When is a second place on a Giro d’Italia stage still your most glorious achievement?
When you still rode fast enough to take over the maglia rosa of race leader from superstar Remco Evenepoel. And bonus fashion attire: he also wins the white jersey of best young rider.
That’s what Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM) accomplished on a wet, grey and rainy day with three long, steady climbs category two climbs that finished at Lago Laceno.
Leknessund will thanks his teammates but mostly will be grateful to Remco Evenepoel who made the decision to let the jersey go and give his Soudal-Quickstep teammates a breather.
A break of seven riders went clear after 80 kilometers and they carved out a gap of almost five minutes at one point. It soon became clear that one of those men would score a grand tour victory.
Besides Leknessund, the list of dreamers included Toms Skujins and Amanuel Gebreigzabhier (Trek-Segafredo), Vincenzo Albanese (EOLO Kometa), Nicola Conci (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Frenchman Warren Barguil (Area-Samsic) and his countryman with the poetic name, Aurélien Paret-Peintre (AG2R Citroën).
Seven shots at glory with each rider, all things being equal, having a 14% chance of success and champagne. Given the climbs, you’d guess Barguil, a former polka dot winner in the Tour de France, would triumph yet he was the first to pop off the back. Au revoir Warren, a plus tard.
At eight kilometers to go, the group was still working together. Then Barguil disappeared, with Conci dropping out a few kilometers later. The Trek Segafredo riders tried a two-man game with Skujins attacking when the gradient hit 10%. He got a small gap but that was all he got. Gebreigzabhier gave it a shot but was quickly nullified, then dumped.
The cruel whittling process eventually came down to Leknessund and AG2R Citroën’s Paret-Peintre. That’s when things began tightening up behind them in the peloton. While Evenepoel was content to go easy, INEOS Grenadiers decided for some odd reason to up the pace on the climb. Leknessund needed a two minute gap to take the leaders jersey but Geraint Thomas and his boys cut it to 2:26 with 3K to go.
What was about when Leknessund decided he better up the pace or miss the dream of a lifetime. He jumped ahead but the French rider clawed back on as the gap to the peloton stabilized. Then it was cat and mouse but who was the cat? The Norwegian led out the sprint but Paret-Peintre shot past at 200 meters to score his first grand tour victory.
Leknessund had lost the battle but won the far bigger, far more prestigious prize: the maglia rosa of race leader of the Giro d’Italia.
When told by a TV journalist that’d he’d actually taken the jersey, his first reaction was disbelief. “You know that or are we just guessing?” he asked. No, the facts are the facts.
“It’s super special to be in pink,” said Leknessund. “It’s like, that was the goal before the stage, but as everyone knows, it’s hard. Cycling is not so easy. To actually make it is unbelievable.”
It was a roller-coaster of a day for Leknessund: he lost a heartbreaker but he won so big.
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