Giro d'Italia

How BMC pulled off the pink jersey heist

Rohan Dennis earned the maglia rosa in Saturday's stage 2 thanks to solid racing tactics.

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AGRIGENTO, Italy (VN) — The pink jersey always fits better when you take it away from someone else.

Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) earned his career-first Giro d’Italia maglia rosa over the weekend the hard way. Entering this Giro, the Australian had won two grand tour leader’s jerseys thanks to his time trial prowess in the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.

This time, Dennis completed his jersey set with old-school grinta and tactics.

“We had to really fight for this pink jersey,” Dennis said Tuesday. “We will fight to keep it.” [related title=”More Giro d’Italia news” align=”left” tag=”Giro-d’Italia”]

After holding both the Tour’s yellow jersey and the Vuelta’s red jersey, Dennis just missed the maglia rosa in Jerusalem by two seconds to world time trial champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). That hurt.

Rather than give up, BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri began to devise a plan on how to put Dennis in pink.

“It was a bit of a disappointment to not win the pink jersey in Jerusalem. The initial swallow was hard, because we got beaten by the last rider of the day,” Sciandri said. “Right after that, in my mind I said, OK, I need to convince these guys to go for that sprint.”

“That sprint” was the second of two intermediate sprints in the Giro’s second stage. With 3, 2 and 1 seconds waiting for the top three, it would be just enough for Dennis to bounce ahead of Dumoulin. The opportunity was waiting at 105km into the route. That meant BMC would have to do some work.

“In the morning meeting, I saw some down faces, but slowly we started to believe in it,” Sciandri explained. “When Rohan got his head around it, we knew we had a chance. We had to give it a shot, because it was too big just to leave it there for some random rider to take the sprint bonus and take away our chance to take the pink jersey.”

BMC Racing was up to the challenge, but even in bike racing, every action has an opposite and equal reaction.

Just as BMC’s went to work to reel in the day’s breakaway, it was undermining another dream for home team Israel Cycling Academy. Riding into that day’s three-man breakaway was Canadian rider Guillaume Boivin. He had his eye on earning the Giro’s host country’s first King of the Mountains jersey.

Boivin was the strongest climber in the breakaway group. Had that day’s second and last intermediate sprint not been just 14.3km after the day’s lone KOM sprint at 91km, Boivin likely would have won taken it.

“It was a shame that BMC had something else in mind,” Boivin said. “Barbin jumped across from the main pack and took the jersey away from me. That was a bit of bad luck for us.”

Bad luck for Israel Cycling Academy meant good luck for Enrico Barbin (Bardiani). He bolted across out of the BMC-fueled chasing pack, by then just a handful of seconds behind the attackers. He pipped Boivin, and held the climber’s jersey going into Wednesday’s stage 5.

BMC was also intent on making its own luck. After the Boivin group was reeled in, the team went to the front and drilled it as if they were setting up a mass sprint. Jurgen Roelandts led out Dennis, who gave everything he had to edge Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors). It was enough to become the virtual leader on the road by one second.

“The team delivered me exactly where I needed to be for the sprint,” Dennis said. “I thought that I cannot not put 100 percent into it. All I had to do was go as hard as I could, and there was no way I couldn’t win it.”

Somewhat surprisingly, neither Sunweb nor LottoNL-Jumbo challenged for time bonuses. Some just assume that Sunweb was content to let the jersey slip away, but that wasn’t the case.

“We were hoping to defend the jersey on stage 2, but not at all costs,” said Sunweb’s Peter Reef. “BMC Racing had a smart plan and they deserve credit for it.”

Sunweb, however, wasn’t too upset. The team knows it will save energy by not having to carry the weight of the pink jersey so early in the race. That’s true not only for the entire team, but also for Dumoulin. The post-stage protocol for the pink jersey is long and time consuming. And Sunweb is hoping Dumoulin will have his moment back in pink later in the race.

Once in the virtual lead, BMC kept the race together and towed Dennis into Tel Aviv with the main bunch. Striding atop the podium that afternoon was even sweeter for the team, which lost its founder and owner Andy Rihs to an illness just weeks before the Giro started.

“Just look at the Garibaldi [race book]. The Giro’s been won by 16 seconds, another by nine seconds. That tells you a lot what a second can do for you,” Sciandri said. “So for us, that one second means we are ahead of Dumoulin and we have the pink jersey.”

Even more important for Dennis was to bring the jersey back to Italy and then defend it in the punchy finale Tuesday. Wednesday’s battle will be just as hard, but BMC was vowing to go down swinging.

“I think he’s understanding how important the jersey is to him now,” Sciandri said at Wednesday’s start. “He had the jersey in the Vuelta and lost it on the first day. The same thing happened at the Tour. I said to him, ‘do you know what you have here?’ It’s the pink jersey, the leader’s jersey in one of the biggest bike races in the world. He’s respecting it and he’s honoring that jersey.”

One second can be the difference between glory and disappointment. Dennis promised to fight with his skin in Wednesday’s stage to keep that jersey one more day.