Cycling

VIRUS DISASTER FOR OZ CYCLING TEAM

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SPORT’S worst fear — a major covid intrusion on a big event — has impacted heavily on the Giro d’Italia, with the Australian team the worst affected. JOHN TREVORROW and RON REED report:

AUSTRALIAN-owned cycling team Mitchelton-Scott has been forced to make a shock withdrawal from the world’s second biggest road race, the Giro d’Italia, after a star rider and four staff members all tested positive to the corona virus.

The rider, Englishman Simon Yates, tested positive at the weekend and was immediately sent into isolation, and then in the following two days the un-named staffers also came up positive despite  earlier tests providing an all-clear for the team, which is owned by Melbourne businessman Gerry Ryan.

Two other riders and two staff members, all unnamed so far, from four different teams have also tested positive, prompting fears that the three-week race, now about halfway through, will not make it to the finish line.

Mitchelton Scott general manager Brent Copeland said: “Thankfully those impacted remain asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, but as an organisation the health of all our diets and staff is our main priority and we are now focused on safely transporting them to areas where they are most comfortable to conduct a period of quarantine.”

THE 207km ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia from San Salvo on the Adriatic coast to Roccaraso in the Apennines mountains was probably the last chance the overall contenders to test each in the high climbs for at least a week.  

But it ended up a race in two parts with a breakaway getting clear and the main contenders playing second fiddle. It was a cold and miserable day with a lot of climbing and an eclectic group of eight formed a united nations at the front getting clear just before the day’s first classified climb.

Portugal’s Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling), Spaniard Jonathan Castroviejo (Ineos Grenadiers), Argentinian Eduardo Sepulveda (Movistar), Aussie Ben O’Connor (NTT Pro Cycling), Italian Giovanni Visconti (Vini Zabu-Brado-KTM), Swiss Kilian Frankiny (Groupama-FDJ) and American Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale).

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Guerreiro and Castroviego proved the strongest riding clear with Guerreiro becoming the first Portugese stage winner in more than 30 years.

O’Connor faded on the final climbs and lost 12 minutes but two other Australians looked very impressive. Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton Scott) attacked the main peloton, who seemed to be shadow boxing, and rode clear with Englishman Tao Geoghagen Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and finished seventh only 1.32 seconds from the winner. Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb) finished 10th only six seconds back.

The move by Hamilton could have netted even more time if Geoghagen Hart had contributed as he obviously had a bit in the tank, but he did have a teammate up the road. “I’m pretty sore after my crashes and, I won’t lie, for the first 50 or 60km when it took a long time for the break to go, I was in a world of pain,” Hamilton said. “But as the day went on, I sort of warmed into it a bit, and I don’t mind racing in this weather sometimes. “In the finale I didn’t have much left because it was a block headwind and Tao came around me in the end. But it’s always good to gain a bit of time and it’s good to see that the legs are feeling ok after the crashes.”

New race favourite Vincenzo Nibali showed some signs of weakness as his Trek-Segafredo team put on the pressure only to see the Italian lose time, albeit only a few seconds, on his main rivals Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) and Dane Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) who finished with Hindley at 1.38 seconds. Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo Visma) also faded and lost 20 seconds to his main rivals.

The race for the overall contenders won’t really restart until next weekend. Saturday’s 34 km individual time trial will be crucial and then Sunday is the first day into the dreaded Dolomites with a monster stage including four major climbs and a steep finale.

The next few days should see the sprinters teams dicing with the breakaways for stage glory and there are some ideal stages for Aussie Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) to take his first stage win of this Giro. Matthews has been impressive finishing consistently in the top 10 and twice getting on the podium but his main challenge is that his team leader Kelderman is looking a real threat to win this bike race and that will be the main focus of the team. 

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Author: John Trevorrow

JOHN TREVORROW is a multiple Australian champion road racer and Olympian who has been doing media commentary at the Tour de France for more than 20 years.

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