Covi wins the stage and the Cima Coppi
Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) won’t forget this day in a while.
Winning your first ever stage of your home grand tour is significant enough. But to do so with such panache, and on such a prestigious tappa, will make this one all the more special for the 23-year old.
For any Italian rider, the Cima Coppi prize is a cherished one. Awarded to the rider who is first across the race’s highest point, it honors Fausto Coppi, whose five giri wins owed much to his exploits in the high mountains.
Certainly it was incentive enough for Covi. Part of the original breakaway, he rode away on the lower slopes of the Passo Pordoi, at 2239m, this year’s high point. Known to the tifosi as the Puma di Taino, (the town in Lombardy where he’s from), his attack with 54km to go distanced fellow countrymen Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) and Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), who followed him over the summit of the Podoi.
It was an audacious attack fitting of Coppi himself. Despite the distance to the finish and the fact he still had to tackle the nasty gradients of the Passo Fedaia, Covi never really looked like cracking. He descended the Pordoi without fear and kicked on in the valley.
The chasing trio of Ciccone, Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) and Domen Novak (Bahrain Victorious) did close the gap inside the last 5km but it was to no avail. With the line in sight he zipped up his jersey. A smile spread across his face. A little piece of Giro history was now his.
This is the year that Covi has learnt to win. He’d promised much, with two top three finishes in the 2021 Giro including a third on the Zoncolan stage won by Lorenzo Fortunato. But two breakthrough wins in the early part of 2022, both in Spain, proved that he was ready to move up a gear and convert his potential into something far more concrete. The confidence gained from those wins was clearly evident today. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from here.
Hindley takes over the pink jersey
Just when it seemed as if we were going to witness another day of false hope and stalemates, Jai Hindley ignited the GC race with a sustained attack on the Marmalada.
In dropping both Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) inside the final 3kms the Australian prised open a time gap that had been stuck at three seconds for several stages. He’ll go into tomorrow’s final time trial with 1-25 on Carapaz and 1-51 over Landa.
“I knew it was going to be a crucial stage with the brutal finish,” Hidley said after the stage. “If you had the legs you could make the difference here.”
And the Australian clearly did have the legs. As he joined teammate Lennard Kämna, who dropped back from the breakaway to assist his leader, he was able to ride away from Carapaz with real authority for the first time in the race. Certainly the extra man helped and Hindley was quick to sing Kämna’s praises at the finish.
“Fortunately we had Kämna up the road. It was perfect teamwork,” Hindley said. “He really did an awesome job today.”
Up to this point Hindley and Carapaz, and Landa to a lesser degree, had looked inseparable. The lack of summit finishes in the race had also helped to keep the leaders close and the savage slopes of the Marmalada played their role just as well as Kämna played his. They allowed Hindley’s attack to sting, and crucially, to stick. As he bobbed rhythmically up to road, carving his way through the crowds and into pink behind him, Carapaz cut a disconsolate figure, rocking from side to side, left to try and limit the time differences.
Hindley will certainly not be taking his lead for granted given that he entered the final day of the 2020 Giro in the maglia rosa only to lose the title on the final day’s time trial.
“It’s going to be a hard TT tomorrow,” he said, “but I’m going to leave it all out on the road to defend the lead and do my best to win the race.”
If he does so he’ll be the first Australian to win the Giro d’Italia and the first not called Cadel to win a grand tour of any kind.
For all its tactical intricacies, often bike racing comes down to who has the best legs. And today Richard Carapaz’s legs weren't as good as Jai Hindley’s.
The Ecuadorian will be disappointed with his finish but it’s hard to fault either his effort or the performance of his Ineos team in general. For much of the race the British-based squad got another free ride as Bahrain - Victorious sat for what seemed like hours at the front of the peloton.
When the race hit the slopes of the final climb Ineos looked like they were ready to exercise control. By now Bahrain’s numbers had dwindled while Hindley only had Wilco Kelderman in support, with Kämna still up the road. Carapaz in contrast was able to sit in the wheels of Ben Tulett, Jonathan Castroviejo and Pavel Sivakov.
After Richie Porte left the race yesterday with stomach problems, you may have wondered who would step into his shoes. The answer was Sivakov. He rode a blinder, doing his best Porte impression but with far more face pulling than we’d usually see from the Aussie, his gurn becoming a grimace as he turned himself inside out in support of Carapaz.
But it was after Sivakov had done his turn, in preparation of setting up his man for an attack, that the race went south for Ineos. It was Hindley who launched, with Carapaz on his wheel but now isolated. The rest, as they say, is history. Sometimes you just don’t have the legs.
Landa loses time
Before the start of the stage it was clear that Mikel Landa had to do something if he was to trouble the two men in front of him in the GC standings. At 1-05 down on Carapaz, the Spanish veteran couldn’t afford to just follow the wheels. He was certainly talking a good race.
“Yes, I’ll gamble everything,” he said. “We want to try to be aggressive.”
When asked about his rivals, Carapaz and Hindley, and the chances of gaining time on either, he was less bullish but still sounded optimistic about his chances.
“Both are very strong, explosive riders,” he said. “But today it can be different and I want to believe in it.”
In the end, belief wasn’t quite enough. Like Carapaz, Landa couldn’t follow Hindley’s stinging attack on the Passo Fedaia. He did rally somewhat and eventually finished the stage ahead of Carapaz but for a man who needed to make the most time up it was a disappointing day.
Certainly Bahrain Victorious’ tactics will be questioned. For the second day in a row they committed to pulling at the front, doing the bulk of the tempo work, while Ineos and Bora sat in the slipstream. But in the end the effort amounted to little.
Perhaps they were a little conflicted? They had a man up the road in the shape of Domen Novak. Earlier in the day it seemed as if he might be used as a satellite rider for Landa, in the same way that Bora would eventually use Kämna. But Novak pushed on in pursuit of Covi, while back in the maglia rosa group Bahrain numbers began to dwindle.
Neither Santiago Buitrago, Wout Poels or Pello Bilbao were able to survive long enough on the Fedaia to help Landa. And like Carapaz, once isolated, he was unable to match the legs of Hindley. We’ll never know the effect it would have had if Novak had been called back to assist his team leader. Perhaps the fact that he didn’t get the order to do so tells us all we need to know about how Landa was really feeling at this point in the race.
Thank goodness for the Marmolada
This has been a curious Giro in many ways. The racing has been exciting. It’s been hard. But much of the action of late has taken place courtesy of daring breakaways. In fact, six of the last eight stages were won by the break. All the while the GC battle lay dormant.
So while it’s unquestionably been a grueling race, with incredibly high average speeds and ‘full gas’ racing (who can forget the stage in Naples won by Simon Yates?), the route lacked both the high altitude and summit finishes that we normally associate with the corsa rosa. The stage to Etna now seems like a lifetime away.
So today’s stage, which took the race over 2000m for the first and only time and finished on the Marmolada was nothing short of a godsend. The combination of the Passo Pordoi and the aforemetioned Marmolada delivered a one-two punch that socked the race into life.
As this year’s Cima Coppi, the Pordoi would be the start of Covi’s wonderful solo ride, while the the final slopes of the Marmolada, which stay in double digits for several kilometers and hit as much as 18% at points, finally provided the ramps needed for a meaningful attack from a GC rider.
A grand tour doesn’t have a script, this must of course be written on the road. But today’s finale seemed fitting, giving both the tifosi on the roadside and the millions of fans watching around the world what they wanted.
“It was an epic stage,” said Hindley at the finish. He wasn’t wrong.
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Luke Friend has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for over twenty years. Across books, magazines and websites, he's covered a broad range of topics for a range of clients including Major League Baseball, the National Trust and the NHS. He has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a qualified bicycle mechanic. He fell in love with cycling at an early age, partly due to watching the Tour de France on TV. He's a passionate follower of bike racing to this day as well an avid road and gravel rider.
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