It was a stage that many riders in the peloton feared. 162 kilometers in length with 35 kilometers of gravel. A Strade Bianche kind of stage, in the middle of a three-week Grand Tour.
The sterrati, as the Italians call their dirt roads, can cause trouble: flat tires, mechanicals, or any other kind of problem. Luckily, Israel Start-Up Nation can always rely on Maxxis and Orange Seal, two partners the team has worked together with for years, to limit the number of punctures during races to a minimum.
With Dan Martin in the top-10 in the general classification, the team was fully committed to standing by him for the whole day. With domestiques like Paddy Bevin, former pink-jersey holder Alessandro de Marchi, and Israeli Guy Niv, Martin found himself in safe hands.
The team indeed kept Martin out of trouble. However, the gravel was not his favourite surface. When Team INEOS starting pulling on the first gravel section, ISN had to pull out all the stops to reduce the damage.
After the stage Martin said that the team did not quite expect such aggressive racing on the first sector. “Personally, I was a bit too relaxed. Everyone was battling for positions; I got a few pushes and lost my head for a while.”
The team wrestled with the controls for the last 45 kilometers. “My teammates did amazing by bringing me back to the second peloton,” Martin said. “From there we nearly bridged the gap to the front.”
That was not quite meant to be for Israel Start-Up Nation. In the final, it turned out to be impossible to keep the gap with the other GC-competitors under control.
In the end, Dan Martin lost six minutes on the pink jersey and around four minutes on many other GC-competitors.
It is safe to say that this was not the day that Israel Start-Up Nation was hoping for, especially after the team had five podium spots, a few days in the pink jersey (you can still win it) and an overall great first ten days in the Giro.
Over the new few days, the team will fight for a stage win with Martin and sprinter Davide Cimolai. That was the goal from the beginning and remains that way. Also, the Giro is long and a good result for Martin is still possible.