Words by William Fotheringham | Photos by SWpix.com / Cor Vos
Another Grand Tour, another time trial showdown, another unexpected and youthful winner. It sounds as if there’s a pattern developing in the world of professional cycling as the sport shadow boxes with the Covid-19 pandemic. If it’s a pattern, let’s embrace it.
For a Grand Tour to go into its final day with its two main protagonists separated by less than a second was truly unprecedented, and while Sunday’s stage into Milan went pretty much to script with Tao Geoghegan Hart putting 39sec into Jai Hindley to win the overall, the situation overnight after the stage to Sestriere was a bizarre climax to a curious Giro d’Italia.
Outside Geoghegan Hart’s manor in East London and Hindley’s homeland of Western Australia, although it was one to savour, this won’t go down as one of the very greatest editions of the Giro. That sounds begrudging, but it isn’t meant to be: call it a dose of perspective amid the applause for two extremely promising young cyclists. This was good racing, spectacular at times, and the scrap between Team Ineos and Team Sunweb in the last two mountain stages was enthralling. But it wasn’t Bernard Hinault knocking seven bells out of Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni or Stephen Roche riding for dear life between two lines of baying tifosi.
Let’s just savor these three weeks for what they showed us: three promising prospects who found openings and dove into them with gusto. Geoghegan Hart was a truly worthy winner – you could see the glint in his eye getting brighter all through the second week as he sensed what might lie ahead – and Hindley was a doughty challenger. Both men should now have a bright future ahead of them, as should the race’s other revelation, the gutsy young Portuguese Joao Almeida, who led for so long, buckled eventually and still had the character to turn both the weekend’s stages into a real contest, rewarded by fourth place overall.
Like the Tour de France, this race was a statistician’s delight. The first Grand Tour to have the first two at parity on the morning of the final day. The first Giro to be won by a rider who didn’t actually pull on the pink jersey until the finish of the closing stage. Tip your hat to Filippo Ganna, the first rider since Tony Rominger at the 1995 Giro to take all three time trials in a Grand Tour (something the great Miguel Indurain managed in the 1992 Tour as well). Seven stage wins for Ineos was the kind of performance you rarely see in the 21st century.
Together with Rohan Dennis, and an astonishingly strong Ben Swift, Ganna was a key man in a super-strong Ineos team that, albeit only six strong after the loss of Geraint Thomas and Jonathan Narvaez, still managed to set up Geoghegan Hart’s victory in assured style. The sight of Dennis – a man whose career looked in serious doubt midway through 2019 – out climbing everyone into those snowfields on the Stelvio, with TGH in tow, and Wilco Kelderman fighting manfully a couple of hairpins behind, will be one of the enduring images of the 2020 season. You feel for Kelderman. Might he have benefited if Hindley had been made to wait for him? You think of Dennis’s strength as he ground that gear and you shake your head.
There were hits and misses in this Giro. It edged closer to the Covid brink than the Tour, with Mitchelton and Jumbo-Visma both going home after riders tested positive for the virus. That the infections went no further than they did speaks volumes for the discipline of riders and race entourage. Arnaud Démare continued his run of form with four stage wins and the points prize; not a single one of the flat sprint stages eluded him. Peter Sagan finally ended his long spell without a win, and did so in the grand style by breaking away from the gun on a ridiculously hilly and wet stage to Tortoreto, with a memorable battle against Démare’s FDJ troops.
Dennis reinvented himself as a domestique de luxe and proved key in Ineos’s fightback to secure Geoghegan-Hart’s overall win. Almeida’s 15-day spell in the pink jersey spoke volumes. EF Education won a stage and scored the PR coup of the decade with their Duck-branded kit. CCC finally landed a WorldTour win, and Ben O’Connor relaunched his career even as NTT prepare to disappear from cycling. Alex Dowsett scored a heart-warming stage win, which with any luck will secure his future.
The flops? Cofidis’s spending spree of last winter looks to have come to nothing, with Elia Viviani rarely competitive in his home Tour. Vincenzo Nibali’s chances of winning another Grand Tour went west on the Stelvio. No Italian finished in the first five overall, reflecting the current scarcity of talent in the Giro’s home country. Jakob Fuglsang won’t be named as a Grand Tour favourite any more, and the CPA – professional cycling’s equivalent of a riders’ union – was left with egg on its face after the appalling way in which the riders’ strike at Morbegno was handled. But these were blips – better to remember the Giro for the sumptous scenes on the Stelvio, Démare’s sprint prowess, and the fresh faces who came to the fore.