Where were you when Davide Formolo won his first Grand Tour stage?
Make that his first professional victory, in his first Grand Tour. If excitement surrounds the 22-year-old Italian, it is understandable.
It is a stretch even to believe that Formolo is 22. He has the fresh-faced appearance of a junior, Eurosport’s Matt Stephens observed, never mind an espoir, never mind a WorldTour professional, second year or not.
With 3km remaining, Cannondale’s latest Italian star (the Italian half of this new alliance has greater provenance at the Giro than its Argyle counterpart – and Formolo raced for the Green Machine last season, not Slipstream) was pedalling like fury, despite the assistance of a suddenly plummeting road. And with good reason.
The men pursuing him were no less than the pre-race favourites, forced into confrontation on only the fourth stage. An aside: all advertising should be subject to the filter of a second language. Truth is more frequently gained in translation than lost. The English language version of the Gazzetta dello Sport’s Giro d’Italia home page described the parcours perfectly. “150km short, demanding stage of relentless climbing on winding roads.” Goods as described. No further questions, your honour.
Perhaps the description was no less direct in Italian. Someone at Astana clearly took a fancy to it (a similar Italian influence is maintained inside the “Kazakh” squad as at the US-registered Cannondale-Garmin). Perhaps it was Fabio Aru. The team in baby blue (hard to make this sound impressive) rode like men possessed for much of the day, forcing Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo to work harder than they might have wished and jettisoning Rigoberto Urán from the favourites group. Was the Sardinian, recently descended from his mountain training camp like some youthful hermit, incensed? Affronted by the prospect of being usurped as the new hope of Italian cycling in his first Giro as leader?
Whatever, it was an impetuous attack with 11km remaining from the man who could sense his status as nation’s darling fast disapearing that renewed enthusiasm for the pursuit of Formolo and the duo that lay between him and his green and Argyle quarry: Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti and BMC Racing’s Amaël Moinard.
A word here on poursuivants: those who insert themselves rudely between the intrepid fox and baying hounds. They carry neither the gallantry of the man who has struck out alone for glory, nor the mesmerising aspect of a pack in full cry. They are a distraction. With admirable grace and 5km remaining an increasingly disinterested Visconti sat up entirely, shook the lactic from his thighs, and calmly awaited his capture.
Still Formolo was not done. With just 20 seconds on Aru, Alberto Contador, Richie Porte et al, he had every incentive to press on. As the road finally flattened on the approach to the flamme rouge, the Italian appeared to be fighting off the onset of rigor mortis in the legs. He pedalled in squares until finally sitting up to enjoy the moment with just 300 metres remaining.
If a graph of Formolo’s emotions might be plotted in an unbroken line pitched at some vertiginous trajectory, then a representation of Simon Clarke’s moods might have more closely resembled the stage profile. Euphoria! He is first across the line from a sprint contested by the pursuing group of favourites. Tragedy! Visconti taps him gently on the shoulder and with patented Italian laconicism gestures ahead to the celebrating Formolo. Euphoria! Clarke has lost the battle, but won the war – for today at least. He is the new maglia rosa.
It’s a funny old game, professional cycling. Just when its future seems perennially to remain the captive of its past, a rider like Formolo emerges and a new dawn breaks over the wasteland of the preceeding era. Juan Antonio Flecha, excellent in his new role as pundit for Eurosport, seemed barely able to conceal his delight at the young man’s victory. The boy done good, he might have said. Few would disagree.