Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) gave himself the best possible birthday present by winning the third stage of the 2014 Giro d’Italia in Dublin.
The giant German lay down on the tarmac soon after crossing the line after launching a massive effort to pip Team Sky’s Ben Swift on the line, having begun his sprint from ninth place, some four bike lengths behind the Yorkshireman.
“It was close,” Kittel said. “Actually, I thought I had lost the race. I was not in a good position. After I saw the finish line, I thought, ‘You don’t give up now; you give everything you have.’ It was more of an attack than a sprint.” His attack was enough to claim a second stage victory in as many days.
Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) remains in the pink jersey of race leader with an eight-second advantage over second-placed Alessandro Pettachi (Omega Pharma-Quickstep). Daniel Oss (BMC Racing) is third, ten seconds back.
Tomorrow will bring a rest day and travel for the teams, who will set off for Bari and the first stage on Italian soil of the 97th Giro d’Italia after three highly successful days on the island of Ireland.
The race in detail
Excited crowds in Armagh released pink balloons to see the riders on their way at the start of stage three; the first of this year’s Giro to be held in Ireland after two successful stages north of the border. Like its two predecessors, heavy rain characterised much of the stage, but, like their neighbours in the north, the crowds refused to let their spirits dampen and gave the riders a superb send off.
A five-strong group moved clear after just six kilometres, including King of the Mountains leader, Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin Pro Cycling), who spent most of stage two in the break. He was joined by Gert Docx (Lotto-Belisol), Yonder Godoy (Androni Giocattoli), Giorgio Cecchinel (Nero Sottoli-Yellow Fluo), and Colombian champion, Miguel Rubiano (Team Colombia).
A crash with 60km remaining brought down a host of big name riders, including Astana leader, Michele Scarponi, and many of his team-mates, among them Enrico Gasparotto, who stood patiently while his directeur sportif sprayed his face with water from a bidon to clean a number of cuts. The peloton slowed almost immediatley to allow those dropped to get back on. Two-time champion, Ivan Basso (Cannondale), faced an extended ride behind the team car before regaining contact.
With 40km remaining, the five-strong breakaway held a lead of 2.51, but another crash just five kilometres later brought down a big group of riders as the peloton reunited after dividing for a roundabout. The suddenly narrowed road caused a bottle neck as riders fought for space on the right hand side of a traffic island. Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Przemysław Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) were among those who crashed, but both rejoined and fought their way back to the bunch.
Wider roads greeted the riders with 30km remaining, and perhaps better still, sunshine. The heavy conditions in which much of the stage had been conducted felt suddenly like a distant memory. The peloton responded by upping the pace and reducing the advantage of the leaders to 1.09.
Astana and BMC hit the front in numbers as the race passed Swords, while Luca Paolini (Katusha), a pink mudguard wedged beneath his saddle, chased hard to regain contact with the back of the peloton.
The leaders raced ahead in through-and-off formation along the coastline, but their increased effort was not enough to halt the relentless charge of the peloton, who reduced the advantage of the escapees to 47 seconds with 24 kilometres remaining. Omega Pharma-Quickstep moved to the front as the riders found themselves on suburban roads in Malahide, with hundreds of pink-clad fans at the roadside.
Two kilometres later, Swift was forced to make a bike change and to begin a solo pursuit of the bunch, until Salvatore Puccio dropped back to pace him.
With just 20km remaining, the leaders found themselves back on the coastline and riding in the teeth of a ferocious wind coming off the sea. Their lead had narrowly increased to 50 seconds, but none of the leading group would have felt safe. A roadside speed sensor clocked the pursuing bunch at 46kmh – a visible indication of the peloton’s intentions.
Nico Roche took up a position at the head of the bunch as his home city approached, flanked by a phalanx of Tinkoff-Saxo team-mates. BMC Racing rode immediately to their left, with Astana at their elbows, and OPQS on the far side of the road. Their control was lost to the increased pace of the bunch, however, which quickly became stretched in a long line.
Italian sprint legend, Alessandro Petacchi (OPQS), was among the strong men setting a ferocious tempo, his efforts made in service of team leader, Rigoberto Uran. Daniel Oss (BMC Racing) was another heavyweight putting in an effort for a team leader. His man, Cadel Evans, worked hard to stay out of trouble.
With 12km remaining, and on a long, straight, coastal road, the breakaway dangled perilously in sight of the peloton. Only Cecchinel continued to work, riding hard with head down, while behind, his Nero Sottoli team-mate, Francesco Chicchi, had his shoe taped to his pedal by a mechanic leaning from the team car.
Rubiano was the first of the breakaway to be caught, just yards before the 10km to go kite. Up ahead, Docx and Tjallingii looked back continually, seemingly willing the peloton to make the catch and end their ordeal. Cecchinel, however, refused to be cowed, and launched an attack with 8.5km remaining. His assault was the trigger for his erstwhile confederates to signal their surrender, and while the Italian ploughed on ahead, they were consumed by a peloton still operating at a leisurely pace.
Just over a kilometre later, and Cecchinel finally capitulated. The peloton was still driven by the teams of the GC contenders rather than the sprint trains. One of the men earmarked for victory, suffered the misfortune of a puncture, however. Roche found himself briefly alone, but his team-mates were quick to drop back and pace him to the bunch.
The sprint trains finally made their presence felt with 5.5km remaining. Giant-Shimano, riding for stage two winner, Kittel, and Elia Viviani’s Cannondale Pro Cycling suddenly emerged at the head of the bunch as the peloton swept through a series of flowing corners past the Dublin quays.
Cannondale’s ‘green machine’ was in full cry with four kilometres to go, leaving their rivals, Trek Factory Racing and Garmin-Sharp among them, scrambling for their wheels while sunshine and fast drying roads provided a welcome that had seemed unimaginable at the start of the stage.
Team Sky and FDJ joined the fray, but Cannondale held sway as they passed beneath the flamme rouge with a treacherous chicane still to to negotiate. Swift and Boasson Hagen were well positioned with 500m remaining, and the Norwegian hit the front through the chicane and into the final 350m.
Viviani was on his wheel, but Swift had his measure and seemed on course to claim his first Grand Tour stage victory after coming agonisingly close at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana. Kittel, however, had other ideas, and claimed the victory with an astonishing surge begun while Swift had enjoyed an advantage of four bike lengths.
Having slowed to a halt, the German climbed from his bike and lay prone on the tarmac. His breathing told the story of his incredible effort and a will to win that, like his speed, will make him a serious rival to Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) in July at the Tour de France.
Giro d’Italia 2014: stage three – result
1) Marcel Kittel (GER) – Giant-Shimano – 4.28.43
2) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky – ST
3) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Cannondale
4) Davide Appolonio (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
5) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr
6) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky
7) Roberto Ferrari (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
8) Edwin Avila (COL) – Team Colombia
9) Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA) – Trek
10) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Sharp
1) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 10.06.37
2) Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep) +8″
3) Daniel Oss (ITA) – Garmin-Sharp +10″
4) Luke Durbridge (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE +14″
5) Ivan Santaromita (ITA) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
6) Svein Tuft (CAN) – Orica-GreenEDGE +14″
7) Pieter Weening (NED) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
8) Cameron Meyer (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
9) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +19″
10) Gianluca Brambilla (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +19″