Jhonatan Narváez arrives on the world stage
It’s hard to keep up with the recent wave of young talent Ineos Grenadiers have signed in recent seasons.
The British WorldTour squad was one of the driving forces bringing young South American riders to Europe, with Jhonatan Narváez among those poised to make a splash at the highest level.
After moving from Deceuninck - Quick-Step to Ineos for the 2019 season, Narváez jumped straight into Grand Tour racing at last year’s Giro d’Italia, where he never finished better than 50th.
But just one season later, aged 23, the Ecuadorian has taken his first Grand Tour stage victory in Italy, in dramatic solo fashion after battling awful weather conditions.
Narváez made it into the day’s 13-rider breakaway and into the final his powers could only be matched by Bahrain-McLaren’s Mark Padun with the pair breaking clear of their rivals 50km from the finish.
It looked like we were set for a head-to-head battle between Narváez and Padun, but sadly we were robbed of the excitement when Padun punctured 24km from the line, leaving Narváez to time trial his way to the biggest win of his career.
After winning the Ecuadorian national title in 2017, this season has been the breakthrough year for Narváez who won a stage and the overall at the 2.1 ranked Coppi e Bartali stage race, and now adding the Giro stage to the list.
Expect to see more of this rising star in the coming seasons as Ineos continue to dominate the stage wins at the Giro, taking their tally to three.
Deceuninck - Quick-Step the strongest GC team in the race?
Everything has been turned on its head this year, as traditional stage hunters Deceuninck - Quick-Step have taken a GC challenge in their stride.
João Almeida may have moved into the pink jersey as a first-week wildcard, but the Portuguese pro is suddenly becoming a challenger to hold onto the jersey as we enter the second half of the race.
While Quick-Step are normally the aggressors, focused on stage wins and success in one-day races, the Belgian WorldTour squad has suddenly had to switch to Grand Tour defence, and it seems to be working.
On the relentless climbing stage in Cesenatico on stage 12, Deceuninck followed with three riders still in the GC group with 30km to race, following as NTT drove the pace.
Patrick Lefervere’s team were the best represented in that group of favourites - only Bora-Hansgrohe and Sunweb were as strong with three riders there in the final.
It may be an unfamiliar position for Deceuninck, who traditionally allow one GC rider to pursue his own ambitions, albeit without a full team in support, but they have taken to their role with enthusiasm and confidence.
Now the question: How deep can Almeida go?
Renewed NTT Pro Cycling take control
The theme of role reversals continued on stage 12 of the Giro, as NTT Pro Cycling suddenly became the dominant GC team on the roads around Cesenatico.
South African squad NTT showed their intentions early in the day and helped Deceuninck control the pace in the bunch and the team only grew more aggressive as the day went on.
The squad were riding hard for their GC leader Domenico Pozzovivo, who suddenly fancies his chances of taking the overall victory in his home Grand Tour.
Pozzovivo, always a consistent top-20 finisher over three weeks, has found himself unexpectedly among the favourites for the race after many of his contenders have either quit the race or fallen back on GC.
Despite NTT’s control of the race and one acceleration from Pozzovivo, the aggression came to nothing and the 37-year-old’s position remains unchanged, in fourth place, 57 seconds off the race lead.
Weather neutralises the GC race
Stage 12 looked like the best opportunity for some GC racing in the second week, with five lower category climbs spread throughout the day, punctuated with smaller unmarked ascents.
While NTT looked motivated for some action and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) had denied he wanted to attack - almost a guarantee that he intended to attack - the awful weather conditions may have had a neutralising affect on the race.
With riders struggling to stay warm in the pouring rain and surface water making descents treacherous, no-one was willing to risk themselves.
Instead the day became about survival, as Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) almost suffered another disaster when he punctured, but this time he was able to chase back onto the GC group without losing any time.
João Almeida still looks unshakable after 12 stages, with his 34-second lead to Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) intact as the GC group rolled into Cesenatico eight-minutes down on the stage winner.
With a pan-flat sprint stage on day 13, the next opportunity (or hazard) for GC riders is Saturday’s individual TT.
The breakaway takes it again
This has been a Grand Tour for the breakaway riders so far, as the winner came from the escape yet again in the 2020 Giro.
Narváez’s win was the sixth breakaway to make it to the finish out of the 11 road stages so far, compared with three bunch sprints all won by Arnaud Démare, one uphill sprint that went to Diego Ulissi on stage two, and zero wins by GC favourites.
The anticipation of a brutal final week in the mountains, combined with the usual GC teams like Ineos and Jumbo-Visma not taking on the race (after Ineos lost their leader to a crash and Jumbo pulled out of the race), and finally the awful weather conditions throughout the Giro so far, mean the breakaways have been allowed longer leashes than usual, allowing them to have their fun uninterrupted.
But the GC race has to explode eventually, so we can expect more aggression from the favourites from stage 15 onwards - will the breakaways still be able to hold off the climbers in the final week?
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