A VULNERABLE LEAD FOR CARAPAZ
Looked at from many different angles, Richard Carapaz’s prospects of winning the Giro d’Italia 2022 GC standings as he heads into the final week look very bright. He’s already in possession of the pink jersey, having been the best rider over the first two weeks; unlike everyone immediately beneath him on GC, he has past experience of winning a Grand Tour, having triumphed at the 2019 Giro d’Italia; and Ineos Grenadiers are masters at guiding their leader to victory, having done so at three of the last four Giros.
Yet his hold on the race does not feel as secure as those facts might suggest. Ineos have not been as strong as normal, and none of the attacks Carapaz has made upon being isolated have been successful in terms of dropping all of his rivals for the pink jersey. And although he leads the race, his lead is a slender one with multiple riders within striking distance.
In short, the stage is set for a thrilling final week. Ineos have been unable to place the race in a chokehold as is usually their wont, which leaves Carapaz vulnerable to attacks, and also incentivises him to pre-empt those attacks with attacks of his own, seeing as he can’t necessarily rely on his teammates.
Of course, there’s always the chance that domestiques like Richie Porte and Pavel Sivakov find themselves in the final week, much like Rohan Dennis did at the 2020 edition of the Giro d'Italia when he came into the climbing form of his life to help win the pink jersey for Tao Geoghegan Hart. But for now the team looks vulnerable, and Carapaz at about the same level as many of his rivals, which leaves matters about as intriguingly poised as a neutral could hope for.
HINDLEY AND LANDA TO GO ALL OUT FOR THE WIN?
The handful of riders entering the final week hot on Carapaz’s tail in the GC contest must decide whether to go all in for the pink jersey, or settle for a podium finish instead.
For some, it will be tempting to continue following wheels in the big final mountain stages, prioritising conservative riding and not falling down the standings, rather than making the big, bold moves that are likely to be required to dethrone Carapaz and strike out for overall victory.
But in the cases of Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), you sense that they are willing to risk losing a podium finish in order to take the top prize.
There are several parallels between the two riders that give reason to believe this. Both already have podium finishes at the Giro on their palmares, but no Grand Tour victory of any kind, meaning another may not be enough to satisfy them. Landa’s third-place finish here may have come a whole seven years ago, but he has spent his whole career since then looking good enough to win a Grand Tour, but for a variety of reasons never managing to do so.
And the comparative recency of Hindley’s near miss to Tao Geoghegan Hart in 2020 could still hurt enough to spur him to not settle for another runner-up finish this time.
Both also appear to have the legs to put Carapaz under serious pressure, with Landa managing to follow his every move on Blockhaus, and Hindley sprinting him to the line that day before marking his big attack on stage 14.
And finally, both have teams strong enough to help deliver them victory, with Emanual Buchmann (for Hindley) and Pello Bilbao (for Landa) poised to play potentially race-defining roles. With so many factors in their favour, neither rider will want to pass up would could be the opportunity of a last time to win a first ever Grand Tour.
CAN ALMEIDA AND POZZOVIVO REMAIN IN GC CONTENTION?
Will João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) at last be dropped for good somewhere along the Giro d'Italia 2022 route, during the final week?
Almeida has hardly looked like a Giro-winner-in-waiting over the last two weeks, constantly being dropped on both the climbs and the descents.
Yet he enters the third week in the very healthy position of third overall on GC, having resiliently recovered each time he found himself ejected out the back of the group of favourites.
When you consider the prospect of the 17.4km time trial in Verona on the final stage, Almeida is arguably in the best position of anyone on GC. He put 56 seconds into Hindley on a similarly long equivalent final stage at the 2020 Giro, which would be more than enough to gain the times he currently needs to overtake him.
But you fear for the Portuguese rider on the huge summits to come this week — when the climbing is as hard and relentless as this, surely there’s no coming back if he continues to get dropped?
As for Pozzovivo, his current fifth-place position on GC was far from expected, and you still sense it’s only a matter of time before he has a bad day and falls out of contention. But while he remains as close as 1-01 to Carapaz on GC, he still has a chance of registering a first ever podium finish in what is the 16th Giro of his career, and the 22nd Grand Tour.
Whatever happens this week, the 39-year-old appears poised to inherit Alejandro Valverde’s status as the peloton’s most age-defying elder statesman once the Spaniard at last retires at the end of the season.
NIBALI SEEKS TO GO OUT ON A HIGH
When Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) announced earlier this race his plan to retire at the end of the season, it sounded like the decision of a man resigned to the reality that he could no longer compete at the highest level.
He had just lost over two minutes to all the GC favourites after being dropped on Mount Etna, and it appeared as though all his energy would go towards hunting one last stage win to end his decorated Giro d’Italia career on a high.
However, the following stages did not quite pan out as his performance on Mount Etna had indicated. First, he did not sit back and lose any more time as one might do if hoping to get into breakaways as a means of chasing stage wins. Then, he looked much stronger on the Blockhaus summit finish compared with his travails on Etna, before suddenly being right up among there with Carapaz and co on the hilly stage in Torino, looking like one of the very strongest climbers in the race.
So is the unthinkable on the cards, and could the 37-year-old be in with a shout of a fairytale overall victory to bid farewell to the Giro d’Italia in the most romantic way possible? His form in recent days certainly suggests so, but he is left with the problem of having to overturn all the time he lost during the first week, which currently sees him trail Carapaz by almost three minutes.
That’s a very significant margin, but not enough to rule out a rider with the history of Nibali, who has overturned margins bigger than this in the past to win the pink jersey. Like all true champions, he’ll surely be plotting not just for a podium finish, or even just for a stage win, but an improbable third career overall victory.
Whether he can do it or not, Nibali is bound to give us a final Giro d'Italia week to remember him by, and it’s going to be some spectacle.
DEMARE LOOKS TO SEAL POINTS CLASSIFICATION WHILE KING OF THE MOUNTAINS REMAINS UP FOR GRABS
The final week is, as ever, set to be a feast of mountains, but there is one stage on Thursday that could come down to a bunch sprint.
Whether or not there’s enough desire among the sprinters’ teams to chase the breakaway this deep into a Grand Tour is another matter, but the continued presence of Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ), Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Alberto Dainese (DSM) in the race suggests they believe they’ll have one last chance to sprint for a stage victory.
With a lead of over one hundred points over Cavendish in the points classification, all Demare realistically needs to do in order to seal the Maglia Ciclamino is make it to the finish in Verona, which won't be easy, but is certainly accomplishable for the Frenchman.
By contrast, the race for the blue jersey as the King of the Mountains remains wide open.
Stage seven winner Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) currently leads, having taken the jersey from Diego Rosa (EOLO Kometa) by being the first rider over the first summit of Sunday’s Alpine stage.
Rosa won’t have given up the fight yet, while Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) put himself into contention after winning Sunday’s stage, and could well target the jersey seeing as he won it in 2019.
There are so many points on offer during the mountainous final week that a rider with few or possibly no points at all could yet be catapulted into contention, particularly from teams that are struggling at this Giro and might see this classification as a chance to take something from the race.
Look out for the likes of Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Felix Gall (Ag2r Citroen) and Antonio Pedrero (Movistar) as possible climbers motivated to chase points.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.