As the peloton spend a day on recovery rides, massages, and plenty of calories, we at the café think back over the first nine days of the Giro. This post gives a space to do just that, and provides a few winners and losers. Feel free to add your own, but there can be no doubt at all about where we start.
Winner: Primoz Roglic
I think the only way we could be any more impressed would be if the Slovenian had some kind of a back story. Maybe he used to compete in some other sport, or something like that.
Is this a surprise? No, probably not. He’s certainly benefitted from the misfortunes of his primary opponents (more on that story later) and we knew he was coming in with superb form. Still, he’s riding like a champion, taking time in chunks when he needs to and (one crash, with apparently limited ill-effects, aside) avoiding trouble through a wet and tricky first week. He’s also curbing his desire to chase small wins – I feel like he could have pushed harder on the stage four finale, but I think it is good that he didn’t. He’ll need to ride within himself and pick his moments to last the course.
He was the bookies favourite coming into the race and that was well understood. There were some questions over whether he could maintain his form, and those questions still need to be answered. However, his path to victory is far, far clearer than it was on the first morning of the race. Conti’s stay in pink has been welcome, but his team have looked strong enough to help him throughout. The loss of Laurens de Plus will be keenly felt and the pressure on Tolhoek and Kuss has increased, but I think they’re good enough to shepherd him home. He just needs to limit losses in the mountains, and I think he can. Particularly because...
Loser: Tom Dumoulin
Oh, Doom, we ‘ardly knew ya. Coming in, I thought the Giro pattern was clear. Doom loses time in the opening time trial, improves his form, rides Roglic to a draw in San Marino, diesels to a narrow win in the mountains and then bosses the final time trial. Reader, I was wrong. Cycling is a tough sport and it isn’t always a fair sport, and the Flying Dutchman was well-positioned, well-supported and riding attentively when he was brought down for a race-ending crash on the approach to Frascati in stage four.
His cameo on stage five was just enough to give hope but really the race was lost with the time thrown away there, to say nothing of the injuries. He’ll be back and can be a real force in the Tour, but he was right among the favourites for this race and had a great chance to add a second Giro win. The race is the poorer for his enforced absence.
Loser: Simon Yates
SPY, on the other hand, has avoided injury. He’s been excellently supported by a Mitchelton-Scott team that impress me more every time I watch them go about deir bidness. He was climbing well and looked solid in the first time trial. With Doom away, the opportunity to outclimb a “maybe he’ll be tiring” Roglic for the win was there for Yates.
All that was true before Sunday’s time trial, when we saw a performance that I’m going to call “very poor” and “disappointing.” There are other descriptions, some of which aren’t printable. “Disastrous,” “race-ending” and “unacceptable” would be others. The man himself went with “a bit of a stinker.” Yup.
The first rest day is far too early to declare an end to any Grand Tour. Especially one where the mountains are so backloaded and the majority of the key stages are yet to be ridden. Still, in a rare moment of “getting something right” I said that the time trials would be critical this year, and Doom’s absence and Yates’ under-performance against the clock have robbed the race of much of the tension we’d hope for at this stage. Take nothing away from Roglic’s performance, but it isn’t set up to thrill, is it?
A reminder of the GC after Sunday’s ITT (all emphasis and selection is mine, with italics for the breakaway crew with limited GC aspirations, and bold for the biggest names):
1. Valerio Conti
2. Primoz Roglic +1.50
3. Nans Peters +2.21
4. JJ Rojas +2.33
5. Fausto Masnada +2.36
6. Andrey Amador +2.39
7. Amaro Antunes +3.05
8. Valentin Madouas +3.27
9. Giovanni Caroni +3.30
10. Pello Bilbao +3.32
11. Vincenzo Nibali +3.34
12. Bauke Mollema +3.45
14. Bob Jungels +4.08
17. Davide Formolo +4.42
18. Rafal Majka +4.43
20. Richard Carapaz +5.06
24. Simon Yates +5.36
Of course there are others in that top 24 who can ride nicely. On the other hand, there’s nobody in the top ten that Roglic needs fear (with the possible exception of Bilbao, who presumably expected to be riding for Miggy Lopez, now adrift in 27th place and +6.19). He has 1.44 on Nibali, 1.45 on Mollema, 3.16 on Carapaz and 3.46 on Yates. Those seem to me to be his biggest threats. In other words, a very healthy cushion for losses in the mountains, particularly with another mountain to climb. He just needs to avoid calamity and maintain his form, and this could start to feel like a procession.
On that note... Winner? Vincenzo Nibali
It is probably too soon to call Vincenzo Nibali a winner, but a big part (not all) of his MO is cruising through races as the grey man. One thinks of his winning the ‘14 Tour with a stirling performance on the cobbles as Froome DNF’ed and others lost time, or his ‘16 Giro after Kruijswijk (and the snowbank) and Chaves gave away their chances.
You have to be a great rider to win 4 grand tours on top of everything else, but the Shark has been in the right place at the right time on a few occassions. He’s one Roglic injury or massive bonk away from becoming favourite in a race where he was initially thought of as an outsider in a three-man race.
A great week for the German team, who came in with some questions over whether they’d selected the right sprinter. Pascal Ackermann has put those questions to bed, winning two stages and taking a 52 point lead in the points competition. He’s also looked strong on the climbs, particularly in staying at the front towards the end of stage eight and in grabbing an unexpected fourth on the uphill drag of stage four. The German champ looks to be the best sprinter in the race.
Just as impressive for me has been the teamwork and camaraderie of the squad, who all look genuinely delighted in his success and are willing to bury themselves for each other. I love watching a GC guy pull for a sprinter, and whilst Davide Formolo will never be Bradley Wiggins, he gave it everything on the way into Pesaro. Both he and Rafal Majka are nicely positioned to go for stage wins and top fives, too. Lots to enjoy for an emerging cycling powerhouse.
Loser: Elia Viviani
If you’d told me DQS would be winless at this stage of the race, I would have told you Elia went home injured. I’m astonished that he hasn’t found a way to win yet this race, and the frustration is evident. He’s been given the usual superlative support from Sabatini, Senechal and the boys, but he’s been outdone by Ewan, Ackermann and the Commissaires at different times. Stage 10 gives him another chance for a win but things get much harder after that. The fastest man of 2018 is finding this year a little harder.
We can safely say he won’t be winning the points competition, as after his demotion in stage five he sits 164 points behind Ackermann, and 14 points behind the Cycling Seal.
Winners: Umbrella salesmen
The weather in the last two weeks has been spectacular. Bright blue skies, unseasonable warmth, short sleeves everywhere. I’m talking about Edinburgh, obviously. Noted warm weather capital of Europe. Italy, on the other hand, has been vile. Hideous weather everywhere one turns and really risky for cycling. I’d say we’ve actually been lucky to have so few injuries, considering. Let’s hope for better weather before we get to altitude, but my hopes aren’t high.
I’ll leave it there. Expect some from-the-ground coverage from Susie, and the usual previews to see you through the next week. For now, what have I missed? Am I too bullish on the chances of Roglic? Is there a lurking GC contender I’m overlooking? Will it ever stop raining?