The Giro d’Italia peloton rolled out of Lanciano to start stage 10 under a dark cloud Tuesday, but it arrived into Tortoreto 177-kilometers later under the shine of a stellar performance from Peter Sagan.
The three-time world champion stormed to victory Tuesday, turning the mood on a day that had been blighted by the exit of Steven Kruijwsijk, Michael Matthews, and the entire Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott teams after a raft of COVID positive tests.
It would take some ride to tilt the headlines away from the morning’s coronavirus cull and emerging fears for the race’s future, but Sagan delivered in style. The 30-year-old battled into the first break of the day, smashed the escape to bits, and rode away from strongmen Ben Swift and Filippo Ganna to take one of the standout wins of his career.
With the race under threat of shuttering at any moment and critics questioning Sagan’s ability to continue delivering, the Slovak switched on the show just at the right moment.
“For sure I did not plan to go solo,” Sagan said after a stage that was ridden like a spring classic. “I’ve already accepted second, third, fourth place. I let it go and I don’t try anymore – now the victory comes, and I’m very happy for that.
“Finally I won in my style. I do the race, do some show, take the victory, and it’s something special.”
There were no wheelies or hulk impressions from the Sagan-show as he crossed the line Tuesday; just a look of relief and suppressed elation. Having not won a bike race for 15 months and been left continually frustrated since the August restart finishing in the top-five at Milano-Sanremo, six times at the Tour de France, and three times in the Giro’s opening stages, pressure had been mounting on what some thought was a fading force.
Sagan opted to skip the cobbled classics to race at the Giro d’Italia after a commitment to the organizers and a long-time love for the country. With Paris-Roubaix now shuttered for 2020, Sagan’s decision proved well-made Tuesday as he joined the elite club of riders to have won a stage at all three grand tours.
“I’m very happy, finally,” Sagan said. “I’ve been trying since when we started the season again with Strade Bianche, Sanremo, the Tour de France. I was a lot of times on the podium or top five, but my last victory was last year in the Tour de France – already a long time ago.”
After the shock morning revelations of eight COVID cases from a total of 571 tests, the Giro’s finish line has moved to a date that neither race organizers nor the riders are likely to be aware of until the day it arrives.
With the cloud of uncertainty over the race, Tuesday’s stage was ridden like it was the peloton’s last chance, with breakaways, splits, and attacks flying from kilometer zero through until when Sagan crossed the line four hours later.
“Now it is possible that every day is the last day,” second-place Brandon McNulty said after the stage. “It’s just all-in every day.”
Sagan went all-in and then some, delivering in a style that will mark a high-point in his brimming palmarès.
His scintillating show through a gritty four hours of flat-out throwdown will go down as one of his greatest, and as a justification of a race schedule that some saw as controversial. And just as importantly, it flashed light over a dark day at the Giro d’Italia, giving fans something to cheer for and teams something to believe in.
“The team and the fans had their expectations, so I owed them a victory,” Sagan said.