Fausto Masnada won the sixth stage of the Giro d’Italia and dedicated the win to his late uncle while Valerio Conti grabbed the overall lead to give home fans an unexpected day of double joy on Thursday.
The two men had been part of a 13-man breakaway which was never chased by the peloton. Primoz Roglic, who started the day in the lead, cruised in with the pack 7mins 18sec behind Masnada.
Masnada finished the rolling 238km stage from Cassino to San Giovanni Rotondo in 5hr 45min 1sec. Conti crossed the line, tiredly punching the air, five seconds later.
Masnada, a 25-year-old with the second division Italian Androni-Sidermec team, is only in his second Giro and was an unlikely candidate to provide a first home victory in this year’s race.
“I’m delighted,” Masnada said at the finish. “I’ve done it. I knew I was in good shape but it’s hard to win at the Giro d’Italia and I’ve done it. I dedicate the win to my uncle, who died just before the Giro d’Italia started.”
“It was our team’s goal to win a stage.”
UAE Team Emirates rider Conti was part of the original seven-man escape after 49 kilometres. Masnada was part of a six-man pursuit that caught the leaders a few kilometres later.
“For an Italian rider, it’s fantastic,” Conti said.
With no long-term threats in the breakaway, the leading teams seemed happy to lend out the pink jersey.
“When the breakaway goes that was the plan,” said Antwan Tolhoek, one of Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team-mates.
Conti grabbed his chance.
“Very, very happy,” he said at the finish. “Repeat, very, very, very, happy.”
The two Italians dropped the rest of the breakaway with 29km to go early on the 15km Coppa Casarinelle climb.
While Conti had won one stage in the Vuelta a Espana in 2016 and was better placed in the General Classification, Masnada was chasing the biggest stage victory of his career.
Masnada, who looked stronger, briefly tried to shake Conti, but, with the pink jersey awaiting, the UAE man held on grimly.
After a chat, the two worked together until the final kilometre, although Masnada had a scare when he had to swerve to avoid a dog.
By the final kilometre, the pair had 34 seconds over their pursuers and Conti was happy to pull Masnada to the line.
Wondering how the Maglia Rosa @EnelGroupIT got medical assistance during the race? Watch now! | Vi state chiedendo come la Maglia Rosa @EnelGroupIT ha ricevuto assistenza medica durante la corsa? Così! #Giro pic.twitter.com/tiHtdbHHds— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) 16 May 2019
“I was targeting both stage win and the pink jersey but Fausto Masnada is an incredibly strong rider,” Conti said. “I’m very happy with what I got.”
“This is my first time leading a stage race. I’m thrilled.”
In the provisional GC the top 10 is made up of men from the breakaway. Conti leads another Italian, Giovanni Carboni of Bardani, by 1min 41sec with Frenchman Nans Peters of AG2R 2min 9sec off the lead in third. Roglic is 11th at 5min 24sec.
Roglic had a painful crash after 34 km. The Slovenian landed on his backside and ripped his shorts. He climbed back onto his bike with a nasty circle of road rash clearly visible on his exposed right buttock.
After being patched up in the saddle while leaning on the medical car, he rode back to the pack
“Luckily he didn’t really get worse,” Tolhoek said.
As the Summer Paralympic Games are just over a year away, athletes from around the world will be training in earnest to take up their places in national teams and compete with the best in the world.
Among them is Emirati cyclist, Abdullah Salem al Blooshi.
He began cycling at the age of 12 at Al Ahli Club in 2004 and went on to win his first team medal just a year later.
Fast-forward two years and Al Blooshi was representing the UAE in the national team.
This meteoric rise to success continued with many international achievements.
He bagged a bronze medal in the team time trial at the 2009 Arabian Championship and became the first Emirati in the peloton in the Asian Championship, held in the UAE the same year.
By 2010, the Emirati youngster moved up into the elite category and seemed on course for stardom in the cycling world.
However, just two years later, then 20-year-old Al Blooshi suffered a devastating injury during training.
A collision with a road sign at high speed, which resulted in his right arm sustaining major damage that has proven to be life-changing.
Since then, Al Blooshi has undergone over 30 surgeries in the UAE and with specialists in Germany, but has not regained the use of his right arm.
For many, an injury like this would discourage them from continuing with the sport and put an end to dreams of international achievement, but the Emirati cyclist persevered.
At first, it was purely the love of the sport that got him to continue but after being encouraged by his friend and now coach, Mohammed Al Murawwi, Al Blooshi entered the racing arena again.
His first race was the Nad al Sheba race, in the determination category, where he took first place.
Since then, Al Blooshi has raced in Paralympic competitions all over the world, and is part of the UAE Paralympic National team.
Personal trainer, Joe Watters, who has seen Al Blooshi’s determination and resilience firsthand, is so moved by his story that he is keen to share it with the wider audience so it can inspire others who have endured a similar ordeal as him.
“Not many people could come back from an injury so severe, it’s a challenge mentally as much as physically,” said Joe Watters.
He further added, “Abdullah hasn’t let it stop him from training hard and believing in himself, and it’s shown in his achievements since the accident. Hopefully this will inspire others and show people that, if you have the motivation, you can triumph over adversity”.
Abdullah’s most recent achievement came in the form of a bronze medal at the Asian Championship in Uzbekistan in April, and he has many more races to come as he works towards the Paralympic Games in August 2020.
The Colombian sprinter showed his competitive edge, ploughing forward in the closing kilometre to take up a good position on the wheel of one of his fellow riders at the front of the peloton.
The relentless rain provided difficult conditions for the peloton, and that undoubtedly played on the mind of the sprinters, who were all waiting for the right time to make their move.
But with just 300 metres to go, Gaviria went, and it looked like he was primed for the stage win, before Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) pipped him to the line.
It was Gaviria’s second podium finish of this year’s race, adding to the stage win he picked up on Stage 3, and continued the team’s good form following Diego Ulissi’s third placed finish on Stage 4 the previous day.
Commenting on the race, Gaviria said: “Today the rain and the cold made the race demanding, and I was pretty tired in the approach of the final circuit.
“Despite this, I gave the best in the sprint and I almost hit the big target. The arrival was at the end of a very long straight, it seemed we could never reach it. Watching the sprint after the race, I started the sprint too early, I would start later if I could go back and repeat it.”
Stage 6 will be the longest of the Giro 2019 and at 238km, could be good for a breakaway; particularly given there is a difficult climb that is peaked just 13km from the finish.