An enthralling fifth stage in Sicily saw favourites Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) distanced on an early climb before France’s Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) powered to victory in Messina.
Demare, who fought back into contention after being dropped on the same ascent, held off Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) in a tight finish after the Colombian appeared to be hampered by a gearing issue on the home straight.
Italy’s Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech) took third place ahead of compatriot Davide Ballerini, the only Quick-Step rider who had not dropped back to try and nurse Cavendish, the Stage 3 winner, back into the fold.
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Demare’s victory was the sixth of his career in the Giro and saw him move ahead Biniam Girmay (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) at the top of the maglia ciclamino standings after the Eritrean youngster was forced to settle for fifth place in the sprint having been boxed in by the barriers.
Spain’s Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) finished safely in the main field to retain the maglia rosa before the race heads across the Strait of Messina and onto the Italian mainland ahead of Stage 6.

'It was a bonus if we could sprint' - Cavendish on Stage 5 disappointment

“What can you do? You’ve got to try,” Cavendish said after a frustrating day in the saddle. “In a different situation we would have probably come back. We were 30 seconds behind FDJ and Caleb [Ewan] was behind us. Ironically, if all of us were together, we’d probably have got back. It’s just how it is.
“The boys did everything and I’m so proud of them – but in the end, what can you do? We tried. You’re always disappointed but we knew that was going to happen today – it was a bonus if we could sprint today. We’ll try again.”
The day’s only climb provided the fireworks with just over 100 kilometres still left to ride when a handful of the fastmen found themselves distanced after some hefty tempo-setting from the Alpecin-Fenix team of maglia ciclamino Mathieu van der Poel and Girmay’s Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert.

‘Up for the chase!’ – Cavendish pulled up mountain by five team-mates

Prior to the Cat. 2 Portella Mandrazzi, the 174km stage from Catania had been low on drama as the riders hugged the scenic east coast of Sicily and a break of five riders opened up a maximum gap of four and a half minutes.
Two familiar faces featured in the move in the form of team-mates Mattia Bais and Filippo Tagliani, the Drone Hopper-Androni Giacattoli duo who also featured in breakaways in the two road stages in Hungary. They were joined by fellow Italians Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and Mirco Maestro (Eolo-Kometa) as well as Finland’s Jaakko Hanninen (Ag2R-Citroen).
Tagliani kicked clear to win the intermediate sprint at Francavilla to extend his run of wins to five from five ahead of the 20km climb where, two years previously, Demare’s Groupama-FDJ team piled on the pressure to distance sprint rival Gaviria in an almost carbon copy of Wednesday’s stage.
And it was a case of history repeating itself as a similar tactic was employed – but this time at Demare’s expense. Before the Frenchman was tailed off, the elastic snapped for both Australia’s Ewan and Britain’s Cavendish, who saw his hopes of a 17th stage win on the Giro slowly evaporate in the Sicilian heat.

‘Oh wow’ – Ewan dropped on Portella Mandrazzi climb

While Demare was within striking distance going over the summit with around 100km remaining, Cavendish found himself over two minutes behind while Ewan was almost four minutes in arrears. Both chase groups battled on before calling it a day with around 40km remaining.
At this point the breakaway had long since been consigned to the scrapheap – the upping of the tempo on the long descent off the back of the climb bringing the counter back to zero.
Sniffing out an opportunity, Nizzolo’s Israel-Premier Tech team helped with the pacing along with Van der Poel’s Alpecin Fenix and Gaviria’s UAE team – and they were soon joined by Demare’s Groupama-FDJ once the Frenchman rejoined the peloton ahead of the finale.
The absence of his regular lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri was no deterrent to Demare, who surged clear in Vincenzo Nibali’s hometown of Messina to return to winning ways – thanks, in part, to Gaviria’s gearing issue.
“I’m really disappointed because I had good legs and I felt strong after the climb,” said Gaviria, who wouldn’t elaborate on the mechanical issue which held him back after he had lost the wheel of his leadout man Max Richeze.
Despite their heavy presence on the front of the pack during the stage, Alpecin-Fenix did not contest the bunch sprint with Van der Poel content to keep his power dry for future opportunities on mainland Italy. This despite the withdrawal on Tuesday of the team's designated sprinter, Jakub Mareczko.
Thursday’s 192km Stage 6 from Palmi to Scalea will give the likes of Cavendish and Ewan an immediate opportunity to bounce back in what is expected to be another sprint finish.
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