A tense finish for the GC group, but no major changes
Stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia 2020 looked like an opportunity for some GC sneak attacks, as the undulating course offered countless opportunities for ambushes.
As it turned out, the overall contenders opted not to attack for most of the stage until the very final moments.
Things were tense in the GC group on the final climb and into the final 10km, with Deceuninck – Quick-Step leading their race leader João Almeida.
In the end it was Almeida who attacked the rest of the favourites in the hopes of stealing back some of the seconds he lost on stage 15.
Almeida actually managed to gap Wilco Kelderman on the sharp ramp before the finish, but the gains were minimal as he clawed back just two seconds to extend his advantage to 17 seconds over Kelderman.
With three huge climbs on the profile for stage 17, this may have been the last of the quiet days for the GC riders.
A fantastic battle between Ben O’Connor and Jan Tratnik
Stage 16 of the 2020 Giro d’Italia was another unpredictable stage, with the profile open to a huge spread of different riders.
But the result came down to an exciting two-up battle between Bahrain-McLaren’s Jan Tratnik and Ben O’Connor.
Tratnik looked like he may have stolen a remarkable solo opportunity, when he attacked from the 28-rider breakaway with 37km to the finish, riding alone until the final ascent of the Monte di Ragogna climb, 13km from home.
The Slovenian had to hold off a dangerous chase however, as O’Connor and British champion Ben Swift tried to close down the 30-second gap on the final climb.
O’Connor put in an amazing ride on the steep ramps to almost sprint across that gap as Swift fell back, setting up two-up challenge for the stage, with neither rider taking any advantage as the line approached.
On paper, O’Connor looked to be the favourite having bridged across to Tratnik with remarkable ease, but it was Tratnik who found another gear and sprinted clear on the final sharp ramp to take the stage.
The victory is by far the biggest of Tratnik’s career and his first in a Grand Tour, after previous wins in the Slovenian National Championships, and the Tour de Romandie.
After a one-two in the Tour de France with Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, Tratnik’s Giro stage is another feather in the cap for Slovenia.
NTT miss out on a much-needed stage win
South African WorldTour team NTT Pro Cycling really needed the victory today, but it wasn’t to be for their rider O’Connor despite a commendable effort.
The team is on the hunt for a new headline sponsor, as their current backer is pulling out at the end of the season after six years in cycling.
Alongside the sponsorship uncertainty, the team has also struggled for results.
Last season, the teamed picked up just one WorldTour win all year as Edvald Boasson Hagen won the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
With the future of the team on the line NTT Pro Cycling, formerly Dimension Data, has been reinvigorated in the 2020 Giro, asserting themselves in the general classification race for their leader Domenico Pozzovivo.
While Pozzovivo very nearly made it onto the podium of his home Grand Tour, he has since slipped back on time to eighth place, almost four minutes off the lead.
The GC now out of reach, NTT need to turn their attention to stages in the brutal final week try and impress a potential new sponsor, and O’Connor could be their best chance at a memorable victory.
Ben Swift tries yet again but just falls short
While his performances may have slipped under the radar after some huge performances by his team-mates, Ben Swift was once again on the attack on stage 16 and once again came within touching distance of a victory.
The British champion jumped into the breakaway early in the day and rode himself into a great position to fight for the stage, only losing contact with O’Connor as he ramped up the pace on the final climb to catch Tratnik.
Swift finished the stage in the second group on the road, but was outsprinted by his two companions to finish fifth.
The 32-year-old has been looking stronger and stronger in the climbs during this Giro and has now three top-five stage finishes.
If he can make the breakaways in the coming mountain stages, Swift may be able to extend the Ineos Grenadiers tally to six stage wins, but with some brutal climbing days to come it’ll take a special performance.
Another chances slips by for the winless teams
There was a lot of interest from teams on stage 16, with 28 riders from 15 teams represented in the breakaway.
Ag2r La Mondiale were the best-represented in the break with three riders, while Bahrain-McLaren put two riders up the road, as did Ineos Grenadiers, and NTT had one lone escapee in O’Connor.
With the huge breakaway up the road, the GC group unwilling to chase, and huge mountain days remaining, stage 16 was a prime opportunity for the remaining winless teams to secure something from this Giro.
Tratnik was able to secure the first stage win of the race of Bahrain, making it seven teams that have taken wins in this year’s Giro, while opportunities are running out for the remaining 15 squads.