The Giro has a rest day in Salò, on the shores of Lake Garda, and a town arguably famous for its infamous moment, but that wasn’t the fault of the locals.
Who’ll have a spring in their step today? The area’s hoteliers will rejoice, room occupancy must be high given there have been so few abandons in this Giro. Less so the organisers RCS and TV rights holders given among the few who have left the race are many of the stars, from sprinters to overall contenders. So far the “fight for pink” hasn’t come alive, the race lead has only moved from Mathieu van der Poel to Juan-Pedro Lopez and now to Richard Caparaz. If it can change shoulders more often this week things will get fascinating.
Among those who said addio to the Giro are Romain Bardet, Miguel Angel Lopez, Tom Dumoulin while Simon Yates said goodbye to the overall classification. The race is wide open with five riders within a minute of the maglia rosa, give or take a second, plus three more who can’t be ruled out.
Richard Carapaz leads the Giro with less than a week to go. It’s tempting to look at the GC and rate the chances of the lead five with Verona’s Stage 21 time trial in mind, perhaps thinking Almeida might fancy his chances now with just thirty seconds to take back on Hindley and Carapaz. But this is to look from Salò to Verona, when even on the clearest of days there’s no view because the mountains stand in the way. Moves have to made, we’ll see if it’s skirmishing for time bonuses or launching longer raids.
A seven second lead for Carapaz is nothing, there’s no cushion to sit on. But he can count on his team to ride like a fortress. If they were ambushed on the narrow roads of Saturday’s Torino twister, it’ll be harder to do this on the wider roads of the Alps. He’s been by far the most aggressive rider here, it was him who attacked on the Blockhaus climb, and when isolated he took on Bora and Bahrain with a solo attack on Saturday’s stage.
Carapaz’s risk taking raises the matter of goals and expectations for the coming week. As a past winner Carapaz doesn’t need another a podium, that’d be a relative disappointment, surely it’s the win or nothing? Jai Hindley’s been on the podium but he’s been through a lot since so a top-3 finish could be a result for him, although he’s got a whole team at his disposition with big aims, if things go well they can still shake up the race.
João Almeida might be happy with a podium too knowing he can aim higher in the coming years, given the way he’s been holding on to the lead group by his fingernails, just keeping this up is the challenge. As for Mikel Landa, well does he want second Giro podium finish, the win outright or just the chance to finish a grand tour? For the race outright is within reach of all of them. None of them are thinking “I’ll settle for third place”, instead as a thought experiment the issue here is more about what they’re willing to risk. Will one of these riders go on a bold raid, are they up for taking wild risks on a descent? Or is the aim to ride hard and see if they can just apply pressure to open up cracks in rivals late on the final climb?
Pozzovivo being fifth overall is remarkable. RAI TV interviewed him the other day and had an on-screen anatomy graphic of all the bones he’s broken, the osteal version of the Ship of Theseus. Only he’s not some bionic novelty, he’s still got chronic spinal pain and his crab-like riding style is a result. Of the five within a minute of the race lead he seems the most likely to camp out on his position and to evoke the time trial again, he can pull out a result from time to time.
Next comes Pello Bilbao at almost two minutes down but one fast descent from him can change everything, we’ll see if he’s going to be a shepherd for Landa or a wildcard for Bahrain. “Emu” Buchmann is close by, and more likely a support rider for Hindley as it’s hard to see him out-climbing, out-descending or out-riding the others on a valley road.
Vincenzo Nibali’s eighth place at just under three minutes is astonishing as he’s now riding with the best after a long spell where he simply wasn’t a contender. This will worry his rivals. In 2016 he was almost five minutes down on GC before turning the tables to win the race. Now he looks to be in great shape, he’s confident and so will hard to handle in the third week and there’s nothing to lose but his problem in recent years has been the big summit finishes, Blockhaus suggests he’s ok here but we’ll know better tomorrow evening. Anyway, he’s not going to defend eighth on GC, he’s bound to try something but whether this is a GC bid or swansong stage win remains to be seen. He’s only eighth because he cracked on Etna – remember his team talking about going for stage wins that evening? – but he’s a GC contender now that nobody will want to give any space.
Juan-Pedro Lopez is ninth and surely not going to reclaim the race lead. The question is how he can hang on, whether his efforts so far will catch up with him or if he’s simply in great shape which a top-10 is achievable.
Guillaume Martin continues to zag when others zig and now rounds out the top-10 thanks to his solo attack on Sunday’s stage, he took 1m42s to leapfrog Alejandro Valverde. It’s unconventional, like a jazz musician on a military band playing to a different rhythm but it’s working for him, and there’s action, better a top-10 this way rather than just sitting in the draft of the other contenders. Still he’s stuck again in the nomansland between GC and a stage win, too high up to be allowed to get in the early break.
One rider who is well clear and ahead of their goals is Arnaud Démare thanks to three stage wins. He now leads the points competition with a 117 point margin on Mark Cavendish. For the maglia ciclamino to change shoulders, Cavendish could win all four upcoming mountain stages plus Thursday’s sprint stage to Treviso without Démare placing once and he still wouldn’t collect the jersey unless he won an intermediate sprint as well, and one where Démare sits that out too. In other words the Alps and the stopwatch are Démare’s biggest rivals now, he couldn’t hang with the gruppetto in the Tour de France last summer.
As for the mountains competition there’s all to ride for. Koen Bouwman leads but all the big climbs are coming, he’s on 109 points when there’s 40 points a go for each first category climb and the 80 pointer Passo Pordoi. Giulio Ciccone might fancy his chances, he’d looked flat until now but on Sunday’s stage to Cogne he was sharp and incisive, first launching an attack on the climb to Verrogne, then deposing his rivals on the steep section of the road to Cogne. He might have known for the best part of half an hour that he was away solo and heading for the stage win but on arriving he was overwhelmed by the emotion.
The final week should see the breakaways enjoy the daily spoils, the GC riders are likely to mark each other leaving space for others to take the stage wins.
|João Almeida, Mikel Landa|
|Nibali, Pozzovivo, Bilbao|