By Colin O’Brien
Five hours and 199km of hard labor, only to be spat out the back of the peloton the moment the tough get going. A depressingly real end to Salvatore Puccio’s fairytale day in the Maglia Rosa.
Two kilometres later and he’s a minute behind the pack. Puccio’s finished just as last year’s winner Ryder Hesjedal gets going. The Canadian’s excitable today. Attacking. Probing. Pushing the peloton’s limits – and his own.
The Giro’s third stage has just enough climbing to get into trouble and a fast, technical descent to the finish. Vincenzo Nibali’s as good as they get at those, so his peers make to keep him under wraps. Last year’s Maglia Rosa wants to make a point, prove himself worthy of the name. Bradley Wiggins keeps his powder dry for the battles still to come.
Puccio’s not yet the master of his trade, but his day in pink has been instructive. A primer in what it takes to be a winner. To be worthy of leading. For now, the peloton is his classroom. He must watch and learn.
Learn how to conserve energy for the later stages like Wiggins and not be brash and wasteful like Fabio Taborre. To value his efforts and time them like Hesjedal. To not get boxed in like Nibali. To not crash like Michele Scarponi did – though it’s easier said than done – and risk your claim before you’ve even staked it.
Puccio has time, of course. And at Sky, the support. There are riders a decade older still learning the sport’s finer points. He’ll have other chances.
Seven kilometres to go and Luca Paolini offers more instruction. As others crash and crack around him, the veteran Katusha rider grits his teeth and holds on tight. His legs are good today and the line’s not far. And his father’s in the hospital. What better tribute to the man who raised him than the sight of his son in pink?
As Paolini crosses the line, he allows himself a smile. Think about it: 36, and this is his first stage at the Giro. He had to wait 13 years longer than young Puccio for the honour of wearing the Maglia Rosa. A lifetime of learning, finally paying off.
On the final stretch he’d looked behind repeatedly, but there was no one coming. The win and that precious jersey were his. The day’s surprise package pointed to his head and to his heart. You need a mixture of both in this game. There endeth the lesson.
Stage 4, Policastro Bussentino – Serra San Bruno. 246Km
A long, relatively flat stage along the southern coast from the medieval town of Policastro Bussentino to Serra San Bruno. It’s a debut for both towns but there aren’t too many variables that will worry the riders on this stage. The first 190km are mostly flat or gently rolling on good roads, but towards the end things will get a little more difficult. There are two climbs towards the end that might test the legs after a long day in the saddle, first at Vibo Valentina and then at Croce Ferrata, after which there’s a steep, technical descent and a slight final kick up before the finish in the town centre.
Stage 5, Cosenza – Matera. 203Km
This should be a fast stage, short at just over 200km and with almost no climbs to speak of. It will, however, be a beautiful one. Cosenza is a city famous for once being home to the Bruzi, the historical inhabitants of this part of southern Italy. And Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Both are naturally steeped in history, but not only the regional kind. The Giro’s visited these parts on several occasions and these towns have seen many famous finishers, from Binda and De Vlaeminck to Lemond and Cipollini.
Stage 6, Mola di Bari – Margherita di Savoia. 169Km
Another short, flat stage between two Giro debutants. The route mostly follows the picturesque Puglian coastline and will be fast. It does pass through some residential areas along the way though, so the peloton will have to be mindful of the road furniture. The finish is a long stretch – almost three kilometres without a proper bend. This is where we should see fireworks.