Tao Geoghegan Hart: Grand Tour stage winner
East London’s Tao Geoghegan Hart is one of the most exciting British prospects in the peloton right now and his first Grand Tour victory was only a matter of time.
After making his three-week debut in the 2018 Vuelta a España, the 25 year-old has continued to develop, taking his first pro wins in the Tour of the Alps last year and finishing on the podium on two stages of the 2019 Vuelta.
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The performance also marks a turning point for the Ineos Grenadiers rider, as he suddenly jumps up the GC standings to fourth, just one second off a podium.
It’s now a fight for Geoghegan Hart to take his first overall podium in a three-week race, but how long before we see him leading a squad in a GT?
João Almeida fights heroically to keep the lead
When João Almeida moved into the pink jersey on Mount Etna, no-one suspected he would still be in the lead into the final week.
The Portuguese rider is hugely talented, but the 22-year-old is riding his debut Grand Tour and is currently riding his first season at WorldTour level with Deceuninck – Quick-Step, so a Giro d’Italia victory looked like an impossible task.
But over the last 12 stages Almeida has been a worthy race leader, and is suddenly a serious contender to take home the pink jersey.
The cracks did begin to show on the final climb to Piancavallo on stage 15 however, as Wilco Kelderman and Sunweb were able to expose their rival 7km from the summit.
Almeida fought for his life to stay in contact with Kelderman, who was 57 seconds behind at the start of the day, but with 5km to the summit Almeida has lost 30 seconds.
It took a huge effort for Almeida to minimise his losses, but he was able to keep the pink jersey for another day by the finish, his lead reduced to just 15 seconds to Kelderman.
The question now is how much does Almeida have left to carry into a brutal final week of races, which starts on Tuesday after the last rest day?
Ineos Grenadiers continue to dominate with back-to-back wins
Despite losing their leader Geraint Thomas to a crash in the first week, Ineos have still managed to dominate the 2020 Giro d’Italia, but as stage hunters rather than a GC team.
So far the British WorldTour squad have won both time trials with their Italian phenomenon Filippo Ganna, two road stages thanks to Ganna and Jhonatan Narváez, and now the toughest mountain stage so far with Geoghagan Hart on stage 15.
Rohan Dennis made it into the day’s breakaway and rode away solo in the closing third of the race, but eventually exploded and was overtaken by the GC group, but the team were able to quickly pivot to Geoghegan Hart.
Ineos have also accomplished the rare achievement of winning back-to-back stages, after Ganna crushed the field in the hilly stage 15 time trial before Geoghegan Hart’s outstanding climbing performance.
The squad have now won a third of the stages so far in this year’s Giro (five wins out of 15 stages), showing the unbelievable talent they have in their roster, all capable of winning when the GC isn’t their ambition.
Wilco Kelderman the strongest of the contenders
The general classification race had been quiet in the first two weeks of the Giro, with most of the changes to the overall standing coming from bad luck rather than pure racing.
Geraint Thomas pulled out after a crash, while Simon Yates and Steven Kruisjwijk were forced to abandon after contracting coronavirus, and Jakob Fuglsang lost a chunk of time due to an inopportune puncture.
Aside from an initial reshuffle on stage three to Mount Etna, stage 15 was the first time we’ve really been able to see the favourites in action outside of a TT and it was Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman who emerged as the strongest climber in the race.
The first major casualty on the climb to Piancavallo was Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), who lost contact with around 8km left to the summit, but eventually everyone fell away under the pace set by Kelderman and Sunweb.
While it wasn’t enough to take the jersey from Almeida, Kelderman closes the gap to just 15 seconds and looks poised to steal the pink jersey if Almeida shows the same cracks in the final week.
But perhaps just as significant is the gap to the chasers, as Kelderman is 2-41 ahead of third place, his team-mate Jai Hindley, while his nearest rivals is Geoghegan Hart who is 2-42 behind.
With a significant buffer to his next rival, Kelderman has the freedom to race aggressively without fearing losing a spot to someone further down the rankings.
Kelderman has never finished on a GT podium however (his best result was fourth in the 2018 Vuelta a España), so can this be the first time he’s able to string together a near-perfect three weeks?
The GC race explodes with a week of racing left
After a relatively quiet first two weeks on GC, the Giro d’Italia exploded on stage 15 and isn’t going to slow down in the final week.
Following Monday’s rest day, every stage bar one is a brutal climbing day and the overall contenders are going to be in for a tough time.
Stage 16 from Udine to San Daniele del Fruili is a tricky stage tactically with a lot of smaller climbs, while stages 17 and 18 are huge climbing days, before the final week’s Queen Stage on day 20, finishing atop the Sestriere.
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But that won’t be the final moments for the GC contenders, as the race leader after stage 19 will then have to defend in the final stage time trial in Milan.
While it may have been a slow burn up until this point, the quiet days are done for those fighting for pink.