Words by Peter Cossins | Photo by SWpix.com
The GC battle has been turgid, the weather’s been shocking, Jonathan Milan is fast, Ben Healy is the revelation of the season, Derek Gee the revelation of the race…
One The GC battle has been dull. I’ll call on Philippe Gilbert to provide supporting evidence for this verdict. On commentary duties for Eurosport during Sunday’s stage, the former world champion said the contest for the maglia rosa had produced “meagre” fare.
2 This is becoming a regular state of affairs for the corsa rosa. In recent years, the GC battle has become so much of a waiting game that it’s easy to forget some of the big names taking part. With the toughest mountain stages almost all coming in the closing days, it’s logical that the race favourites bide their time, letting attrition take its toll until there’s just a few of them still left in contention.
3 Geraint Thomas has again underlined that he’s one of the outstanding Grand Tour riders of recent years, assisted for once by good fortune being on his side when he’s needed it.
4 Primož Roglič looks the strongest climber among the favourites, but needs to show that from further out on the key mountain stages coming up this week rather than leaving his darting accelerations until the last moment.
5 Eddie Dunbar has been the GC revelation of this race, emerging like a fully-fledged Grand Tour contender with Jayco-Alula after being shut in the background at Ineos. Instantly recognisable with his very upright riding style, he’s been even easier to pick out because he’s been close to the front at key moments, often instigating attacks.
6 Talking of revelations, what about Derek Gee? Tagged a time trial specialist early in the race, he’s now Mr Everywhere, his strength on the climbs resulting in him claiming three second places in a week. Almost unknown two weeks ago, there’d be no more popular stage winner in the final week…
7 … well apart from Thibaut Pinot of course. EF boss Jonathan Vaughters may have stuck the knife in, but the rest of the cycling world knows that this Giro will benefit from the Frenchman sashaying to victory in the Giro’s final week, which will of course be his final week on the race. Allez Pinot!
8 While we’re with Groupama-FDJ, a tip of the hat to Bruno Armirail, a very dependable workhorse who’s provided the best GC story of the second week, a breakaway escapade putting him in the maglia rosa at the end of the second week. My favourite Armirail tale is that he does his altitude preparation at the Pic de Midi observatory high above the Tourmalet pass, getting the last ski lift up there after training in the afternoon and sleeping not in the hotel at the summit but in the staff quarters.
9 I’m almost halfway through and I haven’t mentioned Ben Healy yet. Schooled at the same Halesowen club where LCET contributor William Fotheringham is a DS, the Irishman has been the revelation of the season so far. Second at Amstel Gold to the untouchable Pog and the race director’s car, then fourth at Liège, Healy’s crouching style carried him to victory at Fossombrone on stage eight and almost another in Bergamo yesterday. Phil Gil fancies him for the world title in Glasgow in August.
10 Jonathan Milan is the fastest sprinter at this race, but is he the best? Having bobbed frantically to victory in the opening bunch sprint on day two, the towering 22-year-old has since been second three times, his speed in the last of those gallops absolutely astonishing, but not enough to compensate for his awful positioning when the final fling began. He’s got two more chances to make up for that mistake and will surely become more dominant in the coming seasons.
11 That same sprint in Tortona saw Mark Cavendish (pictured above being acclaimed by fans in Bergamo) duking it out with Milan and stage winner Pascal Ackermann. Cav has announced today that he’s going to retire at the end of the season having established himself as the best sprinter the sport has seen. That third place suggested that he’s well capable of winning a stage at the Tour de France in July and with it the all-time record for victories that he currently shares with Eddy Merckx.
12 The most disappointing stage of the race so far was on the Gran Sasso, but the mountain itself more than made up for the GC contest being neutralised by a headwind. Utterly agnificent, majestic and instantly added to everyone’s climbing bucket list, RCS should have it back on the Giro route soon.
13 The weather’s been shocking. This has resulted in some suggesting that the Giro and Vuelta should swap dates, which is not an ideal solution recalling the weather that used to afflict Spain’s national tour when it was held in April/May. A better solution might be to push the Giro two weeks back in the calendar and into the slot it had up to 1994.
14 Following on from that, those who’ve suggested that the riders should just “man up” and remember that their predecessors put up with the same vagaries of the elements should take note that racing at the Giro long had a long tradition of only starting in the final two hours of a stage, the bunch riding piano prior to that point. Nowadays, the pace is quick from the off and steadily increases most days.
15 This race is missing Remco Evenepoel. I don’t know whether the world champion would have won it, but the Giro lost a big part of its attraction when he was forced to pull out with Covid. Unjustly vilified by some in Italy, Evenepoel had impressed until the virus sucked the zest from his legs. RadioCycling has said he’s due to be back at the Tour of Switzerland, but unfortunately not as preparation for the Tour de France according to his team.
16 Israel-PremierTech have been arguably the team of the race so far. Sure, they’ve not won a stage yet, but not through lack of trying. While Derek Gee’s been their stand-out performer, Sebastian Berwick and Marco Velo have both flirted with victory. The mountains could give climbers Matthew Riccitello and Stevie Williams the chance to show their talent, while Simon Clarke’s always a good bet for a big win.
17 One of the kings of the breakaway for the last decade, Alessandro Di Marchi is still searching for a stage win in his home tour. As always, any break that Di Marchi is in has got a good chance of going the distance. Inevitably, if it does go the distance, the Italian veteran needs to be out on his own if he’s to take that elusive success.
18 Primož Roglič’s support crew may feature a good number of substitutes due to pre-Giro Covid infections, but the riders who have been brought in have seemed in really good nick in the last few days. Rohan Dennis looks like he’s in the form that he had when he guided Tao Geoghegan Hart towards the overall title in 2020, Sepp Kuss has been more visible too. It will be interesting to see how much of a contribution young Londoner Thomas Gloag can make in the mountains on his Grand Tour debut.
19 Nico Denz has found another level in this race, as some riders often do when the conditions are miserable and so many of their peers are struggling. Like Trek’s Tom Skujinš, the German has thrived in the wet and cold, winning twice in three days, his second success coming after he’d pulled a group across to the three leaders in the final kilometre and then still had the strength to kick clear in the sprint. It would be no surprise now if he bagged a third win.
20 Having three time trials means balancing them with a lot of longer stages. This Giro has 10 stages that are 190km plus, seven more than the combined total of days that length at this year’s Tour and Vuelta. In an era when its sister Grand Tours are favouring shorter, punchier stages, the Giro is wedded to longer days, too long in some cases. While a Grand Tour can’t serve up captivating action every day, this Giro has frequently struggled to captivate at all, leaving the race’s formulaic format looking dated.
21 The final week of the Giro will be thrilling. The shackles should come to an end on Tuesday’s stage to Monte Bondone, triggering a final flurry of action that will leave fans thinking that this Giro has been a decent one. However, like a number of others in recent years, this won’t paper over the fact that two weeks is far too long for a race to get going.