Pharma-Quickstep’s Mark Cavendish would make it over the Cat 3 and Cat 4 climb in the final 25 km. If he made it, the race would be his; if not, one of the lighter sprinters would win.
As it turned out, Cav cracked on the final climb. Degenkolb, Cannondale’s Elia Viviani, Bardiani’s Enrico Battaglin or Sacha Modolo, or FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni then seemed the best bets.
A group of about 80 riders roared over the wet roads towards the finish. BMC led the peloton to keep team leader Cadel Evans out of trouble, then swung aside to let the sprinters’ teams take over with 1500 meters to go.
Disaster struck as the front of the peloton round a left-hand turn 1000 meters from the finish. Argos leadout rider Luka Mezgec skidded on a crosswalk painted on the road, falling and pushing a Colombia rider into the barrier. A number of other riders also skidded on the slick paint. The rest of the riders rounded the corner, saw the carnage, and hit their brakes; many of these also skidded and fell. In all about two dozen riders hit the pavement, holding up the rest of the race.
Bardiani’s Marco Canola, leadout rider for Enrico Battaglin, had been leading the race when the crash occurred. Looking back, he realized there was no other rider within 200 meters. He tried to seize the opportunity and sprint to the line. However, ha had already spent his energy riding flat-out in the approach to the final kilometer, and he didn’t have much left.
John Degenkolb somehow avoided all the falling riders and set off after the Bardiani rider; but he was 200 meters back and 800 meters from the finish line, three times the distance of a normal sprint.
“My lead-out man crashed along with some other guys,” Degenkolb told English Eurosport. “There was one guy in front from Bardiani [Canola]. I looked back and there was just Viviani behind. Then I went full gas to the finish to catch the Bardiani rider.”
The Argos rider rode so hard he almost blacked out, but he caught the spent Canola 100 meters from the line. “In the end I couldn’t see anything, I was so empty.”
Degenkolb couldn’t afford to ease up; several riders from further back in the pack were chasing hard. The 24-year-old German forced himself onward and was rewarded with the win, his team’s first stage win in a Grand Tour.
Degenkolb credited his team with getting him into position to make his heroic final effort: ‘It was a great job from my team. We controlled the whole race. We had the confidence and we took the responsibility.”
Katusha’s Luca Paolini nearly crashed but managed to stay upright, and crossed the line in time to keep the leader’s pink jersey.
Typical Sprint Stage Until the Finish
Stage Five, 203 km from Cosenza to the medieval city of Matera, looked like a typical sprint stage for most of the race; a six-rider breakaway formed in the first ten kilometers, stayed away until the final climbs, and was caught, leaving the field open for the sprinters’ teams.
The breakaway riders— Tomas Gil (Androni (Giocattoli,) Alan Marangoni (Cannondale,) Ricardo Mestre (Euskaltel Euskadi,) Brian Bulgac (Lotto Belisol,) Rafael Andriato (Vini Fantini) and Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani-Valvole) were three minutes ahead after ten km of racing.
Pirazzi, only a few minutes down in General Classification, took the King of the Mountain points on the Cat 4 climb of Cipoletto, 37 km into the stage, and then dropped back. He knew the break would never be allowed to succeed if he was there.
The remaining five treid hard, but the sprinters’ teams weren’t going to let them away. After allowing an eight-minute gap, a number of teams joined Katusha in reeling in the escapees. Katusha didn’t have a strong sprinter to contest the finish; there were merely protecting racer leader Luca Paolini.
Meanwhile, torrential rain began falling at the finish line. Before long the storm system moved on to soak the peloton, though not with quite so much force. After several minutes the sun chased the clouds away but the roads in Matera stayed wet.
The peloton caught the breakaway on the slopes of the first of the final two climbs. Stefano Pirazzi attacked just before the peak to again take the King of the Mountain points, then dropped back to the peloton.
Two riders attacked on the descent: Ag2R’s Ben gatauer and Euskaltel’s Robert Vrecer tried to make a move, joined after a few kilometers by Lotto-Belisol’s Lars back. Bardiani moved to the head fo the peloton to chase this down; they wanted another win for Battaglin.
This escape lasted about five kilometers; after it was caught, Matteo Rabottini (Vini Fantini) attacked. When he was caught, Ag2R’s Hubert Dupont took a try at escaping, but he only lasted 1500 meters.
BMC took over 33oo meters from the finish, protecting Cadel Evans, then moved over for Bardiani, Cannondale, and Argos.
Perfect Setting for Disaster
The final 1100 kilometers should have made for a great sprint. The addition of damp pavement made it the perfect setting for a great disaster. There was a fast, wide 90-degrree left-hand turn just before the flamme rouge (the 1000-meter banner) and another just after it, than a wide straight and slightly uphill 900-meter run to the finish.
With some of the fastest sprinters out of the race, the smaller teams were almost rabid for a win, and the wide roads just added encouragement to ride at maximum speed.
Bardiani’s Marco Canola led into the first left-hander, with Luka Mezgec and a Colombia rider side-by-side right behind him. When Mezgec fell, Canola was all alone. Had he not already been sprinting for almost a kilometer, the stage would easily have been his.
Behind him, the crash developed in three separate stages: the initial lowside slide by Mezgec into the Columbia rider, then a much larger crash as the next wave or riders hit the painted section, and then a third even larger pile-up as more rider rounded the corner and tried to avoid the sprawled bikes and bodies.
Degenkolb had suffered mightily to get over the climbs so he could contest the final sprint; his efforts paid off. Elia Viviani and Nacer Bouhanni also suffered, perhaps a bit more, because they ended up 14th and 15th. Marco Canola took 12th. Katusha’s Angel Vicioso and Blanco’s Paul Martens took second and third by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, or not being in the very wrong place.
Paolini Stays Pink
The General Classification remained unchanged, with Luca Paolini 17 seconds ahead of Sky’s Rigoberto Uran, Movistar’s Benat Inxausti third at 26 seconds, and Vincenzo Nibal fourth at 31 seconds. 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin Sharp is fifth, tied with Sky’s Bradley Wiggins in sixth, both at 34 seconds.
After reviewing the end of Stage Four, race officials determined that Bradley Wiggins had already dropped back behind the lead group when a crash ahead slowed him so his time was not adjusted.
Stage Six is another one for the sprinters, with not a single categorized climb in the route. Paolini will keep the maglia rosa at least one more day.