Part of the breakaway for the majority of the day, the 31-year-old perfectly timed his attack on the ascent of the Valico di Santa Cristina as he powered away from the other riders. Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) tried his best to match Hirt's stunning solo attack, but just couldn't match the Czech rider's pace up the climb or during the descent in the final 5km, finishing ten seconds back.
Stage 16 produced an action-packed day of racing, with Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) attempting to replicate his stage four feat up Mount Etna and triumph by launching a long range attack. It didn't prove successful, though, but his teammate Jai Hindely moved to within three seconds of Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) overall, stealing crucial bonus seconds by finishing third in the race.
João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) managed to limit his losses in the 2022 Giro's GC standings by determinedly hanging onto Carapaz, Hindley and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) once they attacked, also up the Santa Cristina mountain.
HOW IT HAPPENED
After a rest day on Monday, arguably one of the hardest stage of this year's Giro d'Italia came on the sixteenth stage, a 202km race from Salò to Aprica crossing three extremely gruelling climbs throughout: Goletto di Cadino, Passo del Mortirolo and Valico di Santa Cristina. In total, the riders would climb a5,268 metres.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) came into stage 16 and the final week of the 2022 edition wearing the maglia rosa, though it wasn't a comfortable one as the top seven riders were all within two minutes of each other, with second-placed Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) just seven seconds behind.
An early breakaway group formed, containing Nans Peters (AG2R Citroën), Pascal Eenhkoorn (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Christopher Juul-Jensen (BikeExchange-Jayco), and, bizarrely, Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl).
The escape managed to build up a minute on the peloton at one point, eventually being caught after around 40km. With such a heavy day of climbing, it seemed Cavendish's tactics focussed on building up as much time as possible as he could on the main bunch so that he had a better chance of making it within the time limit. With sprinters such as Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) already dropped by the time the peloton caught the breakaway, perhaps Cavendish's plan worked wonders.
At the base of the first categorised climb of the day, the Goletto di Cadino, counter-attacks within the peloton started to form as they caught the six riders at the front. This group included the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) and stage 15 winner Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), which helped to reel in Cavendish and co.
Chaos ensued in the peloton at this point, with the breakaway group up to more than 20 riders while the main bunch looked massively reduced and strung out. Ineos Grenadiers, without any riders in the escape, started to work efficiently in the peloton to ensure lead rider Carapaz wasn't in danger of losing any time, which helped to keep the peloton within a manageable 60 seconds.
Heading up the climb, Ciccone, with help from teammate Dario Cataldo, decided to attack in search of crucial KOM points. Mountains classification leader Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) followed but couldn't match the Italian's pace as he had to settle for 18 instead of 40 points, bringing Ciccone closer in the classification.
Coming down the technical, quick descent, Mattia Bais (Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli), who was in the breakaway, suffered a crash but fortunately managed to get back on the bike. Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) endured a mechanical issue and was also dropped from the leaders, and had to work hard and effectively with Bais to catch back up to the front riders. At this stage, the peloton, led by Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers), was nearly three minutes back with 120km remaining.
Before reaching the intermediate sprint at Edolo, just over halfway into the race, a group of eight riders in the breakaway attacked, among them Valverde, Bouwman, Carthy, Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jan Hirt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) and Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious). This soon turned to seven, though, as Cataldo dropped back to presumably help the struggling Ciccone in the group behind. In just 10km, this leading pack had put a minute between themselves and the riders behind, with the peloton a further four minutes back.
Into the second climb of the day up the Passo del Mortirolo, the leading riders left Bouwman unchallenged as he took maximum points from the KOM sprint, with Ciccone further back down the mountain. Once the peloton had passed the summit, Astana-Qazaqstan accelerated, bringing Vincenzo Nibali into play on the descent. This put pressure on Ineos Grenadiers, who by this stage had just Pavel Sivakov alongside Richard Carapaz.
Unfortunately, Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) crashed out of the group of favourites at the summit of Mortirolo, but he soon returned before the final climb of the day.
During the descent, though, Nibali attacked. Carapaz swiftly followed, with Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) right on his wheel, creating a small maglia rosa contenders group. Sivakov, Hindley, Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) all joined as well, before the remaining Ineos Grenadiers riders bought the peloton back together once again.
On the final section of the stage, with 40km remaining, the leading group were three minutes 20 seconds ahead of the chasers, and five minutes 20 seconds ahead of the peloton. The top-ten of virtual GC remained the same as it did at the start of the day, with the stage winner likely to come from the leaders as they continued to push on.
With 32km to go, the leaders dropped Koen Bouwman up a 5km uncategorised climb at 8% average gradient towards the Teglio intermediate sprint. The peloton continued to gradually gain on the reduced chasing group at the same time, the time gap under 25 seconds. Soon, they were all caught, including Bouwman, with the time gap between the six leading riders and the pink jersey group just three minutes heading into the final 20km.
On the approach to the Valico di Santa Cristina, Kämna attacked from the breakaway group, having won the Teglio intermediate sprint 10km beforehand. The German powered through the opening stages of the 13.5km ascent - averaging 8% - building up a gap of 40 seconds to the five riders behind at the base of the mountain. Wout Poels started to drop off the back as their pace increased, though, with his Bahrain-Victorious teammates working hard at the head of the peloton to catch up at the same time.
Three Ineos Grenadiers riders were still there too, with Nibali, Hindley and Almeida all hanging on as well. Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Pozzovivo couldn't maintain the tempo, though, and dropped off the back.
Halfway up the climb, Arensman attacked from Carthy, Hirt and Valverde, building up 30 seconds on them as Kämna rode ahead a further 35 seconds up the road. Hirt and Carthy soon opted for the same tactic, meaning all five riders from the leading group were now strung out on the mountain. Hirt soon caught up to Arensman with 10km remaining, who was 20 seconds from Kämna, with Valverde getting up to Carthy as they were a further minute back.
Bahrain-Victorious continued to push the GC group with Bilbao, Poels and Landa, but a slight touch of wheels saw Bilbao fall. He soon got back into the group of eight riders, which also contained Sivakov, Carapaz, Hindley, Almeida and Nibali. An acceleration from Landa saw Carapaz and Hindley follow, while Nibali and Almeida just about managed to hang on by keeping the trio in sight.
Hirt and Arensman reached Kämna and powered past him with 8.6km left, 2km from the summit of Santa Cristina. Hirt soon opened up a gap to Arensman as well, moving into the lead of the race with 7.5km to go.
Hindley, Carapaz and Landa all took it in turns to attack, each knowing full well any successful move could prove decisive in the GC. Almeida, a couple of seconds behind, gritted his teeth as he climbed solo, having dropped Nibali. Soon, these riders caught Carthy, Valverde and then Kämna, but couldn't seem to shake Almeida who seemed determined to stay within touching distance.
Hirt reached the Santa Cristina summit first, with Arensman just 15 seconds behind, and both entered the final 5km of the race knowing a strong descent could hand them the stage win. The wet roads proved uncomfortable for both riders, though, as they struggled for grip around the technical turns.
Into the final kilometre, Hirt's lead stood at ten seconds from Arensman, and the Czech rider managed to hold on in the final stretch to take the first Grand Tour stage win of his career.
Jai Hindley managed to just hold onto third-place on the stage, picking up some vital bonus seconds as he is now just three seconds behind Carapaz overall. Carapaz tried his best to sprint past the Australian, but after an arduous day of racing, he just didn't have the extra kick he needed to overtake him.
Valverde came home in fifth, while Almeida managed to limit his losses by finishing just fourteen seconds after the GC contenders.
GIRO D'ITALIA 2022, STAGE 16: SALÒ TO APRICA (202KM)
1. Jan Hirt (Cze) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, in 5-40-45
2. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Team DSM, at 7 seconds
3. Jai Hindley (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-24
4. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time
5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar
6. Mikel Landa (Spa) Bahrain-Victorious
7. Lennard Kämna (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe), at 1-38
8. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at same time
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Asatana-Qazaqstan, at 2-06
10. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-EasyPost, at 2-13
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 16
1. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, in 68-49-06
2. Jai Hindley (Aus) BORA-hansgrohe, at 3 seconds
3. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 44s
4. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain-Victorious, at 59s
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team, at 3-40
6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 3-48
7. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain-Victorious, at 3-51
8. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) BORA-hansgrohe, at 4-45
9. Jan Hirt (Cze) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 7-42
10. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, at 9-04
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