Saturday, June 9, 2018

Giro d'Italia U23: Prologue and Stage 1

After the race's re-birth last year, the Giro d'Italia U23, known to most as the Baby Giro, is off to an interesting start once again on the Romagna coast, bouncing between the city of Forli and seaside resort town of Riccione.

Tiny hills pockmark the landscape while the Adriatic gleams on the sunny seaside resorts. It is a stunningly beautiful place that is one of the more underrated areas of Italy. This is Marco Pantani country. Il Pirata was born in Cesena before moving to Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast, where he learned to race a bike and culminated in a win in the 1992 Baby Giro. He even died in a hotel in Rimini, which is just down the road from Riccione.

Pantani isn't the only champion to hail from this area of Romagna. Ercole Baldini was from Forli, where a museum dedicated his career that included a win in the 1958 Giro d'Italia and 1958 World Championship in Reims. Arnaldo Pambianco, who was one of the more one-off Giro d'Italia winners with him 1961 win over Jacques Anquetil, hailed from Bertinoro.

The prologue in Forli wasn't the most dramatic event but there were a few moments of drama to spice up the 4.5 kilometer romp around the center of Forli.

Alexander Konychev, the son of the legend Dmitri Konychev, got things off to a fast start before being passed by Hagens Berman Axeon's Jasper Philipsen. A timing error saw Drew Morey of Mitchelton Bike Exchange cast into the hot seat while riders tried and failed to unseat him. Edoardo Affini (SEG Racing), Will Barta (Hagens Berman-Axeon) and Matteo Sobrero (Dimension Data) all came close but were unable to take the lead.

It wasn't until Robert Stannard (Mitchelton Bike Exchange) finished that the timing error was discovered and Morey, who had accidently swapped start times with Gab Cullaigh, lost 30 seconds on his time and ultimately the lead. It was Edoardo Affini who took the race lead and was the race's first Maglia Rosa.

Barta was the best GC finisher but was closely followed by Stannard, Wilmar Paredes, Sean Bennett, Rasmus Iversen, Mark Donovan, Juan Pedro Lopez, Stefan De Bod, Stevie Williams, Aleksandr Vlasov and Gino Mäder, who all finished within 10 seconds.

A few GC hopefuls lost some time including Samuele Battistella (+18 seconds), Georg Zimmerman (+19), Cristian Muñoz (+22), Einer Rubio (+27) and Luca Covili (+37).

The first official stage of the Giro d'Italia U23 took off from Riccione, a seaside resort town that has featured in C-level sprints in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali. The stage got out to the normal start with a breakaway getting away on the flat part of the stage and Thymen Arensman of SEG Racing broke his collarbone, which gave him the honor of the first DNF of the race. Where things got interesting was when two climbs came up on the way back to Forli that split the race apart.

Robert Stannard and Sean Bennett attacked on the 2nd climb, bridged to the remnants of the breakaway and got a gap that was threatening to take it to the finish. It wasn't until 2 kilometers to go that the breakaway was hoovered up and the mass sprint was on. In the final sprint, Gerben Thijssen (Lotto-Soundal U23) looked to be in prime position to take his first UCI victory of the year. That was before he raised his hands in victory and Giovanni Lonardi (Zalf-Euromobil) snuck under his arm to take the win.

It was Lonardi's 5th win of the year and 14th podium place of the season while Jasper Philipsen's 3rd place got him enough bonus seconds to take the maglia rosa.

Most kept safe on the first stage but a few riders lost their GC hopes including Francesco Romano, Brandon Rivera and Juan Pedro Lopez. Callum Scotson ceded a lot of time after climbing well in some other races in the past, including at last year's Tour de l'Avenir.

Stage 2 continues from Nonantola to Sestola with an uphill finish that will be the first decisive finish in the Giro d'Italia U23.