Second at the Giro d'Italia an unwanted birthday present for Richard Carapaz

Ineos Grenadiers leader all but certain to finish as runner-up after tumultuous penultimate day

Richard Carapaz
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What a birthday present for Richard Carapaz. Having spent six days in the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia, having been the outstanding favourite for victory of many for three weeks, the Ineos Grenadiers rider now has to deal with the ignominy with riding stage 21 with the almost-certain knowledge that he will finish second.

A podium finish at a Grand Tour might be a bit of a better present than that pair of socks you never wanted, the wrong PlayStation game or a book clearly picked up at random from the sorry selection in a supermarket, but it is still a disappointment.

Up until the final 2km of Saturday's stage 20, it all looked different for Carapaz, but then the Ecuadorean finally cracked, and gave up 1-28 to Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), who is now sitting pretty in pink. Unlike the last time he pulled on the maglia rosa in 2020, the Australian has a reasonable buffer (1-25) over his nearest rival.

Of course, at this point it should be noted that anything could happen on the streets of Verona this afternoon, as the final stage of the Giro is a live race, a decisive time trial, not a procession as is usual on the last day of the Tour de France.

While the race against the clock could change things, it is unlikely. While Carapaz has proved better in time trials than Hindley, beating him seven of the eight times they have taken part in the same event, he has not been 1-26 better. So, barring accident, injury or a freak event, Carpaz will be taking second place home for his 29th birthday, while Hindley will have the Trofeo Senza Fine and the top step.

Yesterday, after the finish, atop the Passo Fedaia, Carapaz's super-domestique Pavel Sivakov could just say "chapeau" to Hindley.

“They just told me, it’s difficult. We tried everything, that’s sport,” the Frenchman said.

“Chapeau to Jai. We handled the stage well, but he is the strongest in the end, so there’s nothing more to say. We wanted to try to get rid of Jai today, and we were at altitude today, and we thought that would be an advantage to Richard. 

"We just have to accept it. Uffff, it will be difficult to take that much time in an 18km time trial, it will be complicated, but we have to try.”

Carapaz does have to try, because if Hindley wins, it will ultimately be seen as a disappointing Giro for Ineos. The super-team came to this race to win, and might head home without even a stage win to their name. 

How Grand Tours are rated and remembered is a fascinating question. It is hard to imagine a world in which Carapaz's stint in pink is remembered in ten years time; especially not over Hindley's triumph, if it comes to pass, the first Australian to win the Giro, only the second to ever win a Grand Tour. It will surely go down in history, even at the end of the year, as a flop for Ineos.

Of their seven riders left, Jonathan Castroviejo would be the most likely to win on Sunday, but he has been nursing an injury for a fortnight, and been putting a lot of work in for his team leader. It looks unlikely.

One wonders what happens to the pink time-trial bike, the special pink-tinged Ineos kits, the planned celebrations now. Stuffed into a box destined to never emerge, not for this time anyway.

It probably won't be a third consecutive Giro for Ineos, not a second win for Carapaz. An unhappy birthday.

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