There are two things to bear in mind when it comes to the time trial stages of the Giro. The first is that there are fewer and fewer time trial kilometres in modern grand tours (as Inrng demonstrates for the Tour, but something similar is true for the Giro). The second is that time trials remain absolutely critical in determining overall success in general classification
As we gear up for a 2019 Giro with not one, not two, but three individual time trials, it is worth spending some time thinking about what that means for the corsa rosa ahead of us. There are a bunch of possible theores, but here’s the one that I would espouse: ITTs remain significant as they get rarer, because pure climbers begin to be considered as GC hopefuls, and even a tiny TT can remove their chances.
Put another way; in a race with 130km of TT in two stages, like the 1991 Tour, marginal differences in chrono skill could and did overcome marginal differences in climbing skills. Miguel Indurain won both time trials and took the overall without winning a road stage. That equation changed by 2015, which marked a nadir with just 14km of time trialling. Romain Bardet still managed to lose 94 seconds in that stage, and yet he’d finish 9th overall. He has been a GC contender and a time trial liability ever since, and he’s not alone. The “mountain goat who can contend” is a distinctly modern phenomenon. A factor of cleaner cycling, or of alterered parcours? Both, probably, but I think the latter is significant.
Let’s turn back to this Giro. Bardet isn’t here, and nor is Indurain, but we do have three time trials and a number of key contenders with radically different levels of skill against the watch. You could say that there are only 60km of time trials and they are all climby, and so this remains a climbers’ course. Or you could say that, with three days to put time into the climbers, this is a uniquely chrono-friendly course in modern times. The truth, I think, lies somewhere in between.
By now, you’ll have read Will and Conor discussing the mountain stages with their usual panache. The mountain stages will be colourful, dramatic, memorable, significant and perhaps even epic. This year, the overall winner will need to thrive in the time trials, too. With all that in mind, we’ve added a new preview piece where we look at the stages against the watch, and then analyse the chances that the GC men will have after the races of truth are run.
The Time Trials
Stage One – Bologna to Madonna di San Luca (8.2km)
This is a short time trial, resembling a 6km power-friendly prologue with a 2.1km, 9.4% hill bolted onto the finish. There’ll be bike changes, and this won’t be easy for anyone. I suspect that efforts in previewing the course and rationing energy will be key here.
What have we seen before? The 2019 Basque Country opening stage is a useful yardstick. That course was slightly longer, but with a downhill after a very similar climb.
What happened there? Max Schachmann won, ahead of Danny Martinez, with around 70 to 90 seconds separating realistic GC contenders. Form seemed to matter, as did the combination of climbing skill and TT power that will define the Giro TT stages.
Who does it favour? Those with good preparation on the course and solid team support will have an advantage, as will those who bring in good form (the first week is pretty quiet after this, so some contenders may be under-cooked). Really, though, this should suit the GC stars – climbers with a strong TT ability.
How important is it? Make no mistake, this matters. We’ll see gaps on this stage and there isn’t much that will shuffle the GC until stage nine. Speaking of which…
Stage Nine – Riccione to San Marino (34.8km)
There’s a theme to this year’s TTs, and this stage is a long and fast course along the coast and then inland from Riccione, before heading up a deceptively tough and technically challenging 12km finishing climb that is billed as 4% but is in reality two climbs of about 6% each, with a 5km flat section in the middle.
What have we seen before? Recently, I can’t think of much that exactly mimics this, particularly with the “stepped” climb to the tape. The 2017 World Champs TT is an interesting companion piece, however – that was 31km and finished with the 3.5km, 9% climb of Mount Floyen. Bike changes were easier to manage, but the rationing of effort was similar, and the impact on power TT specialists was apparent.
What happened there? Tom Dumoulin won, comfortably, with Primoz Roglic in second. Plenty of others were minutes back, and the field didn’t include the range of TT abilities that we’ll see here.
Who does it favour? If you believe my comparison, Roglic and Dumoulin will be licking their lips and many others will have their head in their hands That sounds right to me.
How important is it? In my opinion, the most important stage of the race. There are other days where meaningful GC separation is possible, but this is the day when it is likely. If you’re in any doubt as to the value of the “star system” by which the Giro rates stages, this gets a four out of five. Sigh.
Stage Twenty One – Verona to Verona (17km)
A 17km loop north through Verona, over the climb of Torricelle (4.6km at 4%) and back into the Verona Arena, this is the closest we have to a power TT course, but it still a some serious climb.
What have we seen before? Let’s not go back too far. This year’s Paris-Nice saw a shorter climb and a slightly longer course (at 25km) but the mid-course climb on an out-and-back course is similar. There are a few examples of this sort of course over the last few years.
What happened there? Simon Yates won, in a field that didn’t have too many great TTers, but with an eye-opening performance from one of the Giro favourites, and a man who keeps improving on the chrono stages.
Who does it favour? Once more, I wouldn’t necessarily be looking for the pure TT riders to overtake those who can climb (and recover) but the likes of Campanaerts and van Emden can come closer here. This one is wide open.
How important is it? My suspicion is that the GC will be determined before we get to this race, but if not then it is, of course, essential. I don’t think we’ll see huge gaps here, unless injuries or illness hamper contenders. This might just be a final reshuffle where riders are within thirty seconds or so of each other after a bruising three weeks in the saddle.
The GC Men Who Can Really Time Trial
Tom Dumoulin: Your 2017 World Champion, and on the shortlist for the title of best time triallist alive (only Rohan Dennis can argue, I think, though Victor Campanaerts is improving) he’s certainly the world’s best at the sort of time trials in this year’s Giro. A massive advantage.
Primoz Roglic: Not only the form GC rider of early 2019, but another of the time-trialling studs. Roglic was second in that hilly WC race behind Dumoulin and, you’d think, is the rider with a greater chance of improving in the discipline. He’ll be delighted by the challenges this course produces.
Bob Jungels: Well… sort of. I mean, whether you consider Bojangles a GC contender is an interesting question (last year I was surprised he was an Ardennes rider, and this year I was astonished he’s a cobbles stud, so I’ve long ago given up on figuring this cat out) but he’s certainly a rock-solid time trialler who can climb, and this is a rare GC parcours to suit his strengths. Whether his form continues after a tough spring is an open question but he warrants a mention here. His third (to Doom and Thomas) in the 2017 TT at the Giro was on a similarly tough course and helped him to a top ten overall. Could match that.
The GC Men Who Are Pretty Competent
Simon Yates: Is Yates’ TT competent enough to keep him in contention, or will he lose his chances by the end of stage nine? On his record to date, you’d have to assume he’ll be chasing Yates and Doom after the first two TTs, and he’ll need a cushion for the final day. How much of a cushion he’ll need, and how much he can get, could well end up being the story of the Giro. The Vuelta champion has looked to be the best climber in the world over the last year, and there’s no doubt he’s improving in his lesser discipline, but this is the toughest test he’s yet faced.
As I said, winning a bumpy TT in Paris-Nice (not beating too many) was a great indicator, and last year he was competent in the Vuelta (thirteenth, and holding red) and in the Giro (20th, and holding pink) though we all know the cost the latter brought for his final week. The hills in each TT will help, his team will prepare him well and he’s clearly a willing worker, but I fear there’s just too much for him to do against the stiffest competition.
Vincenzo Nibali: You don’t get to have the Shark’s GC record without knowing how to ride a TT rig. He’s won two Giri TT stages, but they were in 2011 and 2013, were both pure uphill drags and in the latter case required Contador’s results being excised. He won’t embarrass himself, but he won’t gain time either.
All the rest: Really, most riders belong in this category. They’re fine. They have good TTs and bad TTs, they finish competently and they keep their chances up, but they are looking to stop the bleeding, not win the fight. In a field with Doom and Roglic, this is where basically everyone belongs. Think Landa, Majka, Zakarin, Carapaz (if he’s been working on his position), a back-to-form Aru, possibly Sosa (though we’ll come back to that) and certainly the rest of the Ineos boys.
If Landa, say, can keep aggregate TT losses under three minutes, he’s got a chance of a podium. If they get to seven, he’s probably out of the top five. Either of those outcomes are distinctly in play.
The GC Men Who Won’t Recognise Their TT Bike
Miguel Angel Lopez: I spent a long time talking up his second in the Swiss Tour 2016. Well, folks, the time has come to call that an aberration. If this race didn’t have time trials, I’d have him as one of four riders in the conversation for the overall win. It does, and he isn’t. 61st and 50th in the Giro TTs last year, and 44th and 31st at the Vuelta. He is a pure climber at this stage, though there’s still time, and a frame, that could allow that to change.
Domenico Pozzovivo: Pozzo doesn’t have the frame, or the time, to make up into a competent TT rider. He’s on the fringes of GC contention (at best) as a climber, but he’s put here to remind you that there are some old fashioned climby Italian guys who will lose scads of time against the watch, which in this crazy modern world is kind of comforting.
Ivan Ramirez Sosa?: I said he probably counted as competent. In reality, I’m not sure. The evidence, such as it is, is that he belongs in the “poor” camp. I think that is partly because he’s 21 and newly arrived at a WT team. I’d be astonished if Ineos, back in their Sky days, weren’t working with him on fit and position, and I’d be astonished if he isn’t picking up tips from teammates. Still, he’ll need to vastly exceed his performances to date (and he’s not in form) to achieve a passing grade.
There are plenty of mountains on this course and lots of days when the race can be won or lost. It would be far too reductive to say that the best time triallist in the race will be the overall winner. However, with three time trials, all of which have technical challenges and significant climbing, competence in the discipline is essential and excellence will go a long way.
What does all this mean for the overall? I think it pushes the advantage dramatically towards Roglic and Dumoulin, particularly the latter if he’s on his best form by stage nine. For Yates, he’ll need to demonstrate that the improvements he’s made can be reproduced without loss of climbing form, and he’ll need to exceed his own standards to stay close to the best in the field. For Lopez, it is simply too much time trialling to overcome.