Highs and Lows from the 2020 Giro d’Italia

Highs and Lows from the 2020 Giro d’Italia

With the Tour de France having got the 2020 Grand Tour calendar underway following the initial shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was time for the Giro d’Italia to take centre stage. With an altered route at times, riders still went through 3,361.4km of hard riding between the 3ʳᵈ and 25ᵗʰ October, and this all culminated in 25-year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart earning the Maglia Rosa on the final stage, becoming the 5ᵗʰ Brit to win a Grand Tour.


General Classification:

  1. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain) – Ineos Grenadiers – 85h 40′ 21″
  2. Jai Hindley (Australia) – Team Sunweb   + 00′ 39″
  3. Wilco Kelderman (Netherlands) – Team Sunweb   + 01′ 29″

Points Classification:

  1. Arnaud Démare (France) – Groupama–FDJ – 233 points
  2. Peter Sagan (Slovakia) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 184 points
  3. João Almeida (Portugal) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step – 108 points

Mountains Classification:

  1. Ruben Guerreiro (Portugal) – EF Pro Cycling – 234 points
  2. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain) – Ineos Grenadiers – 157 points
  3. Thomas De Gendt (Belgium) – Lotto–Soudal– 122 points

Young Rider Classification:

  1. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain) – Ineos Grenadiers – 85h 40′ 21″
  2. Jai Hindley (Australia) – Team Sunweb   + 00′ 39″
  3. João Almeida (Portugal) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 2′ 57″

Teams Classification:

  1. Ineos Grenadiers – 257h 15′ 58″
  2. Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 22′ 32″
  3. Team Sunweb  + 28′ 50″

It’s probably no surprise that a 3-week race has a number of highs and lows as it progresses. Today I will be looking 3 highs and 3 lows that stuck with me as I watched the race

Low – Crashing out early

With Individual Time Trials accounting for 3 of the 21 stages in this year’s Giro and a number of big names missing following the Tour de France and World Championships, this looked like a race Geraint Thomas was destined to win. However, the Welshman’s dreams of winning the Giro came crashing down on the streets of Sicily as his bike caught a discarded bottle, sending him to the ground at high speed. Though he managed to complete the stage, a fractured hip brought his race to an early end after just 3 stages.

cycling giro geraint thomas ineos

G is one of the great personalities in the peloton, and it is never nice to see someone’s race ended early, but it was even more disappointing given his history of bad luck in Grand Tours. Hopefully we will see G leading the team at Grand Tours again next year, but with the sheer number of Grand Tour winners in the Ineos Grenadiers ranks next season – despite Chris Froome’s move to Israel Start-Up Nation – he’s going to have to be on top form.

High – Plan B

While G’s injury and early abandonment were a clear low in the race, it actually led to one of the biggest highs. The one benefit to losing your leader just a few stages into a 3-week race is that you have time to adjust your plan for the race. And this is exactly what Ineos Grenadiers did, and it led to their most successful Grand Tour!

They were always going to be the favourites in the ITTs with World Time Trial Champion Filippo Ganna in their line-up and the Italian duly won all 3 of the stages, while also showing that he is more than just a TT rider with a sensational ride on Stage 5 to take a 4ᵗʰ stage victory in the race. Meanwhile, fellow TT specialist Rohan Dennis also showed his quality with 2 top 10 finishes in the Time Trials, but his biggest impact on the race came in the final few days as he became the key domestique on the climbs, dragging Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley away from the Maglia Rosa and to constantly come back when Hindley attacked on the final climb of the penultimate stage. Jhonatan Narváez also added to the success of the team with a win on Stage 12 when he attacked from the break.

cycling giro tao geoghegan hart trophyAnd then of course we come to Tao Geoghegan Hart, who came to the race as a domestique for Thomas but instead found himself becoming the leader. The 25-year-old held with the leaders when many others struggled, and a win on Stage 15 propelled him not just into the top 10 but all the way to 4ᵗʰ in the GC. Then in the final few days of climbing, he was able to ride away from the Maglia Rosa along with Rohan Dennis and Jai Hidley of Sunweb, leaving us in the craziest of situations where 20 stage of riding saw the lead of the general classification come down to a fraction of a second between 2 riders who came to the race as domestiques – a margin he was able to overcome with a strong time trial on the final day to become the latest Grand Tour winner.

Low – COVID Chaos

We may be back to racing, but that doesn’t mean that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, and it certainly had its impact on this race.

Adam Yates was one of the favourites to win the race, but struggled through the first week before abandoning ahead of Stage 8 following a positive COVID test. Just a few days later, the rest of his Mitchelton–Scott team abandoned after 4 staff members tested positive.

The entirety of Team Jumbo–Visma also abandoned on the first rest day after Steven Kruijswijk tested positive, while sprinters Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) also abandoned following positive tests.

First things first, you could question why there were not standardised processed in place, with Team Jumbo–Visma pulling out after 1 positive test within the team, but Team Sunweb and UAE Team Emirates continuing without the rider in question. Second, you could ask why the riders were staying in hotels that were also open to the public, and why we were still seeing fans without masks able to get within metres of the riders on some of the climbs.

Without the riders, there is no product, so you would think the UCI and race organisers would be working harder to look after them.

High – Alex Dowsett’s big day

We’ve all had one of those days where things start wrong an you just know it’s setting the trend for the day. Well Israel Start-Up Nation’s British rider Alex Dowsett thought it was going to be one of those days on 10ᵗʰ October when, ahead of Stage 8, he tweeted out “Cleaned my teeth then realised I hadn’t drunk my freshly brewed coffee yet this morning. I really hope the day picks up because it started with a nightmare.”

Well the day certainly did get better for him, as he managed to get in the break and then attack to win his first Grand Tour stage since a Time Trial in the 2013 Giro, but even more importantly, Israel Start-Up Nation’s first ever Grand Tour stage.

The joy of a 3-week race like the Grand Tours is that while you will have days where the focus is on the big names like the GC contenders or the sprinters, there will also be great stories like this to look out for as the weeks go on.

Low – Avoidable accidents

Sadly, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 wasn’t the only risk the riders were exposed to, as there were a couple of incidents during the race that the UCI and race organisers should be ashamed of.

There has already been plenty of questioning of the quality of barriers at races following their catastrophic failure during the Tour of Poland crash between Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen, and they failed again miserably on Stage 4, as a helicopter flying low overhead resulted in some of the barriers near the end of the course blowing into the riders passing at that moment, leading to some serious injuries.

Sadly this wasn’t the only incident with an outside influence, as Stage 11 saw one of the camera motorbikes try to make it’s way up through the peloton at a point where they were closely grouped to make their way through some technical turns. With space quickly disappearing, the motorbike was left with nowhere to go, other than into Elia Viviani, who was knocked off his bike.

Accidents are unavoidable in bike racers, we all know how easy it is to just slightly touch wheels within the peloton, or to lose the bike from underneath you as you try taking a turn too fast. But both of these accidents are bringing outside influences into the race that are putting the riders at risk, and it doesn’t feel like anything is being done to improve their safety. Frankly, that’s just not good enough.

High – Young and hungry

In the last couple of years, we have started to see more and more success for young riders who are deemed to be well before what has previously been their prime. Riders like Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar have not just gone against that conventional thinking, but laughed in its face as they have won Grand Tours in their early 20s.

In this edition of the Giro, 25-year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart and 24-year-old Jai Hindley came with the intention of riding for Geraint Thomas and Wilco Kelderman respectively. But when push came to shove in the final days, they were the ones riding for the title. Meanwhile, 22-year-old João Almeida was shocked everyone by taking the pink jersey from Filippo Ganna on Stage 3 and holding it right up to Stage 18, before finally finishing 4ᵗʰ. Even Ganna himself proved that he is more than just a time trial rider with his win on Stage 5 proving that you can never take him for granted if he gets up the road in a break.

These performances are by no means saying that what was considered a rider’s prime is now too old, but instead it highlights that we are in a new golden age of cycling where even the experts are left shocked by the quality of performances right through the peloton. Now that is a great thing indeed!

The Italian Job: Giro 101

The Italian Job: Giro 101

The 2018 Giro d’Italia came to an end last weekend. 3 weeks of some of the best cyclists in the world making their way around Italy (mostly) in the first of this year’s Grand Tours.

Defending Champion Tom Dumoulin started as he finished in 2017 by winning the short time trial on Stage 1, however he handed over the pink jersey to BMC’s Rohan Dennis after he picked up some bonus seconds during an intermediate sprint on Stage 2 and never manged to get the jersey back, with Simon Yates and eventually Chris Froome the only other riders to wear the jersey during the race. The final standings in the main classifications were:froomepink

  • General Classification:
    1. Chris Froome (Team Sky)
    2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
    3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
  • Points Classification:
    • Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Mountains Classification:
    • Chris Froome (Team Sky)
  • Young Rider Classification:
    • Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
  • Team Classification:
    • Team Sky

Hard-fought victory

This was far from the usual Grand Tour victory that we have come to know from Chris Froome. His preparation for the Giro could not have gone much worse as he has been forced to protest his innocence following an adverse test result during last year’s Vuelta that found his with twice the legal level of Salbutamol in his blood. Things got even worse for him after he came off his bike on his recon ahead of Stage 1, injuring his leg.

zoncolanDave Brailsford said in interviews that due to the Giro being so early in the season, Froome was coming into the race a little below where he would usually be starting a Tour, with the idea of growing into the race, but that his injury meant that he spent the early days recovering before he could begin to grow into the race. He struggled for the first half of the race, being dropped from the leaders’ pack on a number of occasions and not looking at all comfortable on his bike following a slip about 5km from the end on Stage 8. Team Sky stuck with their man though and if anything probably benefited from not having to control the race for the majority of the stages and Froome gave a hint that he was building into the race with his climb up the Monte Zoncolan to win Stage 14. A poor day on Stage 15 suggested that maybe Froome had pushed himself too hard the day before, but after the second rest day he really came into his own. A top 5 placing on Stage 16’s time trial left him less than 40 seconds off the podium and it was his attack on Stage 18 that finally suggested Simon Yates could be beaten. The very next day, Froome attacked from about 80km out to be the first to crest Cima Coppi – the race’s highest point, in this case the Colle delle Fenestre – and take first place in the GC, which he held through the final mountain stage despite a number of late attacks from Dumoulin to become the first Brit to win the Giro d’Italia.

Not only is he the first Brit to win the race, he becomes only the seventh man to win all 3 Grand Tours and the third to hold all 3 Grand Tour titles at the same time, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault being the other 2. Now Froome needs to find away to prove his innocence in the case of his adverse test result, otherwise all his hard work will have been for nothing.

So near yet so faryatesdrop

While Chris Froome may have struggled in the first 2 weeks, another Brit excelled: Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates. The elder of the team’s Yates twins, Simon Yates has shown in previous Grand Tours that he can run with the best GC riders. He din not take long to make a mark on this year’s race, finishing in the top 10 of the short time trial. Much as he has done on previous Grand Tours, he stuck with the favourites whenever they attacked from the lead groups, but this time he was also able to pick his moments to attack and take time on his rivals, taking the pink jersey on Stage 6. He continued this tactic throughout the race and was the only person to even stick close to Froome on Monte Zoncolan, finishing just 6 seconds behind him. He continued to build on his lead the next day, attacking about 17km out to win Stage 15 – his third stage win of the race – before putting in another strong time trial to hold a 56 second lead over Dumoulin going into the final rest day.

And then on Stage 18, everything began to go wrong for the man who looked destined for the top step of the podium. After covering an attack by Tom Dumoulin, Yates was unable to find the strength to stick with the leaders when Chris Froome came back onto the group and passed them for an attack of his own, eventually finding his lead over Dumoulin halved, before being completely dropped on the Colle della Fenestre the next day and finishing almost 39 minutes behind Chris Froome to relinquish the pink jersey. Yates was broken and he eventually finished the race just outside the top 20, 75 minutes and 11 seconds behind Froome and just under 17 minutes behind teammate Mikel Nieve, who won the final mountain stage.

While Yates will undoubtedly be disappointed in the way the race finished, he has a lot to be proud of and will surely be back competing at the top of the GC in future Grand Tours. Perhaps he needs to take a look at Froome’s style of leading, where he rides more defensively once leading a race. Granted, Froome is a better in the time trials so can afford to make up time there rather than on the mountains, but he is not generally one to expend energy attacking when he is already ahead and instead paes himself to make it through even the hardest climbs.

Odd route

Despite being called the Giro d’Italia, it was not until Stage 4 that the race took place actually in Italy, with the first 3 stages taking place in Israel. This is not the first time a Grand Tour has started in another country, but I just don’t understand the need for it, especially when the country is not even geographically close! It was made even worse when you consider the controversy relating to the conflict with Palestine and human rights issues. I understand the importance of funding, and this is not just a dig at this race as many sports are starting to do similar, but it is starting to feel like money is more important than morals for many at the top in pro sports.

The final stage of this year’s Giro, 10 laps of a route around Rome, was always intended as a procession for the GC riders and just a fight for the sprinters, however the importance of the final stage dropped soon after the riders complained of the road conditions (many sections including cobbles) until the race was neutralised for the General Classification, leaving the riders only needing to complete the race in order to keep their GC position. I don’t understand how the race organisers could not envisage a problem with the route, especially if there had been adverse weather. I have said before that the race organisers need to do more to improve the safety for the riders, before someone has a big accident.

 

Feature image from Mussi Katz on Flickr

Screwing Up on a Grand Scale

The Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España: the 3 Grand Tours of cycle racing. The best cycle teams in the world fighting it out over multiple stages spanning a couple of weeks for victory in a number of different classifications including Points, King of the Mountain and the all-important General Classification. Victory in these races would be a highlight of a professional cyclist’s career, a chance for them to compete against the best of the best. Yet far too often, we see results being decided by outside influences that are out of the competitor’s control, but could be avoided by the organisers.

When Geraint Thomas began Stage 9 of this year’s Giro on Sunday, he was 2nd in the GC, only 6 seconds behind leader Bob Jungels heading into a stage that could make or break a rider’s GC hopes. By the end of the day, bloody and bruised, he had dropped to 17th in the standings, 5 minutes and 14 seconds behind new leader and GC rival Nairo Quintana. This was not due to him struggling on the Blockhaus climb, but instead was the result of a completely unacceptable accident 13.5km from the finish. With the peloton spread across the road fighting for position, a police motorbike was stopped at the side of the road where it shouldn’t have been. Wilco Kelderman did not have the space to avoid it and in the resulting collision the majority of Team Sky, including Thomas, were brought down, along with Adam Yates of Orica-Scott, who has gone from 3rd (10 seconds behind the lead) to 16th (4 minutes and 49 seconds behind). Both of these riders were contenders for the General Classification but can probably now consider their chances over! Sky’s second GC contender Mikel Landa fared even worse in the incident, losing almost 27 minutes to the leaders.

While this can be considered an unfortunate accident, it is not an isolated incident of a rider being affected by outside forces that should not have been present. I have only started paying attention to the Grand Tours at last year’s Tour de France and in less than 12 months have noticed a number of incidents:

  • On Stage 7 on 2016’s Tour de France, Adam Yates’ attempt to gain time on his GC rivals was hit when the flamme rouge collapsed right in front of him. He had no time to stop before hitting the marker and ended up riding the rest of the Tour with a cut chin. This incident could have been much worse had this happened when the peloton was passing, but it still meant that Yates lost his chance to build an advantage against his rivals.
  • Yate’s trouble with the flamme rouge was quickly forgotten after Stage 12’s incident. After high winds caused the stage to be shortened, much of the last kilometre was left without railings to hold the crowd back. They duly swarmed all over the road, leaving a space barely wide enough for the riders to pass through. This led to an incident where 3 GC riders (Bauke Mollema, Richie Porte and yellow jersey Chris Froome) crashed into the back of a motorbike that was forced to stop by the crowds, leaving Froome’s bike unusable. As the Team Sky car was some distance down the road, this led to the famous images of the yellow jersey running up Mont Ventoux to reduce the hit on his finishing time while he waited for his team to catch up with a replacement bike.
  • Stage 5 of the 2016 Vuelta a España saw Steven Kruijswijk’s season ended early after a collision with a bollard left him with a broken collarbone. This bollard should never have been left in the way and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, was left at an angle pointing towards the oncoming riders. In truth, it is lucky that only Kruijswijk and Jan Bakelants hit the post as the peloton rode past.
  • Just a couple of days before this latest accident, Stage 7 of the Giro saw a miraculous near miss as riders came around a blind turn to find a marshal standing in the middle of the road flagging to warn of a traffic island. Somehow the peloton avoided hitting him, but that could have been a serious incident. Surely it would have been better to use barriers to block the road on one side of the island so that the island was part of the edge as opposed to being in the middle of the road?

4 incidents and a near miss. From just 3 races. And these are just the incidents that immediately came to mind, so there may be others that I have missed. All of these crashes have involved riders that would be hoping to compete in the General Classification, so the race results are being heavily impacted by each of these incidents.

Crashes happen, I accept that. Bad weather or riding too close to someone in a group can easily result in a number of riders going to ground, that is to be expected in the sport. What cannot be considered acceptable is outside factors that are wholly avoidable being allowed to affect the outcome of an entire race!

Would this be accepted in any other sport? If a fan ran onto a football pitch and booted the ball into the net, we would not count it as a goal, so why should we allow a rider’s GC standings to be affected by an outside stimulus? To continue the football analogy, clubs and tournament organisers do not wait for something to happen and then say it will not affect the result, they take steps to stop a match being decided by outside influences. That is why you see stewards and barriers all around the grounds to stop spectators getting onto the pitch. I appreciate that each stage of the Grand Tours is too long to have barriers every step of the way, but there are things that can be done to help. Having more spotters travelling in advance of the race to ensure there are no unsafe obstacles in the way would allow race directors and stewards to take appropriate steps to ensure that by the time riders get to that point in the road there is no chance of an issue.

Hopefully the riders affected will be able to minimise the losses over the remaining stages. More importantly, fingers crossed this is the last time we see a rider’s race ruined by something completely avoidable.

 

What were your thoughts on the accident? Do you think more can be done? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge