YATES LAYS DOWN A MARKER WITH SURPRISE STAGE WIN
When the Giro d'Italia route was announced with the least amount of time trialling kilometres in over half a century, Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) was one of the general classification riders you would expect to have been quietly celebrating to himself.
However, on the basis of today, Yates might now be wishing there was much more after all.
To the surprise of everyone (except, it seems, Sean Kelly, who picked him out as his predicted winner for Eurosport), the Brit stormed to victory, holding off Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) by three seconds, having beaten Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) by five.
Even Yates seemed surprised at just how well he went, chortling to himself in apparent disbelief in the post-race interview
Although his fifth-place finish at the time trial in Paris-Nice earlier this season was an indication that his time trialling had improved, to actually go out on a Grand Tour stage and beat not only the other GC contenders, but also the specialists against the clock suggests that Yates has entered the Giro in absolutely flying form.
The way he has started this Giro is reminiscent of his debut four years ago, although on that occasion it took him until the end of the first week to win the first of his three stages.
If there’s any concern about his performance today, it’s that he might be peaking too soon, especially considering how he fell apart at the end of the 2018 Giro. But when it comes to pacing himself through a Grand Tour, Yates has matured a lot since then, so it could be that gets even stronger as the race goes on.
It’s early days, but Yates has just elevated himself as the man to beat in the race for the pink jersey.
VAN DER POEL DENIED SECOND STAGE WIN BUT DEFENDS PINK
On a short course with lots of corners and an uphill, cobbled finish, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) looked like a possible winner today, even against the time trial specialists targeting this stage specifically.
No rider has won the opening two stages of a Giro since Mario Cipollini in 1997, but the way Van der Poel has been setting precedents both in the classics and at his Grand Tour debuts, that 25-year record seemed under threat.
He came very close to doing so, too, falling just three seconds short of an inspired Simon Yates.
If he was disappointed to miss, he didn’t show it. After all, goal number one had been to hold on to the pink jersey for another day, which he managed to do so by a comfortable margin, retaining a lead of eleven seconds over Yates on GC.
He’ll hold onto that jersey on tomorrow’s flat stage provided he avoids any crashes or other incidents. And after that? While the mountain top finish at Mount Etna on stage four certainly looks too hard for a classics specialist like him, you just never know with Van der Poel.
And far from playing down his chances, the Dutchman tantalisingly insisted that he intended to “see what happens” on that stage. Watching him cling on to the jersey for dear life on a climb as hard as Etna could make for gripping viewing.
DUMOULIN'S BACK, BUT DISAPPOINTED NOT TO WIN
Although this wasn’t quite the triumphant homecoming for Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) following three years away from the Giro d’Italia, he still put in a great performance to place third on the day.
He, Yates and Van der Poel were on a whole other level to the others, with Dumoulin finishing eight seconds ahead of the next best rider, Matteo Sobrero (BikeExchange-Jayco), in fourth.
Nevertheless, Dumoulin was clearly hoping for more. He cut a dejected figure at the finale, trying to be philosophical about how he couldn’t have done any more, but visibly disappointed that he did not take the win.
That could have been the reaction of a rider desperate to bag a stage win rather than thinking about the big picture on GC, on which basis this was a good day, with all of his potential rivals (bar Yates) losing time to him.
But it’s still unclear whether he is indeed targeting the GC, especially considering his lack of climbing legs this year.
Even if he doesn’t harbour GC ambitions, there will still be another time trial in Verona on the final stage for him to go for stage victory. On the basis of today, he’ll stand a great chance.
THE GC WINNERS...
All the GC contenders are already left playing catch up against Simon Yates, but there are plenty of other riders who come out of the day with their hopes of a podium finish looking good.
Following his strong finish yesterday, Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) retained his fifth-place on GC with another strong ride, while Thymen Arensman (DSM) bounced back up the GC after losing time on yesterday’s finish by posting the tenth fastest time.
Tobias Foss made the most of his time trial to jump up to seventh on GC, giving Jumbo-Visma another option along with Dumoulin, who’s 12 seconds ahead.
Just as he might have been expected to do a little better yesterday, João Almeida was a little adrift of the top finishers just outside the top ten, but he still ends the day in a healthy position of eleventh on GC.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) must be feeling similarly neutral after their rides, losing 33 and 28 seconds respectively, although Carapaz could be set to benefit from the form of his domestique Ben Tulett, who surprised to finish fifth-place.
Meanwhile Romain Bardet (DSM) will surely be delighted at limiting his losses to just 24 seconds and finishing ahead of both those riders, considering his bad historical record in time trials.
And finally, could Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) have yet another GC bid in him? The 37-year-old hasn’t made the top ten at a GC since the 2020 Giro, but his twelfth-place finish today was on a similar level to the time trials he produced during his peak years as a Grand Tour contender.
...AND THE GC LOSERS
There were no absolute disasters for the GC riders, who all managed to avoid crashes and mechanicals, and the short nature of the course meant that none of them lost more than a minute. But there are still several who will be rueing their performance.
For Miguel Ángel López (Astana Qazaqstan), it was a familiar story against the clock, as he finished a long way down to lose 42 seconds. He’ll be glad that there won't be any more time trials until the final stage.
Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) had a really tough day, finishing down in 79th and losing 50 seconds to Yates. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll prioritise GC or stage wins at this year’s race having looked set to post a high placing at last year’s race before crashing out, but he's already on the back foot if the GC is his intention.
Even further down in 95th was Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), who could be on his way to being deployed in a domestique role rather than co-leader, having already found himself 40 seconds behind teammate Wilco Kelderman, while Guillaume Martin’s (Cofidis) weakness against the clock was again exposed as he lost 45 seconds.
As well as these GC hopefuls, there are also time trial specialists who will be disappointed at failing to be in the mix for the stage win — especially Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma), who finished down in thirteenth despite being tipped as one of the top favourites for victory.
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