What was expected to be a breakaway-focussed day at the Giro d’Italia served up more drama in the general classification on the hills around Tortoreto on stage 10.
The puncheur-friendly stage saw NTT Pro Cycling’s Domenico Pozzovivo, fourth on GC, and Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, sixth on GC to start the day, both fall victim to mechanical problems as the favourites tackled a series of steep, short climbs in the final 40 kilometres of a tough day out.
Pozzovivo’s wheel problem came early enough for him to recover and even mount an attack later on, but Fuglsang’s puncture torpedoed his hopes of finishing with his rivals, coming on the descent off the day’s final hill.
The Dane suffered a rear puncture early at the top of the climb in the old town of Tortoreto, and unable to ride down the wet descent to Tortoreto Lido, he was forced to pull over and take teammate Fabio Felline’s bike. Nine kilometres later, he led a small group across the line 1:25 after maglia rosa João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) had crossed the line with the other favourites.
“Well, not the day we thought it would be,” Fuglsang said after the stage, now 11th behind the maglia rosa. “It was just an unlucky day for us. I had a puncture in the worst moment you can have one.
“I gave my all and tried to limit any huge time gaps, but it is how it is. We have to get over it and focus on the upcoming days. There is still a long way to go and there are still plenty of chances.”
Pozzovivo, meanwhile, was fortunate that his problem came two climbs earlier on the unclassified Colle Luna, some 22km from the finish. After his NTT Pro Cycling had set the pace for much of the previous 20 kilometres, with a big attack by the ‘flea from Policoro’ expected later on.
But it looked like the day would end in disaster as the 37-year-old Italian pulled to the side of the road with teammate Ben O’Connor, waiting for the team car for a fresh bike before mounting a chase back on. He made it, 5km later on the penultimate, and unclassified, hill at Via Badette, riding at the front on the final climb as Almeida put in a tester attack, and even pushing on himself on the steep slopes.
What could have been a disaster for the Italian, instead, turned into an affirmation of his strength.
“The whole team did a good job,” Pozzovivo said later. “We wanted to reduce the peloton over the categorised climbs of the last section. Later, I was unlucky with a problem on my front wheel.
“But I could come back to the peloton with Ben and Louis [Meintjes] and I felt very good. I tried to do something in the last, but I also did a big effort to come back so I’m happy to be in the fight.”
Team Manager Bjarne Riis confirmed that Pozzovivo had suffered a broken spoke and praised his strength to get back to the GC group as the race was full-on up front.
“He broke a spoke at the front and decided to change the bike,” Riis said. “A lot of emotions today, absolutely. It was terrible because we were sitting in the front riding for him and then it happened.
“It wasn’t a good moment. There’s only one thing to do – stay calm and keep focussed. We tried to do that. Fortunately, he was very strong today and could make it back in time for the last climb. We saw on the climb that he was super strong.”
Pozzovivo retained fourth place overall heading into a flat stage 11 on Wednesday, lying 57 seconds down on Almeida and four seconds ahead of two-time Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo).
He has twice finished fifth at the Giro d’Italia – including the last time he rode it back in 2018 – and has so far avoided the misfortune that has seen fellow GC contenders shed time, or head home early.
This year’s Giro, then, his first since after his career was almost ended after being hit by a driver in August 2019, looked to represent a real chance to step on the final podium. Riis said that Pozzovivo “absolutely deserves a team to ride for him”, adding that he and his NTT teammates’ performance was “wonderful” on Tuesday.
“I think what we saw today was exactly what we like to see from the team,” Riis said. “I was very happy that we took action. That’s how it should be, especially on a stage like today – very tricky and hard. It was a wonderful performance.”