The opening day of the Coppi e Bartali comprised of a morning road stage and an afternoon team time trial. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka were right in the thick of the action as Ryan Gibbons sprinted to 7th on stage 1a and then our top team time trial squad placed 4th in the race against the clock.
At just 98km, the morning road stage was a fast and furious affair with most expecting the stage to come down to a bunch sprint. 7 riders broke away and opened a lead of just over 2 minutes as we went into 3 local laps around Gatteo. Cannondale took responsibility for the chase but they weren’t really gaining ground on the break. Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Laurent Pichon (FDJ) attacked their breakaway mates and went in pursuit of glory together.
The remainder of the break was caught once our Africa Team started to chase from the peloton but it was a little too late. The duo arrived at the line with 19 seconds to spare over the peloton, Pichon taking the win. In the sprint for 3rd place, Ryan Gibbons was our protected rider on the stage and he was 5th in the kick, but obviously only 7th on the stage. The result was good enough to put Gibbons in the best young rider jersey heading into stage 1b though.
The unique team time trial format saw squads split their teams into two four rider groups for the 13km course. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s “B” team set a good early mark to have the fastest time at the finish for a short while. When the “A” teams started to come in though, the leaderboard changed a fair bit. Gibbons, Merhawi Kudus, Omar Fraile and Jaco Venter made up our “A” team and when they crossed the line in 15’12”, it was also a new fastest time. In the end, 3 teams were just able to nudge ahead of us, leaving us 4th on the stage and 15 seconds behind the winners, CCC Sprandi.
Ryan Gibbons – Rider
It was quite a rough start to the morning stage on some pretty treacherous roads. It was tough to control the race because every 500 meters there was either a corner, a crash or road furniture. The climb on the circuit wasn’t too hard, Cannondale controlled it for most of the way but they were going too slow. The break just kept running away from us. On the final climb, we saw the break was 1’30” still ahead so we committed but it was too late, the break stayed away by 20 seconds which was disappointing. And then when you know you not sprinting for the win you don’t always take the risks you normally would. So, when I got squeezed into the barrier I just let it go but I was feeling pretty good and the team put in a great effort too.
Merhawi Kudus – Rider
These 2 stages have gone well for me and the team really put in a good effort. We were very close to the best time at the finish of the time trial, placing 4th. We did our best today and I am happy with the overall position. Now I’m looking forward to other stages which can suit me better.