You win some, you lose some, and some days you’re hoisted by your own petard.
After seeing Bora-Hansgrohe drill it on the front and take chunks out of their competitors over the climbs of stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia, it was hard not to envisage Peter Sagan storming to victory in Canale. But, in the end, it was Taco van der Hoorn that stole the show.
Did Bora-Hansgrohe’s huge effort put the team in an impossible situation?
“Today we had a big chance for a stage win with Peter and we truly did the best we could towards that goal. Everybody gave their absolute maximum, from the start line to the finish line. However, we can’t do everything on our own, you also need some collaboration from the rest of the peloton,” Bora-Hansgrohe sports director Jan Valach said after the stage.
“All our guys put in a tremendous effort and fought for the victory, that’s after all what we do. Peter was second in the group sprint, but that’s not the point, we race to finish first not second or third.”
Indeed, it did seem like the perfect strategy as the sprinting powerhouses were shelled one by one from the back of the peloton.
You could almost see Valach in the car with a pen and paper ticking off the names as they went. Tim Merlier. Check. Caleb Ewan. Check. Giacomo Nizzolo. Check. Dylan Groenewegen. Check.
We had the right strategy for today's stage and we worked extremely hard. We gave our best, our 100%. We are a team that always races to win, not settle for second or third. @BORAhansgrohe @BORAGmbH @Hansgrohe_PR @iamspecialized @sportful @ride100percenthttps://t.co/ywWL1sX1tz
— Peter Sagan (@petosagan) May 10, 2021
It was impressive to watch Bora-Hansgrohe so mercilessly dispatch with their rivals. Each sprinter off the back was another percentage point in the favor of Sagan and his chances at victory.
However, each rider dropped had a consequence for Sagan. It meant one fewer team that would contribute to controlling the gap between the peloton and the breakaway. In a sport where minor margins can mean the difference between winning and losing, control is everything.
With just over 13 kilometers to go, the front of the race was within touching distance for the peloton, but nobody was willing to help Bora-Hansgrohe slam the door shut on the break – not until it was too late, anyway. If the German team was willing to put their rivals to the sword like that then they would have to finish it off.
A moment’s hesitation
When van der Hoorn ultimately decided that he was going to spring for victory, the odds were stacked against him. On a finish such as the one seen on stage 3, reeling in a lone breakaway rider should be a formality.
But this is the Giro d’Italia. There’s no such thing as a straightforward day at the corsa rosa.
Bora-Hansgrohe would eventually get the help it needed from the other teams in the peloton, but it was too little too late. Van der Hoorn already had the jump on the pack behind.
Sagan and the other sprinters who managed to withstand the drumming they were dished would have to settle for the scraps behind the Dutchman.
— BORA – hansgrohe (@BORAhansgrohe) May 10, 2021
“I think we had the perfect strategy for today and the team worked very well to execute it. Once again, I’d like to thank all my teammates for their tremendous effort, they worked so hard to try our chance at the stage win. We did the best we could, just the way we do every day. We are a team that always races to win, not settle for second or third,” Peter Sagan said after the stage, reiterating his sports director’s thoughts.
It might not have worked out for Bora-Hansgrohe, but cycling needs more riders and teams that are willing to put their heads above the parapet. Ride or die doesn’t always bring in the rewards, but it is much more interesting than waiting in the wings for the final moments.
In the potential hunt for his first maglia ciclamino, getting rid of some of the fastest sprinters in the pack could also be hugely beneficial when it comes to the crunch later in the race. Sagan has closed the gap on all but Elia Viviani and is lurking ominously in fourth place.
When the flat-out sprint stages diminish into the second week, Sagan could well be sitting pretty in the points competition. There will also be several more chances to take home a stage win and, given the form he is in, it would be foolish to bet against him getting at least one — if not more.
If Sagan and Bora-Hansgrohe had the chance to do the stage again, I’d hope they wouldn’t change a thing.