Canadian Derek Gee, continuing to impress in his first Grand Tour event, came within half a wheel of winning Stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday.
The 25-year-old from Ottawa, riding for the Israel-Premier Tech team, was part of a pack of eight riders in the final sprint. German Nico Denz led the way, celebrating before he reached the line with Gee almost nipping him at the wire.
While Denz eventually got to celebrate his second victory in the Giro, Bruno Armirail became the first Frenchman to wear the pink jersey in this century.
“This is the closest one yet. I did everything I could today,” Gee said. “I’m sure when I look back, I will be happy but for now, this one really really hurts.”
The Canadian was also runner-up on Stage 8 and was fourth in Stage 13 Friday.
“I’m disappointed that, after all the work the team did for me, I couldn’t take the win today,” said Gee. “The stage was 200 kilometres long but it could have been just a few metres longer, that would have been nice.”
Gee is second behind Italian Jonathan Milan in the point classification. The lone Canadian in the field, Gee stands 21st in the overall general classification.
Canadians have made headlines at the Giro in the past.
Ryder Hesjedal won the race in 2012 and Svein Tuft wore the pink leader’s jersey in 2014 after his Orica-GreenEdge squad won the opening team time trial. Including this year, a Canadian has taken part in the last 17 editions of the Giro.
Israel-Premier Tech’s partners include Canadian-Israeli entrepreneur Sylvan Adams and fellow Canadians Jean Belanger and Kevin Ham.
Former Canadian cycling star Steve Bauer is one of the team’s sports directors. Other Canadians involved include performance director Paulo Saldanha, coach Christopher Rozdilsky, soigneur (support staffer) Jon Adams and head mechanic Andreas Back Watt.
Denz, who rides for Bora-Hansgrohe, also won Thursday’s 12th stage for his first victory in a Grand Tour, in his sixth Giro.
“I was satisfied already after the first one and I told people to wake me up because this can’t be true, this must be a dream,” Denz said. “I don’t understand really what’s going on right now to be honest.”
Alberto Bettiol was third, while the general classification riders rolled across the line more than 21 minutes behind Denz at the end of another cold and rainy stage.
That moved Armirail into pink and gave previous leader Geraint Thomas a night off from podium celebrations and news conferences, and an early recovery ahead of a tough day in the mountains.
Armirail became the first French cyclist to wear the maglia rosa since Laurent Jalabert in 1999. The Groupama–FDJ rider has an advantage of one minute 41 seconds over Thomas, and Primož Roglič was two seconds further back.
“The plan this morning was more about the stage win,” Armirail said. “We thought one day the maglia rosa (pink jersey) could be up for grabs. But we didn’t think it would be today.
“I had tried on the fourth stage and I was disappointed that I wasn’t on a good day. Only once Thomas crossed the line it became a reality in my mind but it’s hard to realize … it’s a dream, I can’t believe it.”
There was one top-category climb near the start at Sierre as the race headed from Switzerland back across to Italy and an almost entirely flat rest of the 193-kilometre (120-mile) route to Cassano Magnago.
A large breakaway of 29 riders eventually escaped on the approach to the climb.
Four riders got away from that bunch with about 60 kilometres remaining but they were caught by the chasing group shortly before the line.
“We put in a massive, massive effort to come back in the last 10K,” Denz said. “Everyone was going full, everyone wanted to go for the victory and not for fourth place. Everyone was looking at each other.
“But I thought, I already have a win so I don’t want to do fourth — either I win or I don’t care. Then I just go all in to the line and here I am again.”
Armirail was 53 seconds behind and faced an anxious wait for the general classification group.
Sunday’s 15th stage has four categorized climbs on the 195-kilometre (121-mile) route from Seregno to Bergamo.
The Giro ends in Rome in eight days.