After two weeks of racing at the Giro d'Italia, many were concerned that the general classification battle had misfired, was fizzling out. For those attempting to win the maglia rosa, there had not been a decisive attack, no significant moment by one rider attempting to grab the race by the scruff of the neck.
There was a fear that the biggest GC riders would leave the Giro with a sense of l'esprit de l'escalier, that they could have done more, that they would leave Rome on Sunday thinking that they missed a chance. Stage seven passed without a GC attack, as did stage 13, then stage 15.
Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) were still separated by the same amount of seconds they were at the end of the first week. Would anything happen?
It turned out, something would. We were warned that the final week would be decisive, not to judge the Giro on its first two weeks, and so it proved on stage 16.
"This race is going to explode at one point, I hope I'm at the right end of it," Thomas said on Sunday, post-stage. It turned out that the Welshman was prescient, and was proved right as soon as Tuesday.
João Almeida and UAE Team Emirates set things alight on the Monte Bondone, and while the Portuguese rider claimed the stage, Thomas stuck to him, gained time on Roglič, and regained the pink jersey.
Thomas' first time in pink was a happy accident, a result of Remco Evenepoel's misfortune: catching Covid and heading home. The second time is a result of his tenacity, his ability to keep going, and not lose time. If he is to win this race it will be through his grit and belief, but the 36-year-old also showed his ability to pounce when it matters, as when Roglič looked week on Tuesday.
"Yeah it would have been nice to win the stage, but it was one of them where I had to keep riding," Thomas said on Tuesday evening. "I didn't want to play cat and mouse with João with Roglič behind, so we worked well together, and I led it out and had the jump on me and unfortunately he won the sprint. But it's nice to be back in pink and to gain some time, but obviously it's not great to lose a teammate [Pavel Sivakov].
"He [Almeida] was always one of the biggest rivals coming here, he's often shown how strong he is, his team as well, so no surprise."
As Thomas mentioned, stage 16 did not go entirely to plan, with Sivakov succumbing to injuries he suffered in his stage 11 crash, the one that caused Tao Geoghegan Hart to abandon too. He is now shorn one more elite domestique in the high mountains.
However, Laurens De Plus and Thymen Arensman have been there throughout the race, and remain in ninth and tenth overall, and should be able to provide help where Thomas needs it most.
There remains three more stages between Thomas and a second Grand Tour victory; two mountain-top finishes and a mountain time trial, but it would be stupid to now bet against him.
Almeida is now his closest rival, 18 seconds down, while Roglič has slid back to 29 seconds in arrears. This looks like it could be the podium of the Giro already, as Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) is another two and a bit minutes further behind this trio.
Neither Almeida or Roglič can be discounted, although the latter did show weakness and dropped time on stage 16. If Thomas keeps pedalling and shadowing moves, then he might become the second Briton to ever claim the maglia rosa.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider turns 37 on Thursday. He will not want to leave the Giro with any regrets, to have thoughts of what might have been on the stairs of his plane home. It's time for Thomas to leave it all on the road. This Giro has caught fire.
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