It’s not all over yet
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) has been untouchable so far at the Giro d’Italia. He’s been the best of the general classification contenders on every mountain stage, the best on the dirt roads of Montalcino, and barely lost any time in the opening time trial, the discipline that is supposedly his weakness.
He will begin the final week with a lead of 2-24 of Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) in second-place, and over three minutes over everyone else.
So is the race for the pink jersey pretty much game over? Far from it.
In a race as volatile as the Giro d’Italia, you can never say never. Bernal’s advantage is uncannily similar to the leads of 2-11 and 2-12 that Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk brought into the final week of 2018 and 2016 Giros respectively. In both cases, they ended up losing pink, with Yates running out of gas and Kruijswijk foiled by a crash.
Even when riders with similarly big advantages have managed to hold onto the jersey, the final week has still thrown up plenty of drama and uncertainty. In 2017, Tom Dumoulin’s lead of 2-41 was shrunk drastically on the very first day of the third week after he had to stop for his infamous toilet break; and Alberto Contador had to fight for his life to defend a lead of 2-35 against the determined Astana pair of Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa.
Recent history would therefore suggest that Bernal’s lead is certainly not insurmountable. Add to that the lingering worries about his back, and this final week is unlikely to be the procession that the first two weeks have been for the Colombian.
Damiano Caruso on the brink of a podium finish — and possibly more
If you’d had told us at the start of the Giro that a Bahrain-Victorious rider would end the second week second on the GC, we would not have been surprised. But if you’d have specified that that rider was not team leader Mikel Landa, or even Pello Bilbao, but rather Damiano Caruso, we’d have had a harder time believing it.
The 33-year-old has been the surprise package of the Giro, climbing better than ever before in his twelve-year career, and holding steady while other, more-hyped GC candidates have faded. He hasn’t made an attack of note, but neither has he had a single bad day, and as a result finds himself second overall with just five stages left to ride.
A podium finish would be a huge achievement for a rider who has never before finished higher than eighth at a Grand Tour, or won a professional stage race of any kind. But might he be dreaming of more, and potentially even winning the pink jersey? Bernal’s lead is significant, but as an Italian the fans on the roadside will be desperate for him to mount a challenge; and as an accomplished time trialist, he will expect to take back some time in Sunday’s 30km finale in Milan.
It’s asking a lot for a rider who is already so considerably over-performing to take on a rider of the stature of Egan Bernal, but for the sake of the Giro, let’s hope Caruso can make the GC race competitive this final week.
British hopes remain alive with Carthy and Yates
Two of the last three editions of the Giro d’Italia have been won by British riders, and there’s still a chance that either Simon Yates (BikeExchange) or Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) will make it three in four.
Carthy currently sits third overall at 3-40, on the brink of what would be another exceptional Grand Tour finish following his podium at the Vuelta a España last year. Yet there are signs the 26-year-old isn’t content to settle just for another podium finish this time — his EF Education-Nippo team took the race to Ineos Grenadiers yesterday after Carthy had apparently said, upon seeing the rainy conditions that morning, that this was a chance for him to win the Giro. Bernal was unruffled, but might we see more of that ambition from Carthy this week?
It certainly looked a few days ago as though Yates would be the man most likely to take on Bernal, when he at last emerged from the shadows to launch an attack on the Zoncolan, but he endured his worst day of the race yesterday to slide to 5th on GC at 4-20. Given how Yates has alluded to having problems in the first week that he ‘won’t go into detail’ about, perhaps whatever was bothering him hasn’t fully gone away? And if he can put it behind him, perhaps he’ll be ready for some attacks in the final week?
It’s a long shot for both, but don’t rule out yet the chance of another British winner.
A wide-open race for the podium
Even if Bernal does comfortably defend his overall lead, there will still be a great battle to secure the two podium spots behind him.
Caruso and Carthy currently hold second and third, but behind them are four more riders all less than 1-30 away from climbing onto the podium themselves — Yates, Alexander Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) and Romain Bardet (DSM).
For Vlasov and Ciccone in particular, a podium finish would be a huge moment in their careers. For Vlasov, it would be proof that he is a fully capable GC rider at Grand Tour level, after encountering difficulties at both his Giro and Vuelta debuts last year. And for Ciccone, it would likely alter the course of his career from being a breakaway specialist to a GC rider, changing his future approach towards preparing for Grand Tours and earning a place as one of the names listed as overall contenders in Grand Tour previews.
Bardet has of course already been on the podium at a Grand Tour. But the last time he did so was four years ago, so if he can build upon the form shown on Passo Giau yesterday and draw upon his experiences from riding the high mountains in the third week, his return to the elite after a difficult few years will be complete.
A week full of Alpine climbing
Bad weather robbed us of the Giro’s queen stage yesterday, but there’s more than enough climbing in the final week to make up for its loss.
Stages seventeen and nineteen both end with category one mountain top finishes (Sega di Ala and Alpe di Mera), both of which are tough enough to cause drastic changes in the race for pink.
And then there’s the horrors that await on stage twenty. After stage sixteen was truncated, this instead inherits the label of queen stage, featuring three huge, long climbs in quick succession, posing the extra challenge of the thin air at altitudes exceeding 2000 metres. However big the time gaps might be heading into this stage, it has the potential to turn the race on its head.
Although there is one more possibility for a bunch sprint on stage eighteen for the remaining sprinters to possibly contest (ie Peter Sagan, Fernando Gaviria, Elia Viviani and Davide Cimolai), and a final stage time trial for world champion Filippo Ganna to continue his Giro winning streak against the clock (he’s currently won four Giro time trials in a row), this will predominant be a week for the climbers to win stages, be they among the GC candidates or those far enough down to be allowed in the break.
Look out for the likes of Dan Martin (Israel-Start Up Nation), Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) to go out on the attack, while Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) will surely continue their as yet unsuccessful attempts to win a stage. And should he decide to carry on racing, Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) now has the freedom to try and win a stage from a break, if he’s not too exhausted this deep into his first ever Grand Tour.
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