Words by William Fotheringham | Photo by Zac WIlliams/SWpix.com
I’m thinking of starting a new Twitter feed. It’s going to be called: @hastheGirogotboringyet? It’s going to focus on all the ways in which the Giro d’Italia never seems to be dull, the way in which this particular race seems to constantly throw up new scenarios, new heroes, new villains, new pratfalls, or else it goes back to ones we thought were long forgotten.
As I write this, I’m watching a stage where, on paper, once the break of five riders went, it seemed inevitable that it would stay away and the quintet would fight out the finish between them. So much for the script. It’s 50 kilometres to go as I watch, and there are 10 riders on the front from five different sprinters’ teams, all battling like crazy to close a four and a half minute gap.
I can’t recall seeing a chase of this intensity for a fair while; this is far from the routine tapping it through to bring back a break which has zero chance. The peloton is strung out in one long line, and my nerves are strung out too: this could go either way. (The stage ended, inevitably, with a cliff-hanging finale and a catch in the final kilometre).
A few days ago, it was a different scenario: a full-throttle start to the stage, with the breakaway taking eons to form, and the biggest race favourite, Richard Carapaz, making a surprise attack that came out of nowhere. Before that, the stage across Sicily into Messina saw another intense pursuit, when fdj put the hammer down to dislodge Mark Cavendish and Caleb Ewan in favour of their sprinter Arnaud Démare.
There is a variety of reasons why this has been such a breathtaking Giro d’Italia. Firstly, it’s rare for a Grand Tour to go through nearly two weeks without a defining moment such as a key summit finish or a time trial of a decent length. As a result, by the end of stage 13, there were 11 riders within 90sec of the pink jersey; even a rider as far down the overall standings such as Hugh Carthy, lying 16th at over 4min, could not be ruled out of a possible podium, with all the biggest mountain stages to come.
The 2022 Giro had two early summit finishes, at Etna and Blockhaus, but neither was sufficient for any individual to gain a decisive advantage, sufficiently large that they would want to defend it for the rest of the race. The image of six riders sprinting out the Blockhaus finish summed it up.
So it’s partly the route. Not just the lack of major set-piece stages, but also the variety of terrain the organisers have been able to offer up to the riders. Not just hills along the way during the place to place stages, as you would expect in most Giri, but a time trial with a nasty climb at the finish, and a spectacular circuit in and around Napoli, where Mathieu van der Poel chose to light things up.
The presence of Van der Poel counts for a lot of course, as VdP famously races with no thought for tomorrow, throwing conventional stage race wisdom completely on its head. So too does the fact that another Dutchman, Tom Dumoulin, isn’t at his best, which has meant that the super-strong Jumbo-Visma squad have had no option but to target the breaks, with Dumoulin’s glorious double act with Koen Bouwman into Potenza one of the highlights of this first phase.
Add to the recipe the teams and characters you would normally expect to animate a major stage race, and leaven with random events which look freakish from the outside but are all part of the pattern of Grand Tour racing where pretty much anything can happen inside and outside the racing, and it’s a heady mix. And there’s still nine days before we get to Verona… I wonder how that potential Twitter feed of mine will be looking by then.