Hot off the back of a summer highlighted by Daniel Martínez’s victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné and stage win at the Tour de France, EF Pro Cycling kept the ball rolling from the get-go in Italy. Texan Lawson Craddock posted eighth in the opening time trial before Jonathan Caicedo rode clear on Mount Etna to take a convincing victory and move into second overall.
“The mood is very good,” sport director Matti Breschel told VeloNews before the start of stage 6 on Thursday. “Everyone is super-happy and really motivated to get more.”
“We all waited a long time to start this Giro. And the fact that the whole look and setup has changed – new cars, new bikes, new clothing – it means a lot to the riders. These things make a big difference psychologically.”
The team hogged the headlines in the days prior to the Giro’s roll out in Palermo, launching a new look in collaboration with streetwear brand Palace. Gone were the team’s trademark pinks and purples, and in came Palace’s Penrose triangle, eye-boggling patterns, and cartoon ducks.
“For a bike rider riding 35,000 kilometers a year, these small things can really make a big difference on the whole motivation, the morale,” said Breshcel, who enjoyed a 15-year-long pro career before retiring last winter. “I remember just getting a pair of new sunglasses, new handlebar tape or new saddle. Or when you really want to win a stage you put on new socks. It’s all in your head, but whatever keeps you motivated you have to do.”
Pint-sized Ecuadorian champ Caicedo’s tumble out of GC contention after a tough day on stage 5 on Wednesday won’t quiet EF’s Mighty Ducks as they stayed focused on “Plan A.”
“We came targeting stage wins – that was always the idea,” said Breschel. “Jonathan lost the mountain jersey by one point yesterday [to Filippo Ganna], so it could be nice to try to take that back, too.”
For the teams that are targeting the pink jersey, the opening stages of this year’s Giro came with several shocks and upsets.
Five-star favorite Geraint Thomas crashed on stage 3 and abandoned the next day, and Jakob Fuglsang’s support crew has taken a beating after Miguel Ángel López crashed out on stage 1, while Aleksandr Vlasov retired the next day with a bad stomach. Vincenzo Nibali, now the key GC contender, is also a man down after experienced climbing teammate Pieter Weening did not start stage 5.
With Ineos Grenadiers now pivoting to hunting stages and no single team holding the power in the pink jersey battle, the door is wide open for the Giro’s opportunists.
“The racing is definitely more open than if Geraint Thomas was here on top shape, and Fuglsang hadn’t lost two important guys. That’s why you saw already two times the breakaway stays away,” Breschel said.
“We can totally benefit from that. It’s shit for the guys that crashed out and for the Giro – but that’s bike racing.”