The final analysis from the last stage of the second week
Simon Yates wins with old school panache
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) took the greatest step yet to winning this Giro d’Italia, putting over 40 seconds into Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and his other major rivals, and a whole 1-32 into Chris Froome (Team Sky) – his biggest time gains of the race so far.
It was also his third stage win of the race, and the most impressive of the lot. To attack on the penultimate climb with over 15km still to ride was a sensationally bold move, and proved enormously effective. The 18 second lead he held over the summit was a slender one, but ballooned to over 30 seconds by the bottom of the descent, and continued to rise on the final climb to the finish as the chasers failed to work together.
For such a young rider to perform so aggressively has been thrillingly exciting to watch. His attitude in the pink jersey has been a throwback to an older era, attacking on instinct and looking to gain time wherever he can rather than preserve energy and simply defend the jersey.
His win today means Yates joins Gilberto Simoni and Vincenzo Nibali to win three stages at a Giro while in the pink jersey this century. With a week of mountain stages to come, what’s to say he can’t win even more?
Chris Froome dropped
Yesterday we claimed that reports of Chris Froome’s demise had been greatly exaggerated. Today, it seems Chris Froome’s supposed return to form may have been greatly exaggerated instead.
His performance on the Zoncolan suggested that whatever problems had affected Froome in the first half of the race was now behind him, and that a bid for the pink jersey was back on the cards.
But a performance as surprisingly disappointing as yesterday’s was surprisingly impressive means he now lies 4-52 down on Yates, a gap that looks unbridgeable even with a lengthy time trial on the horizon.
At first it seemed that cautious descending during the run-in to the day’s penultimate climb had been the reason for Froome’s being distanced, and it seemed a matter of course that he would make his way back up once the climbing began. But the gap extended rather than reduced, and it quickly became clear that Froome was on a bad day.
Things could have been worse had trusted lieutenant Wout Poels not been there to set the pace of his group, but the damage sustained means a podium finish might be the best Froome can hope for now.
Lack of cohesion costs Yates’ rivals
As impressive as Yates’ ride was, he might not have won the stage had his rivals in the chase got their act together.
Tom Dumoulin and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) were forced to do all the work while Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Richard Carapaz (Movistar) sat on their wheel, while Pinot’s occasional attack did nothing other than slow the chase.
The conservative tactics by the three sitting on didn’t make sense in terms of going for the stage win or trying to win the pink jersey, but did make sense in terms of going for the podium. Dumoulin was dropped when Carapaz attacked 4km from the line, worn out from all the work he had been forced to do, which presented an opportunity for the others to gain time on the Dutchman and overtake him on GC.
But even then the remaining four riders failed to work together, and Dumoulin managed to claw his way back up to them by the finish.
It was a sign that Yates’ rivals are beginning to worry more about each other than him, a shift in attitude that would make his life in the pink jersey a lot easier.
A stage even more exciting and decisive than the Zoncolan
The Zoncolan might have boasted the spectacle of being arguably the hardest climb in Europe, but today’s stage was arguably even more exciting, with GC action igniting far out from the finish line.
It also, surprisingly, caused even bigger time gaps than yesterday, with Yates finishing 41 seconds ahead of most of his rivals – a greater amount of time than he managed to gain over Dumoulin, Pinot, Pozzovivo and Lopez yesterday.
It was indicative of how stages like this, that don’t include any huge mountains but is ridden over constantly undulating roads, can produce more unpredictable and exciting racing than mountain top finishes up super-hard climbs, which rarely deviate from the established pattern of every rider waiting for the final climb.
There was also excitement throughout the day in the race for the stage win in the breakaway. After a breathless start with dozens of riders attempting to get up the road, youngsters Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani-CSF) and Nico Denz (Ag2r La Mondiale) took part in a ding-dong battle, with the former dropping the latter on the climbs, and the latter dropping the former on the descents. Both were swallowed up after Yates attacked, but it was a fun, committed contest.
Jour sans for Fabio Aru
Whatever hopes for a high GC finish Fabio Aru (UAE Emirates) still harboured were obliterated altogether, as he endured a terrible day that saw him lose 19-31.
It was clear with a whole 70km still to ride that Aru was on a bad day when he was spotted drifting out the back on the second of the day’s five climbs, and no miraculous recovery was forthcoming.
He was a sorry sight from that point on, looking miserable wrapped up in a rain jacket, and shooing away a moto camera that dwelt on his pain.
This will now be the third time in his last four Grand Tours that Aru will finish outside of the top ten, having made the top five in each of his previous appearances. Will we ever see the great Italian hope return to that level?