Words by Jeremy Whittle | Photos by SWpix.com/Cor Vos
Is it possible to have too much bike racing and too much news, on a single day? If so, then Sunday, October 11, 2020, was perhaps that day. The first ‘Super Sunday’ of the rescheduled 2020 racing season saw drama in the Abruzzo of central Italy and on the cobbled bergs of Flanders as both the Giro d’Italia and the Spring Classics – but in the autumn – took centre stage. Add to that the heady mix of the sprinter’s classic, Paris-Tours, and it was very much of a case of blink and you’ve missed it.
Then, as if all that wasn’t enough, after the finish of Ghent-Wevelgem, came the short, sharp and unexpected clip of an emotional Mark Cavendish, who had been part of the race’s day-long break, tearfully telling Belgian channel Sporza that it had been “perhaps the last race” of his career.
Pressed as to whether that was really the case, Cavendish replied: “Maybe, yes.”
Cavendish has been without a win for a long time — almost one thousand days in fact — and has battled to overcome both physical ill health and mental suffering as he fought to rekindle his career. But it’s been a long struggle and with 30 Tour de France stage wins, a Milan-San Remo and a World Road Race title under his belt, plus numerous other victories, he is not cut out to be pack fodder.
But his 2020 season has been further disrupted both by the pandemic and his continuing lack of form. Despite Bahrain-McLaren team manager Rod Ellingworth telling journalists only 48 hours ago that contract talks were ongoing and that he was “sure” Cavendish would race in 2021, that now seems far less certain.
One thing that’s clear, however, as the dust settled on a frantic afternoon of racing, it was a good day to be either Portugese or a Dane called Pedersen.
Portugese riders stole the headlines in Italy with EF Pro Cycling’s Ruben Guerreiro winning the mountainous ninth stage of the Giro, to Roccaraso, and Joao Almedia retaining the race leader’s pink jersey and establishing himself surely as a force to be reckoned with as the race heads into its second week. Further north, in Wevelgem and Tours, Danes called Pedersen — Mads and Casper — were celebrating big wins.
With many in the World Tour peloton racing as if their contracts depended on it — that’s because in some cases it does — the action in the Classics came thick and fast, as crosswinds, narrow farm roads, combined with what Philippa York once called Belgian toothpaste — cowshit, rain water and mud — to cause multiple crashes.
These are nerve-wracking times for pro riders. Against a backdrop of the growing anxiety over the spread of Covid-19, cameras lingered on the major stars having their temperatures checked in central Ypres, before they lined up for the start of Ghent-Wevelgem, in the shadow of the famous Menin Gate. While autumn sunshine flooded Flanders, conditions were different in Italy.
Chilly rainstorms and dark clouds enveloped the Abruzzo climbs on a day deemed pivotal for those still targeting the maglia rosa. In conditions so grim that the stage’s major climbs were almost bereft of fans — masked or unmasked — the stage was set for a Shark Attack from Vincenzo Nibali, but it never materialised, and, at the end, it was the Sicilian that was clinging on, not his rivals. It was a day on which both Guerreiro and Nibali were falling out with their colleagues.
“Guerreiro was riding like a real asshole today,” the EF rider’s breakaway companion, Larry Warbasse said, after the stage. “He didn’t help at all. I guess maybe he was smart, but he saved his legs for the sprint.”
But then sledging in the media and feuding with rivals is a tradition of the Giro and is also a trait that also sometimes seems to fuel Nibali’s racing .
The Sicilian, once a teammate with Astana leader Jakob Fuglsang, is apparently now giving the Dane the cold shoulder.
“We don’t say a word to each other, even if we know each other well,” Fuglsang said, “and we didn’t even do it during the head to head we had on Mount Etna. We were teammates for four years at Astana but now I don’t know if he is jealous, ambitious or what else.”
“I think it’s all due to the fact that in the past I was his wingman, while in the last two years I have been stronger than him and, in my opinion, he has a hard time digesting it. He can barely greet me and always marks me,” the Dane added. “It had already happened at the Giro d’Emilia where he didn’t let me go, even though I told him that Vlasov was our captain. I am accepting it more easily than him that we compete against each other.”
If Nibali needed further motivation, then Fuglsang may have now supplied it…