After quite a peaceful day for sprinters on Friday, defending the pink jersey was supposed to be harder on Saturday in Stage 8 of the Giro, throughout the 170 kilometers leading to Guardia Sanframondi. And this was indeed in the first part of the race, but Attila Valter’s teammates then took things in hand and were able to safely lead their young leader to the line. Sunday, the Hungarian will be able to enjoy his third day with the leader’s jersey, but he will also have to fight for it again in a very hilly stage towards Campo Felice.
“It feels really good”, Antoine Duchesne
On Friday, a simple breakaway of three riders going from the very start allowed for quite a calm first day in pink for Attila Valter and the Groupama-FDJ cycling team. The scenario was really different on Saturday starting stage 8 from Foggia. Philippe Mauduit summed it up in his own way: “Your turn, my turn, it was all over the place. Attack on the right, on the left, counter-attack, regroup, attack again, and counter-attack again… When it’s like that, you just have to deal with it, but as so many guys wanted to be in the breakaway, they all chased one another. Therefore, it was war for sixty-five kilometres”. “We knew it would be a more difficult stage to control,” added Antoine Duchesne. “There was a crosswind for an hour and it went really fast in the first 50 kilometres. We had to be there and make sure that there were no dangerous GC guys in front. If we would let the right breakaway go, the stage would be easier to handle. Everyone did his part and it went well”. Before the good move went away, Attila Valter still was briefly caught by surprise. “I have to admit I made a mistake, I was behind and there was a split,” the pink jersey said later. “We were a bit in a bad position at that point but it was still far from the finish so I was not stressed. I was trying to save as much energy as possible by not taking the wind in the front, and that ended up being in the second group. I know I have to be much more aware of this in the next few days”.
The race intensity eventually decreased shortly before entering the final hundred kilometers. Nine riders took the lead, but none of them was a threat to the jersey. Then, the entire Groupama-FDJ team took position in front of the bunch with the Canadian Antoine Duchesne leading the way. “For us, the stage victory was not important, we preferred to leave it to the breakaway,” said “the Caribou”, who let the gap go up to seven minutes before stabilizing it almost on his own. “I’m happy because it’s been a long time since I was able to perform at this level. After two very difficult years, being there and riding at the front of the pack to defend a pink jersey is a great thing for me. This is also what I love to do and what I feel capable of doing. It really is a huge relief, personally. I questioned myself a lot, I wondered if I still had my place at that level, so to be able to play my role in the best possible way today feels really good”. “Antoine did an exceptional day”, said Philippe Mauduit. “This morning, he was hoping to get to the bottom of the first climb. Eventually, he was still with his mates twenty kilometres from the finish. It was a very good day for him”.
“I enjoyed every moment”, Attila Valter
As hoped, the breakaway therefore played victory in the hilltop finish at Guardia Sanframondi (3km at 6.5%) and Victor Lafay (Cofidis) took the win. Five minutes later, the peloton also got to this final climb. “Even if there was a bit less tension because the stage was not at stake, we know that all the leaders are afraid of splits and losing time”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “They all ask their teammates to bring them in the front, and there is no room for everyone. You need at least a teammate or two to be able to make your way through the obstacles. Attila always had someone with him to close the gaps. I especially want the guys to keep an eye on him. If they have him in the wheel, they don’t know where he is or what’s going on behind their backs. If they are behind him, they can react and do what they need to do.” “I don’t think that today was the best opportunity for the favourites to get the maglia rosa”, added Attila. “Still, it is always hectic when there is a technical finish. Everyone wants to stay in the front. I just had to survive this climb. I’m happy I did and that I can continue to wear this beautiful pink jersey”. In the final moments of the race, the 22-year-old man also benefited from the support of Sébastien Reichenbach, who also finished in this group of about twenty men.
That’s how the second day in pink ended for Attila Valter, and his happiness was still quite noticeable. “I hope I never get used to the incredible feeling of having the maglia rosa,” he said at the finish. “On the first day, I wondered what it was like to be Filippo Ganna in Italy. Now I get this feeling a little bit. I have heard so many people shouting my name again. It was another perfect day to wear the pink jersey and I enjoyed every moment of it.” The Hungarian, still leading the overall for eleven seconds on Remco Evenepoel, will face another test tomorrow in stage 9, which will take on several climbs before an explosive finish at Campo Felice (5.7 km at 5.8%). “There will be several battle plans and we will try to play our cards right,” said Philippe Mauduit. “Everyone does their job well and that gives Attila even more confidence,” added Antoine. “Tomorrow it will be an even harder stage but we have some super good climbers who can do the job until the end”. “It will all depend on how the race will go, but I think it is possible to keep the jersey until the rest day,” concluded Attila Valter. “Anyway, I have already had two beautiful days and I will have another one tomorrow. The good point is that I have nothing to lose”.