Checkered past to checkered flag for Roberto Ferrari
Roberto Ferrari celebrates his win in the Giro's 11th stage. (Reuters: Alessandro Garofalo)
Last week he was relegated to the back of the grid after causing a hit-and-run high-speed smash, but this Wednesday Roberto Ferrari was in pole position after sprinting to victory in stage 11 of the Giro.
It’s funny how much can change in a week in pro cycling. Following his senseless swerve that sent Mark Cavendish (and many others) sprawling in stage three, many people called for Ferrari to be sent home from the race.
In the immediate aftermath of the pile-up, Cavendish’s Sky teammate Geraint Thomas compared the Italian’s reckless move to a two-footed challenge in football or a spear tackle in rugby.
Moments later Cavendish himself said that he and other riders had been send home from races for less – a sentiment backed up by Australia’s Mark Renshaw, once famously ejected from the Tour de France following his infamous headbutt incident while riding alongside Cav at HTC.
The Italian race organisers were understandably lenient, and Ferrari was relegated from sixth to the back of the peloton for the stage: a paltry punishment for a man who initially refused to apologise, claiming what went on behind him was “of no concern”.
With the dust settled, the road rash healing and the repercussions of his wild final straight antics finally hitting home, Ferrari did make an apology to a few days later ahead of stage five to Fano.
It must have been well received by Cavendish, who went on to win the stage ahead of red jersey rival and former team-mate Matt Goss.
The duel between world champion Cavendish and Orica-GreenEDGE’s Goss has been one of the delights of this year’s Giro – but it is a duel that has hardly had the chance to blossom naturally.
On the only two occasions in which the pair have come head-to-head in a bunch sprint, Cavendish has outdone his opponent, with Goss picking up second place in both stages two and five.
Goss’s only stage win came on the day Ferrari took out Cavendish, while in Monday’s stage nine it was the Australian’s turn to suffer an injustice at the hand of an Italian.
On a final tight bend in Frosinone, Goss found himself taken out from behind by Filippo Pozzato of the Farnese Vini team (they of the bright yellow shirts). In the mayhem that ensued, Cavendish was driven wide towards the barriers and also kissed the tarmac.
On this occasion, the perpetrator was full of contrition: holding his hands up (one of which was fractured in his fall), Pozzato showed his class the next day by entering the buses of both Sky and GreenEDGE to personally apologise to Messrs Cavendish and Goss before retiring from the race.
Two days on, and the Giro’s longest stage was heading through Umbria and Tuscany to the famous spa town of Montecatini, near Cavendish’s Italian home of Quarrata.
By picking up intermediate bonus points here and there over the past few days, Cavendish had reduced Goss’s lead in the red jersey standings to just two points; a win in his own back garden would ensure the jersey would swap shoulders once again.
Clearly the stage favourite, Cavendish was interviewed by Italian TV before the start in the pretty hilltop town of Assisi.
Cav told the viewers that he felt he was getting back to his best after two heavy falls. “The Giro is famous for its technical finishes and there is always going to be crashes,” he said. “It’s up to the riders to read the race manual and to know there’s a sharp corner. But that’s bike racing.”
How ironic, then, that it was a mistake by Cavendish’s team-mates that doomed his chances in Montecatini. Peter Kennaugh took the final tight corner sharper than he intended while the usually reliable Geraint Thomas had a lapse of concentration and allowed his pedal to hit the ground and, subsequently, his wheel to jump.
As a result, Cavendish lost momentum coming into the closing straight and, stuck in too large a gear, he was unable to get in the Ferrari slipstream.
Cavendish’s fourth place was still enough to seize back the red jersey from Goss, who seemed to take a day off completely: the Tasmanian rolled home in 183rd position more than 10 minutes behind, the after-effects of that crash on Monday clearly still wearing off.
And so, in a bizarre twist of fate, the much-maligned Ferrari has now become a Grand Tour stage winner.
Much unlike last week’s controversial finale in Horsens, Ferrari had the perfect line going into the final bend. In fact, the 29-year-old Androni Giocattoli sprinter had so much space around him, he could have swerved to his heart’s content.
As it was, he passed Orica-GreenEDGE’s Thomas Vaitkus with considerable ease to take the biggest win of his career – and complete a remarkable turn of fortunes in his home tour.
“This is a victory of a lifetime,” the bearded Ferrari said after almost seven hours in the saddle. “Winning a stage in the Giro is the best thing for an Italian rider. I wanted to redeem myself after what happened in the early stages.
“I beat Cavendish? I am glad, he did not believe in me. But the only thing that counts for me is that today is a great day.”
Cavendish made no comment on his foe’s victory, but his girlfriend Peta Todd added her two cents with a telling Tweet moments later: “Some Ferraris are so classless”.
She should take a leaf out of her boyfriend’s book: sometimes it is better to say nothing at all. Respect where respect is due: Ferrari won stage 11 fair and square – and congratulations to him.
With the next two legs taking place over hilly terrain before the first major summit finish on Saturday, we will probably see no more duels between Ferrari, Goss and Cavendish in this year’s race.
Saturday’s stage 14 in the Alps will mark the start of a brutal week that concludes with a trip up the highest mountain of any Grand Tour, the Stevio in the Dolomites, which takes place on the eve of what may be a deciding final time trial in Milan.
Who’s leading the race by then is anyone’s guess. But for now, it’s all smiles for Ferrari.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.
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