Giro Stage 20 Preview

The last decisive stage of the Giro d’Italia and two climbs of Monte Grappa await. Can anyone beat Pogačar?

The Dukes of Savoy: a lively stage with a fierce fight to get in the break. Finally two groups went up the road and merged to form 19 away for the day and the peloton behind sat up as if they’d stopped for lunch.

Julian Alaphilippe attacked on the steepest early part of the Passo Duron and this prompted a selection. Andrea Vendrame was chasing over the top, a few metres behind but able to close the gap on the descent. Vendrame wasn’t climbing the best but has a sharp sprint, although so did others like Alaphilippe. What to do?

French military leader Marshall Foch once said “my centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I will attack” and Vendrame seemed to borrow from this as he went solo up the road with over 30km to go. Alaphilippe, Pelayo Sánchez, Luke Plapp and Georg Steinhauser didn’t follow, there was a stand-off and Vendrame quickly had a minute. The chasers couldn’t collaborate and in the end Steinhauser and Sanchez rode away but it was too late. Vendrame gets his team’s second stage win.

Behind the main group arrived 16 minutes later with no change on GC but a small scare for Geraint Thomas after he overlapped his front wheel with Antonio Tiberi and slid to the ground. He was up and the group seemed to wait for him but we’ll see if he is sore today.

The Route: 184km and 4,250m of vertical gain. There’s the wall of Ca del Poggio which has featured in the Giro and other races before but it’s here for the fun of it, it’s unlikely to shape the stage.

Two ascents of Monte Grappa, it’s 18km at an average of 8.1% which is tough but that’s with two brief downhills on the way so it’s more often 9% and more, especially on the upper slopes. The descents matter as much as the climbs, tricky in places and it’s often on a narrow road through woodland.

The Finish: a descent down into town and a flat finish.

The Contenders: after two stages in the mountains where the breakaway has won, Tadej Pogačar (UAE) has said he’s after today’s stage. The only thing that might stop him is hubris, thinking it’s too easy because he could always lose in a sprint to a rival or find going down the tricky descents first is risky in the sense of a pioneer. However he’s likely to ride away from rivals so losing a sprint seems improbable.

A breakaway has a chance but it requires the right move to form early. Right, as in having plenty of teams and then each team needs more than one rider, a worker who will tow their climber across the plains to help build up a lead and this way pull the break clear of UAE. Easier said than done of course. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) sealed his Giro win a decade ago here. Michael Storer (Tudor) and J-P Lopez (Lidl-Trek) would be other picks.

Quintana, Martinez, Storer, Lopez, Bardet

Weather: rain clearing to leave sunshine, 20°C at the foot of the climb, 10°C at the top.

TV: KM0 is at 11.50am CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in for the first time up Monte Grappa at 2.00pm, 3.30pm for the second ascent.

Postcard from Bassano del Grappa
Bassano del Grappa ought to have hosted more stages of the Giro. A large town located at the foot of Monte Grappa, today sees the ninth arrival of the race, the first this century. Among the past winners here are Fausto Coppi in 1946 and Eddy Merckx in 1974. Can Pogačar join the club?

One of the interesting angles of this year’s Giro has been the coverage of Pogačar in the Italian media. So far ahead of his rivals there’s been little coverage asking if Martinez or Thomas could overhaul him, instead frequent, flattering comparisons to Merckx and Coppi, or to appeal to younger generations to the greats in other sports like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods; yesterday’s Gazzetta tried to compare him to two top footballers in Serie A, Rafael Leão and Victor Osimhen because they too have massive break clauses in their contracts to prevent rival squads trying to buy them out.

Pogačar is compared to Merckx but they’re very different, in many ways and not just separated by their eras. If riders and teams lament Pogačar’s eclipsing them, they’ve got it easy compared to Merckx in some ways. The tale of Dino Zandegù comes to mind…

Zandegù was a good rider, he won the Tour of Flanders and the points competition in the Giro. In the 1970 Giro during one stage a Tuscan winegrower offered 40 flasks of wine for the winner of an intermediate sprint. No points, no time bonus: just wine. Zandegù notices Merckx readying himself but outfoxes him to take the sprint and the wine. Merckx was livid and declared “that Chianti was mine” and threatened Zandegù with never riding a criterium again, an important source of income for riders. After the stage Merckx tracks down Zandegù in his hotel room to demand half of the wine. Zandegù relents.

Already the highest paid rider in the sport, here we see Merckx enraged that someone can beat him in a sprint for some wine, going as far as threats and even wasting time hunting down Zandegù to demand half of the prize like some capricious feudal lord. All for some wine he could easily afford to buy.

This anecdote sheds some light on Merckx’s compulsion to win and is told in Daniel Friebe’s “Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal”, a book due for a re-read this summer given the multiple Merckx mentions. Friebe writes about allegations of a “mafia” racing style that used force and even violence to intimidate others, some of this coming from zealous team mates too keen to impress their boss but the kind of tactics that probably would not happen today with start-to-finish TV and social media. Yet if Pogačar does win today and then wins outright he’ll have surpassed Merckx who “only” won five stages at best on his way to the overall victory, although Pogačar won’t win a case of wine.

48 thoughts on “Giro Stage 20 Preview”

  1. Geriant Thomas seems to have kept upright in recent years but used to be synonymous with crashes in grand tours. So when he hit the deck yesterday I thought “not again?!” and worried he’d slip off the podium. It was very gracious of the group to wait for him. Perhaps (hopefully?) they’re all waiting for more GC fireworks today…

  2. P.s. love the story of Merckx threatening other riders like the Godfather. I can imagine Merckx in place of Brando. But Pogacar? He’d be more at place in Bugsy Malone

    • Pogi just needs to share his Garmin’s numbers to be threatening to his rivals.

      Also, Michael Jordan doesn’t really appeal to a young generation right? The guy was in his prime during the days of Indurain and Ullrich. I know because I was a teenager playing basketball while secretly hoping of becoming a tdf cyclist in those days.

      • True for Jordan but in the sense that he’s arguably the greatest and people know this, they make Netflix documents etc. Many 20 year pro cyclists don’t know who Eddy Merckx is so the wider public won’t either.

          • On the Cycling Podcast many years ago, Richard Moore told a tale from a TdF dinner where Froome sat down next to Merckx and asked if he had ever won the tour. I guess this was after Froome’s first or second win.
            I wouldn’t be surprised that most professional sportsmen are not really interested in the history of their sport pre thier own youth.

          • @Big Brass, luckily there are many athletes who know a thing or two about cycling’s history. The subject was touched here some time ago.

    • I read a story (I think it was from Maurice Burton in “On the Road Bike” – apologies if I’ve mis-attributed that) of a British rider and their partner leading a six day event in Belgium and two heavy set men coming over to them to explain in straight terms that Merckx had to win.

  3. After watching Thomas crash yesterday you could see he was a really tired man. I think he might struggle to stay on the podium.
    Clearly as a British rider he has been a standout. I hope he doesn’t feel he’s not been good enough this tour.
    Come on Thomas.

  4. I suppose if Pogacar says he wants to win its a bit like your wife saying she wants something done. There’s no point discussing alternatives, it’s going to happen.

  5. Worth noting anyway that, surprising as it may sound, Eddy had not an easy life in sporting relations in Belgium. He and his clan were seen with a notable degree of hostility by the majority of other coaches, DSs, athletes’ clans etc., which was among other things what fostered his cannibal attitude from his early years on. National team was often a issue, too.

    • On the contrary, everyone seems to like least so far? Despite the pressure he can still often come across as a kid just having fun and demonstrates plenty of respect for his rivals at the same time.
      IMHO he’s 180 degrees different than his current big Tour rival and it’s my guess that’s the reason Italians are fans even if he’s not one of them?
      W Il Giro!

      • Well he’s on an Italian team, loves Pellegrino, and is from a neighboring country. That probably accounts for his popularity, that and the fact that their best GC hope is a cat killer.

        • Well, Contador was hugely popular, too, although he didn’t comply with any of the above, including the coexistence of potential local GC stars.

  6. ‘Thomas’s crash was a result of looking around and overlapping the wheel in front of him’. Thomas certainly has a long established reputation for kissing the tarmac. He is not alone amongst the modern pro peloton in constantly turning his head around. Even sprint trains suffer the same affliction. Accidents waiting to happen.
    Where is Hansen when you really need him?

  7. Pogacar to attack on the first Grappa ascent already to get a training stimulus and avoid detraining ahead of the Tour. He will probably not even need a recovery week after the Giro but go straight to high altitude…

  8. Pogacar is an out an out cyclist who races for fun and enjoys it, doesn’t need a team to support or rely on when the going gets tough as he’s an all rounder others of his standings seem to need a team around them for constant support.

  9. Whatever happens today, Pogacar has become a popular, smiling, charismatic rider that the public seems to have taken too. I am not sure the Giro would have been as exciting without his presence, as those wallowing in his wake don’t have the charisma or ability to match him.

      • Yeah, funny concept. Normally a generation is more or less the difference in years between parents and children, so some 30 years in Europe. Note that it’s a relative term, that is, since people are being born all the time you can say the previous or following generation of a given person, not in absolute terms. Absolute terms of sort tend to go with decades or other historical landmarks/trends. In sporting terms, as in other fields, it is more or less the people who’re active at the same time. As above, there’s obviously a constant overlapping, so the reference can be the average duration of a pro career, which I don’t know, buy say a dozen years. Again, you can use historical trends or landmarks. I’d agree that in sporting sense (not the «census» one) Pogacar is clearly the best from 1999 on already (probably since Hinault, whom Pogi has the potential to leave behind), which is surely 2-3 «sporting» generations at least.

        • The generation gap isn’t thirty years grandpa, and hasn’t been for decades. Even long families can have significant cultural gaps between the youngest and oldest. Halve that number daddio, or end up being a square unless you want to look nang, peng or even worse, unable to cope with the truth of Fred Wright’s Spotify playlists. Even my teen daughter gets them. Word!

        • Even in census terms, the previous generation would be Indurain’s or Kelly’s rather than necessarily Hinault’s, so it’s not an outlandish call, as I reckon you do need to go back to Hinault to find the closest comparator to Pogacar.

    • Best ‘road’ cyclist……….So many on here and elsewhere don’t realise that cycling is a multi discipline sport. There are great cyclists in other disciplines……

        • It’s ok, but road cycling tends to draw in those from other disciplines, stages in the Giro have been won by ex-track riders, ex-cyclo-cross riders and if we force Pelayo Sanchez’s brief time in mountain biking while having fun racing everything, then some MTB too with others in the race who have gone further too. But the road seems to attract many from Péraud to Pidcock, less so in the other direction.

  10. I assume Pogacar will want a big cushion already in place for the final descent. Seems silly risking the Giro and the remainder of the season for a stage.

  11. Pogacar is definitely the real thing!
    A stunning ride of outstanding panache and athletic ability, just as the crowds were expecting. Smiles, gift bottles to roadside youngsters, waves to roadside fans but above and beyond all that a beautiful, supreme and well executed ride.
    Better than Merckx and with more crowd appeal? TdF winner 2024!

Comments are closed.