Featured image courtesy of Tim De Waele/Getty Images
The second week of the 103rd Giro d’Italia proved to be somewhat of a slow-burner, however the third weekend of the race failed to disappointment. What are the main stories heading into a difficult final week?
Time Trial Sees First Sifting of the Main Contenders
The first half of the Giro has not been a particularly exciting one in terms of the GC battle. The time gaps were small and current leader Joao Almeida (Deceuninck QuickStep) was rarely threatened. Tough stages on paper, notably stage 12, did not result in any major moves from the GC favourites.Embed from Getty Images
Stage 14’s 34km time trial saw several riders lose substantial amounts of time. Time trial World Champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) once again demolished the opposition, finishing 26 seconds ahead of teammate Rohan Dennis, and 1:06 ahead of third-placed Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates).
Almeida extended his lead in the GC to 56 seconds. Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) was the best of the rest, remaining in 2nd place.
Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) also held third overall, although that became a deficit of 2:11 as opposed to just 49 seconds previously.
After poor time trials from Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT), the Italian pairing would have been hoping to take time back on their rivals on stage 15’s summit finish to Piancavallo…
Stage 15 Ignites GC Fight in the MountainsEmbed from Getty Images
After stage three’s and nine’s summit finishes failed to create any meaningful time gaps, stage 15 finally provided a long-awaited mountain showdown.
Nibali and Pozzovivo failed to overturn their fortunes from stage 14; both lost nearly two minutes to stage winner Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), Kelderman, and his teammate Jai Hindly, who put in one of the rides of his career to take third on the stage and on GC.
Almeida now has a very slim 15 second lead over Kelderman; despite limiting his losses well, his days in pink are numbered.
Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the best of the rest, lying sixth overall, just behind Bilbao who will hope to better his sixth place overall in 2018.
The biggest loser this weekend was Jakob Fuglsang (Astana). After finishing three minutes down on stage 14, and then 1:36 down on stage 15, he is now over five minutes behind Almeida.
There were mixed fortunes for McNulty. Despite one of the rides of his career on stage 14, ending up in fourth place overall, he then plummeted to 11th on stage fifteen after finishing 2:43 behind the stage winner. Still, at 22 years old, could McNulty be a new Grand Tour hopeful for the United States?
A ferociously difficult third week is still to come, and given how the likes of Nibali in 2016 and Chris Froome in 2018 have overturned large time deficits to win the race, nothing can be ruled out.
Covid Testing Claims More Victims
The threat of Coronavirus continued to loom in the second week, after pre-race favourite Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was forced to abandon on stage eight.
Its effects proved far worse this week, with the entire Mitchelton and Jumbo-Visma squads abandoning the race after positive tests were returned.Embed from Getty Images
Four of Mitchelton’s staff were infected, as was Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk, another favourite to take the pink jersey.
Australian Michael Matthews (Sunweb) was also forced to leave following a positive test, and has since tested negative twice, which will undoubtedly be frustrating if the first was a false positive.
All riders and staff tested were either asymptomatic or had only mild symptoms.
The continuation of the race remains under threat; many will fear more positive tests over the second rest day which could end the Giro prematurely.
Should this occur, it will forever be questioned as to whether the ‘winner’ of a truncated Grand Tour can really be considered a GT winner at all.
Ineos Grenadiers Back at the TopEmbed from Getty Images
Despite not being considered as a pre-race favourite, Tao Geoghegan Hart proved to be by far the strongest climber on stage 15.
He took his maiden Grand Tour stage win, and his first win since April 2019 at the Tour of the Alps. This was enough to catapult him from 11th to fourth place, behind leader Almeida, Kelderman, and Jai Hindley (Sunweb).
It proved to be a miraculous turn of fortune for Ineos; despite Geraint Thomas abandoning after stage three they have claimed five stage wins, courtesy of Filippo Ganna, Jhonatan Narvaez, and Geoghegan-Hart.
Ganna took stage 14’s time trial, in yet another display of dominance where no other rider came remotely close to challenging him.
Ecuadorian Narvaez took stage 12 with a solo victory, having dropped breakaway companion Mark Padun (Bahrain-McLaren) after an unfortunate mechanical problem. It will be a bittersweet Giro for Narvaez; he was forced to abandon after a crash on stage 15.
Their impressive tally of stage wins highlights the strength in depth of the team; they are more than capable of animating races, despite their controlled, regulated approaches to the General Classification (GC) in the past.
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) took his fourth stage win of this year’s Giro, on the 11th stage to Rimini.Embed from Getty Images
Once again, he won in dominant fashion, and none of his rivals could come close to him. The likes of Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Cofidis) have had torrid seasons that have continued into the Giro, and will be becoming evermore desperate for an elusive stage victory.
Stage 19 is the only sprint stage remaining, and the result will surely depend on how the sprinters have recovered after the tough mountain stages preceding it.
Démare continues to lead the Points Classification with 221 points over Peter Sagan’s 184.
Sagan himself finally took his first Giro stage win, and first win of any kind since the 2019 Tour de France. He now holds the prestigious title of having won a stage of each Grand Tour.
In a rare solo victory from the Slovakian, Sagan managed to drop his final breakaway companion Ben Swift (Ineos-Grenadiers), on the final climb into Tortoreto, winning by 19 seconds from second-placed Brandon McNulty.