Chris Froome attacks on the Colle delle Finestre. Simon Yates has imploded, Domenic Pozzovivo has cracked and Tom Dumoulin and Thibaut Pinot watch as Froome goes solo. They will chase on the road to the Jafferau but slowly Dumoulin loses his virtual lead and Froome takes the overall lead.
Italy can’t form a government and the Giro d’Italia holds a mirror up to the country: beautiful, chaotic, elegant, serious, creative, shambolic. Its these contradictions that enrich the country and the race alike. This time the race started outside of Italy, a nice little earner. They went, we saw, RCS banked the cash and based on quotes from Sylvan Adams, the billionaire behind the Jerusalem start, possibly paid for Chris Froome to start when he otherwise would not have. If so Froome started for the cash and finished with the pink jersey.
The Israel start mixed politics with sport and meant loud conversations about politics dominated the build-up but besides there wasn’t much to write home about during the brief visit. Tom Dumoulin won the opening stage ahead of Rohan Dennis and half the action happened prior to the race with Froome crashing during a practice ride. The following day clever peloton politics saw a conspiracy at an intermediate sprint to get Rohan Dennis in the overall classification. Perfect sense for all given Sunweb had bigger aims and BMC signalled they didn’t. Dennis had a good race, next we’ll see if he can target and take the GC in week long stage races.
It was a race of monopolies with five stage wins for Mitchelton-Scott, five for Quick Step plus the points jersey, the GC and mountains to Team Sky and crumbs for everyone else. But not for the want of trying, stages suitable for breakaways were ridden “full gas” rather than piano piano. Elia Viviani won the two sprint stages in Israel and two more plus the points jersey. The best sprinter in the race. Sam Bennett had a great Giro too, his three wins will count for plenty, he lost in Israel because he seemed nervous and under pressure to win, often launching too early. Once he had a win he became more patient, biding his time and often quicker than Viviani in the final even if he lacked an imposing lead out train.
Tim Wellens took a good stage win and earlier this year had been making noises about targeting the GC in grand tours and the Giro is probably his ideal race given he dislikes the heat but to do this would mean questioning his spring classics campaign and since he’s been winning since January this year going on into May was a big ask and on the subject of Lotto-FixAll a salute to Adam Hansen who has finished his 20th consecutive grand tour. Enrico Battaglin won in Santa Ninfa, a win for Lotto-Jumbo.
Etna was the first summit finish and the day saw fierce racing as a large group pulled away including Esteban Chaves who would win the stage with a little help from Simon Yates. Yates’s move to jump from the group of contenders across to Chaves was strong and bold, he risked towing rivals across to his team mate but he made such a decisive acceleration that nobody could follow and Yates rode into the maglia rosa.
This began a display of dominance from Yates. Richard Carapaz won on Montevergine while Froome crashed going uphill, down but not out, not even losing time but contributing paragraphs to the stories about his misery. The next day on the Gran Sasso Yates won with apparent ease ahead of Thibaut Pinot and Domenico Pozzovivo with Froome losing a minute.
Froome bounced back to win on the Zoncolan. He was the only rider to recon the climb in the spring and if this doesn’t provide much of an advantage it’s still curious just how many big names were targeting the race yet didn’t visit in advance. Froome’s win confounded everyone, he’d looked out of sorts but had now won on an unrelenting climb, this was no sneak attack or lucky break, he had the best VAM, the most W/kg. Could he win? People started to ask the question but in the moment people were left scratching their heads and paying more attention to Yates distancing everyone else, he put thirty seconds into Dumoulin to lead by almost a minute and a half, passing his first Alpine test with ease. The next day Yates was more than two minutes up after going solo in the final 20km to Sappada, it looked almost reckless to attack from so far out on a tricky road but he was determined to exploit the descent and Pinot and Dumoulin were getting their first taste of frustration with Lopez and Carapaz as the pair marked each other for the white jersey competition meaning they struggled to contain Yates and to put more time into the dropped riders behind them including Froome.
The Rovereto time trial saw Dumoulin narrow his deficit to Yates but he was still behind. Dumoulin never had a scintillating day, he was consistent and willing to attack at times but seemed psychologically beaten by Yates, accepting reality that Yates was quicker uphill and banking the time bonuses. Dumoulin never had an “Oropa moment” when last year Nairo Quintana looked back to see a bright pink maglia rosa surging out of the shadows on the wooded climb to Oropa and conceded the stage victory to the Dutchman. It’d be wrong to say Dumoulin lost the race, he never threw the lead away but when Yates was defenestrated on the Finestre things looked perfect for Dumoulin with Pozzovivo dropped and a three minute advantage over Froome on GC, suddenly the aces fell into his lap. So even when Froome attacked on the sterrato section Dumoulin had a cushion of time manage. Only that cushion was like an inflatable one with a puncture and even on the descent of the Finestre the air was hissing out for him. Replay the stage and he probably couldn’t follow Froome up the Finestre nor take back much time on the descent but what if Dumoulin had not waited with Pinot or Reichenbach but set off in solo pursuit of Froome? Maybe he might not have got across but he could have limited the damage and got in the maglia rosa that evening instead. He could have equally blown up and been caught. What was also missing was a team mate, while Froome had used up his team mates like booster rockets trying to place him in orbit Dumoulin lacked lieutenant by his side.
Froome was always hiding in plain sight. The chart above shows the GC standings in seconds relative Chris Froome across the 21 stages. As much as a moment where the race was won he was never out for good. While he was behind on GC he was never eliminated from the contest, he just didn’t look like an eventual winner with Simon Yates so at ease. Once Yates imploded and Pozzovivo cracked the path opened up for Froome. While Yates won the stage to Sappada Pinot and Dumoulin were getting their first taste of frustration as Lopez and Carapaz marked each other for the white jersey competition and this allowed the group behind them which contained Froome to get within 40 seconds of them. The more Yates won and took time the less people talked about Froome, other than to remark he’d lost his mojo, for example losing time in a split on the uphill finish to Osimo was something not normally seen during Froome’s time at the Tour de France.
Miguel Ángel López finishes third overall and as the chart shows he had an even worse start than Chris Froome with crashes, splits and mishaps but he too turned things around on the Zoncolan and had a good third week in the Alps and while the others fell away. He’s still 24 and built on his Vuelta success and once again showed us he has the stamina and recovery for a grand tour.
Yates imploded but you can imagine he’s already making plans for the Vuelta and deciding whether to do the Giro next year or try Tour de France, and which team to sign for too. All these luxurious choices and he’s still 25. His loss this time wasn’t as tragic as Steven Kruijswijk’s crash into the snow atop the Colle d’Agnello, the Dutchman may never get as close again but time is on Yates side. Will he become a star? It’s not just a palmarès, the Italian media were trying to get interesting quotes and stories from him but found it hard at times with his short and direct responses to their questions. What team he rides for remains to be seen and he’ll be a cornerstone up the transfer market, teams building their roster around him and those that try but don’t sign him will be shopping for others.
This has to be Froome’s most memorable GC win. What do you remember of Froome’s Tour de France triumphs? The knock out blows on a summit finish followed by Sky train strangling the race probably and if he attacked in 2016 down the Peyresourde and on the road to Montpellier these moves were anecdotal, earning him seconds when he took minutes in the time trials, a story of defensive racing. The Giro was altogether different and turning the tables late in the Alps was far more inventive. It was audacious but lucky in that Yates imploded so spectacularly. This was a Giro marked by several stars going supernova along the way, first Chaves then Aru, Yates and finally Pinot.
Fabio Aru carried the Italian hopes and dropped them. It’s not easy to perform on demand in a grand tour, especially in your home one when you’ve just changed teams. Only his problem is one of several lean years, two Giro podium places and then winning the Vuelta in 2015 only to regress results wise since. The Italian media tracked his every move and for weeks each morning’s newspaper stories had him pledging to turn things around tomorrow only it didn’t happen. Domenico Pozzovivo took up the mantle but never seemed to attract the media attention. He doesn’t court it either, not for him Pozzato-like laps of the start village or gatecrashing RAI’s Processo Alla Tappa post-stage chat show.
Pinot had a roller coaster race, despondent after the Rovereto time trial which saw him fall off the podium, elated after the Finestre climb and reaching Jafferau to find he could stand on the podium again only to collapse on the penultimate climb of the Giro and finish up in hospital rather than hospitality. What next? Notionally the Tour but will his heart be in it or even will he be healthy and ready?
Richard Carapaz was the revelation of the race. He’s been on the radar ever since second place in the Route du Sud last year coming second to Silvan Dillier in a mountainous race in the Pyrenees was not an obvious reference point. Notable mentions go to Ben O’Connor, a bright spot for Dimension Data but their disaster season continues as he crashed out on Stage 19 and stage winner Max Schachmann.
A gripping race and with some late plot twists. A hard Giro, perhaps the reduction to eight riders is a factor and it’s for those who rode both comparable to the 2015 edition for the way so few stages were piano (there were nine per team then). Simon Yates’s ease across all but the final two mountain stages took much of the suspense out of race, this was not a race where the maglia rosa kept changing shoulders and if the time trial was supposed to rebalance things it just narrowed the gap. Yates’s collapse turned the race upside down on the final weekend and his implosion was only one of several. Froome’s risk-taking made the final more dramatic but it’s countered by the administrative asterisk still hanging over him and will do until the ongoing AAF is settled. The risk is a 22nd stage held behind closed doors in the coming months. Were Froome to lose the Vuelta he should keep the Giro based on the wording of the WADA rules and precedents but this is the best guess, it’s uncertain. Perhaps the Giro shouldn’t have it any other way?