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Post-Mortirolem

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LOVERE, ITALY - MAY 28: Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and Team Bahrain - Merida / Refreshment / Passo del Mortirolo (1854m)/ Rain / during the 102nd Giro d’Italia 2019, Stage 16 a 194km stage from Lovere to Ponte di Legno 1254m / Tour of Italy / #Giro / @girod Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Seventeen days ago, I did not expect that today I would be typing the following statement: Richard Carapaz leads the Giro and so far he has been invulnerable. He’s not been the most aggressive but he has been the most explosive and he’s the only one who has consistently looked able to gap the field with an attack.

Only gaining that ability today is Nibali, who time after time has made moves and not forced a gap on his fellow contenders (with the exception of going downhill). That all changed on the Mortirolo where he made his move and for a while it looked like it might be decisive. It, however, was not and I’m going to use this opportunity to state how impressed I was with the way Carapaz and Landa rode the Mortirolo. There was a temptation, especially in Landa, to jump on Nibali’s wheel immediately, to panic but they rode the climb as well as it could have possibly been ridden under the circumstances. On most climbs, your best bet is to ride tempo but this becomes more and more important the steeper the climb is. A good experiment in this played out before your eyes on the Mortirolo as Nibali made a good start but was inexorably pulled back by Pedrero and Landa.

Speaking of Landa, it looks like he’s fallen into line behind Carapaz as well he should. He did plenty of work in helping the pink jersey make his way back to Nibali and with the Mortirolo gone it is time for Movistar to limit the chaos. Given all the incredibly competent climbing domestiques such as Pedrero and Carretero that they seemingly cloned while my back was turned they need to resurrect the concept of control, as they started to do today on the way to Ponte di Legno.

Movistar may be in control of their own destiny but Primoz Roglic cannot claim the same. I said ever since Romandie that he was coming into this race too hot and his performance is on the verge of proving that. He was lightning in the Bologna time-trial, very strong in San Marino and more than competent in the early mountains but cracks began to show on the way to Como. I was prepared to give him a pass for that given the variables involved with riding his team mate’s bike. With replacement bikes, it seems there is a Law of Inverse Usefulness, in that whenever a rider gets one such bike, it will be proportionally more ill-fitting and poorly geared the more it is needed. Hence Roglic’s struggle on Tolhoek’s bike, I thought. However, he had no such excuse on the Mortirolo. It is clear that while he still has some climbing form and won’t utterly capitulate, he doesn’t have what it takes to steal the race back. I think we can call this a victory for peaking at the right time.

So I think we can call this Giro down to two contenders, barring some monumental shift. We have Carapaz and we have Nibali.

With Nibali, it’s always a conundrum. He has a baffling talent for simply winning that seems to transcend everything else. He was clearly underpowered in 2016 but what do you know, Kruijswijk is in a snowdrift and he is gone, pink jersey on the way to a Sicilian wardrobe. He manufactured cobble talents out of nowhere and two weeks later he was standing on the podium in Paris. So here we stand. He has one real mountain stage to gap Carapaz despite not being the best climber. Experience and a talent for winning are hard things to quantify but I do think they explain why the Sicilian is who most commentators will mention as their favourite when it comes to standing in pink in Verona. So far, it looks like a descent ambush or waiting for Carapaz' form to fall off a cliff may be his only options, which is why it’s strange that Nibali called it a truce for the descent. I understand that it was perilous but that shouldn’t be a negative for Nibali — perilous is where he has thrived and he showed on even the short descent to Como on Saturday that he had the measure of Carapaz going downhill so it stumps me. He’s going to have to either rise meteorically in form or pull off one hell of an ambush.

An ambush would not have happened today even with the Gavia and I’m not sorry it was excluded. The most it would have done is soften the legs and all that would have achieved is dampen the fight on the Mortirolo which is counterintuitive to what this stage was designed for — such a fight. Stages designed to tire people out are the sort of stages for the Gavia, stages where you want people off the front rather than out the back (and both should be in evidence in all grand tours) are not.

Carapaz brought himself much closer to the overall win, now standing in pole position.