Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) were among the big names dropped on the only serious climb on Stage 5 at the Giro d’Italia – with the pair left with too much to do to get back in contention for the sprint.
An otherwise flat stage in Sicily was interrupted by the Cat. 2 Portella Mandrazzi climb, with pre-stage favourites Cavendish and Ewan among those distanced as the pace was ramped up by Alpecin-Fenix.
Alpecin-Fenix are all in for Mathieu van der Poel in the sprints after losing their main sprinter Jakub Mareczko on Tuesday. Given the Belgian's all-round prowess, they tried to distance the fast men as the race went uphill.
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The attack came halfway up the climb and although Cavendish quickly slipped off the peloton, five Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team-mates immediately came to his aid and fanned across the road to protect him.
“That pace setting has had an immediate effect on Cavendish. But look how well surrounded he is,” said Rob McEwen, winner of 12 stages at the Giro, on Eurosport commentary.
“They knew this was going to be the case. They were probably surprised that it took this long on the climb for someone to take it up and try to get rid of him.
“I think they [Alpecin-Fenix] really did wait a long time – on a 19km climb, they waited until 10km of climbing.
“It would have already started to have an effect on the legs of Cavendish, but waiting this long to open a gap? He [Cavendish] has plenty of team-mates there and they are up for the chase.”
‘Oh wow’ – Ewan dropped on Portella Mandrazzi climb
Ewan cut a far more lonely figure as just one team-mate stayed with him, with the Australian leaking more time than Cavendish.
“Lotto do it a little bit differently to Quick-Step, who are happy to stay immediately with Cavendish,” continued McEwen.
“I think Caleb says to the guys ‘see you at the top of the climb, get there and we’ll get together’. So if they need to, they will even pause at the top, stop completely, clip out and wait until Caleb gets there. But he’s a very long way behind Mark Cavendish at this point, which is a surprise.”
The Cavendish group was around three minutes back at the summit, just shy of 100km from the finish, with the Ewan collective another two minutes adrift. And so the chase began.
With 60km remaining, fancied Frenchman Arnaud Demare returned to the main pack as his Groupama-FDJ colleagues immediately set about driving on the pace to prevent Cavendish and Ewan latching back on.
With Groupama continuing to drive on the pace, Cavendish and his crew gave up the chase with 50km to go. Ewan’s Lotto Soudal crew quickly followed.
Demare was delivered to the finish line by his selfless team-mates as the Frenchman took a memorable stage victory.
Stage 5 highlights: Groupama-FDJ masterclass delivers Demare to fine triumph
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