UAE Team Emirates’ Valerio Conti put in an historic performance on Stage 6 of the Giro d’Italia as he claimed a second placed finish – a result that rockets the Italian to the top of the General Classification (GC) standings and into the pink jersey.
Conti was part of the 12-man breakaway who made their move early on the 238km route from Cassino to San Giovanni Rotondo, and the youngster helped dictate the pace for much of the day, with the breakaway having a solid lead on the peloton for the majority of the race.
As the leading group approached the final climb, riders were looking on in anticipation of who would make the first attempt to pull away; and it came in the form of Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec), but he was quickly caught by UAE man Conti.
The pair were in magnificent form and gained 35 seconds on the chasing group and over seven minutes on the peloton with less than 20km to go.
Conti covered the climb with his Italian compatriot, showing great stamina and mental strength on what was an extremely long day in the saddle. The duo battled on and gained an even larger time advantage on the peloton as they came into the closing kilometre.
With just meters to go, Masnada pulled away to take the stage win, but the plaudits go to Conti who will go into Friday’s Stage 7 wearing the famed Maglia Rosa – the first time ever a UAE Team Emirates rider has worn the leading jersey at a Grand Tour.
The result is also UAE Team Emirates’ fourth podium finish in as many days after Fernando Gaviria and Diego Ulissi picked up top three finishes earlier this week.
Commenting on his historic achievement, Conti said: “It’s a dream come true for me. Before the start we thought it could be possible to get the jersey but it’s never easy to do something like this.
“It certainly didn’t come by chance. We had a goal, and we worked hard for it. I know it won’t be easy but I’ll try to keep the pink jersey for as long as possible. Every stage is hard so we have to be ready and ride as a team to be at our best.”
With Conti at the head of the pack, Stage 7 could be another day for the breakaway; with hilly parcours in the opening half of the race, before riders contest a largely uphill battle in the final 70km.
There will be a short, punchy climb to the finish in what will undoubtedly be a memorable day for UAE Team Emirates at the Giro.
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.