Such was Giacomo Nizzolo’s unfortunate run in Giro sprints – eleven second places without ever tasting victory – some bookmakers had given the Italian cruel odds of 11/2 to end his hoodoo in Friday’s pan-flat thirteenth stage from Ravenna to Verona.
Nizzolo rose to the challenge to take arguably the biggest and most sentimental win of his career – although his victory came in bizarre circumstances after compatriot Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) caused a surprise by powering clear of the peloton to anticipate the sprint inside the final kilometre.
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Despite his Jumbo-Visma team boasting the Dutch sprint duo of Dylan Groenewegen and David Dekker, local rider Affini – who 45 minutes earlier was waving to his friends and family as the race passed through his hometown of Mantova – opened up an unexpected gap on the home straight.
At one point it looked like Affini was going to ride to a shock stage win – and his gap forced Nizzolo to play his hand early and launch from distance into the wind. But the situation could also have been what won it for the Qhubeka-Assos rider, who timed his catch to perfection as he pipped Affini to the line for a victory that saw him beaming like a Cheshire cat.

‘My goal was to be second’ – Nizzolo after finally securing Giro stage win

“My goal was to be second – perhaps that was the trick to get the victory,” an emotional Nizzolo said with a nod to Affini’s seemingly insurmountable lead. The European and Italian champion added:
I’m super happy. My only goal today was to sprint and not get blocked in the final. So I went quite far in the wind but I had good legs and it worked out.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) took third place – enough to keep Nizzolo’s mitts from his maglia ciclamino – while the top five was completed by Italy’s Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates). One day after he was named Italy’s flag-bearer for the Tokyo Olympics, Elia Viviani (Cofidis) could only treat his home crowds in Verona to ninth place ahead of the misfiring Groenewegen.

Highlights: Nizzolo claims belated first victory at Giro after unorthodox finish

Escapees Samuele Rivi (Eolo-Kometa), Umberto Marengo (Bardiani-CSF) and Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli) rode clear from the outset and were not caught until the closing moments of the 198km stage having built up a maximum lead of eight minutes off the front.
Pellaud and Rivi both enjoyed forays up the road after baffling solo attacks at the two intermediate sprint points, neither move coming to anything more than a welcome off-script segment in an otherwise long and tedious affair – described by Eurosport commentator Sean Kelly as “the perfect recovery day for everyone”.
Indeed, the Irishman’s co-commentator Dan Lloyd described the parcours as “the flattest day of the Giro d’Italia and one of the flattest stages of any race you could ever imagine.”
With the trio riding ahead of the pack for a total of 191km, four teams shared the workload on the front of the peloton – Cofidis, UAE Team Emirates, Qhubeka-Assos and Jumbo-Visma – paving the way for their respective sprinters: Viviani, Gaviria, Nizzolo and Groenewegen.
It was the Colombian Gaviria who beat his rivals to fourth place in the first intermediate sprint at Ferrara on one of the few flashpoints of the day - his own bloodied nose being another. A third came shortly after the second intermediate sprint, with 50km remaining, when Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) put in an opportune dig which strung out the peloton as numerous riders tried their luck to counter.
But this hi-jinx came to nothing and the peloton soon calmed, holding the leaders at one minute before finally swallowing them up on the outskirts of Verona.
By this point, Affini had enjoyed milking the applause from his friends, family and fans at Mantova – and perhaps it was here that the idea came into his head that he could cause an upset. In any case, it was the burly 24-year-old TT specialist who looked to have pick-pocketed all the fast men at the finish.

‘A messy final’ – Affini on frantic Stage 13

Nizzolo, however, never gave up – an admirable trait given his record in the Giro. After two second places already in this year’s race, the 32-year-old got that monkey off his back while gifting his Qhubeka-Assos team a second win in three days following Mauro Schmid’s victory in Montalcino.
For Affini it was another second place after he missed out to Filippo Ganna in the opening time trial at Turin. Nine more of those and he’ll have matched Nizzolo’s record…
A day off in the battle for pink sees Colombia’s Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) head to Saturday’s showdown on Monte Zoncolan with a 45-second lead over Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) and 1’12” over the Italian Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious).

‘We could have a shock winner’ – Lloyd tips Stage 14 surprise

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