If stage 11 was the tipping point at which the continued ill fortune that this race seems determined to bestow on us became too much to bear, then today was the day that the race itself seemed to teeter on a precipice, with the increasing presence of the riders union standing up for the rights of its members to reach a solution which - while imperfect - represented a sense of shifting in the power dynamics between race organisation and the peloton. The fall-out is described below.
Here's what we have on the menu for you today:
Today in review
Stage 13 - The Best Laid Plans…
Confusion reigned this morning, as rumours of a shortening of the stage, or even a total cancellation, circulated on social media, amid suggestions that the continued apocalyptic weather conditions were simply too bad to be safe for the riders to continue.
The CPA voted for a shortening of the stage, invoking the extreme weather protocol. The RCS agreed, but stage would begin at the foot of the Croix de Coeur climb, instead of going around it, as many of the riders had suggested. Perhaps not the result they were hoping for, but it would mean a 74km stage - short, explosive and crucially - immediately uphill.
The cursed Grand Saint Bernard climb, formerly the cima coppi, was taken out altogether, with the race rolling out of Borgofranco d'Ivrea, so the riders could smile and wave for the fans, before being bundled onto the buses and taken to the foot of the Croix de Coeur for a standing start up a seriously tricky climb. You couldn't make it up.
Imagine if you will, the tension of a race, where the starter's pistol fires, and GO! aaaand well. Pitched straight onto the climb, it was brutal – Karel Vacek was the first to attack; he almost immediately dropped his chain, total nightmare for the poor guy, but massive hills wait for no man, and EF were out of the blocks fast – Cepeda immediately charging off, Healy towing Hugh Carthy, along with Thibaut Pinot looking spritely and back to his former self after a few days of illness, and lots of hopefuls too trying their luck at ascending into the early - well, just the break.
There were plenty already shelled out the back, including Ineos road captain Ben Swift, and the sprinters who were quite happy to set up the grupetto early doors. Eventually things settled and a six-man group formed up the road – Cepeda and Pinot, along with Israel-Premier Tech's young rider Matthew Riccitello and serial break-botherer Derek Gee, little brother on a mission Valentin Paret-Peintre, and Movistar's Einer Rubio.
The GC group worked steadily up the climb, with Bahrain Victorious showing their faces at the front for a while, looking comfortable with Buitrago and Caruso riding ahead of the maglia rosa for a time. Ben Swift and a few others rode themselves back on and up at the front, the break was down to four riders when Pinot took off, collected his lovely 40 KOM points before they headed onto the descent.
It. Looked. Horrific. The first bit, at least. A loose, wet surface, twisty-turny, no barriers or protection in places, just a big fat NOPE all round. Paret-Peintre was up for it, daredevil-ing his way past the rest of the breakaway riders without a rain jacket in an early bid for glory, and then the roads got wider and smoother after that and the whole bunch thankfully made it safely down the mountain. The breakaway regrouped, but Pinot was off again, taking only Cepeda with him, with Einer Rubio joining them later, and the group joining up again heading into the short, sharp climb of Crans Montana.
I tried to keep up with the action in a blow-by-blow fashion but essentially it boiled down to: Pinot attacks! Pinot argues with Cepeda! Pinot attacks! Pinot argues with Cepeda! Pinot attacks! (Einer Rubio hides). Cepeda was first to attack as they approached the finish, but he ran out of steam and Pinot was next to go but BOOM there was Rubio, playing an absolute blinder tactically-speaking, coming over the top and breaking the hearts of Pinot and his horde of devoted fans, in a style that was so quintessentially Pinot, it was almost a parody.
Meanwhile attacks came from the GC group, with Eddie Dunbar and Hugh Carthy going long, and Caruso having a dig, but as a collective they'd left it late and it was a bit of a damp squib. In the end only Carthy could take a few seconds, just 6 ahead of the maglia rosa, Roglič and the rest, and Andreas Leknessund losing about the same. It wasn't quite the battle we'd hoped for, but that's become the story of this Giro for reasons many and various - we go again tomorrow.
NEW SEGMENT ALERT!!!
Surprise! It's well into week two and it's about time we added something to the tried and tested formula BUT without taking too much more of your precious time so may I present:
WHAT 3 WORDS... with the Giro Peloton
Our roving reporter Anna McEwen has asked the riders to share with us their view of the day's stage, both before the start, and after the finish. Here's what two of them had to say about stage 13...
TOMS SKUJIŅŠ (Trek-Segafredo)
Pre - fast, furious, cold
Post - up or down
CHARLIE QUARTERMAN (Team corratec-Selle Italia)
Pre - Short explosive shake-up
Post - Full-on, hard gruppetto
A small but perfectly formed insight into life inside the peloton on today's stage. More of that in the stages to come, hopefully...
Speedy stage preview
Stage 14 - Sierre - Cassano Magnago - 193km (Flat?!)
FLAT, apparently. That's about as flat as the Trouee d'Arenberg but whatever. I suppose if you average out the day's climbing it's not particularly arduous, and yes, it's likely to come down to a breakaway or reduced bunch sprint given the climb - the Simplonpass/Passo del Sempione begins just 35km into the stage and is done with by 56km. That's not to diminish its significance, however. It's a category 1 beast, and not only will it offer a big fat bunch of KOM points for whoever can crest it first, it will provide a great launchpad for the kind of rider who can dig in up a climb, then hold on for about 140km of flat. Er, who's that then?
WHAT TO EXPECT: Big splits early on. Thibaut Pinot KOM points raid. A strong breakaway group. Nothing doing on the GC front.
HOT TIP: Literally no idea on this one. It's impossible to predict what sort of a day it will be but I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see the stage won by somebody like Stefano Oldani or Alberto Bettiol - strong riders who are hungry for a stage win and motivated to keep a breakaway going, as we saw on stage 12. I'm putting my eggs in the BETTIOL basket today.
Lena's Giro Antipasti
The Simplon Pass. One of the few passes that are passable all year round. And let me tell if you do not live close to a tall mountain range and maybe do not know this: the actual ability to use a pass that’s snowed in during parts of the year is major news.
The pass is the best infrastructure connection between Italy and Switzerland - apart from the tunnels, of course. Currently, it's mainly used for lorries.
It wasn’t always like this. Until the beginning of the 20th century, mules were used for transport and until Napoleon - because of course it was Napoleon - it was just a simple path. Expanded by a salt monopolist to better transport his wares.
Now why would Napoleon be interested in a Swiss alpine pass? For his troops of course. To conquer all of Europe you need mobility and swiftness. And a simple mountain pass was an opportunity for the Frenchman not an obstacle.
The Napoleon street made it possible for coaches and other wheeled objects to traverse the pass.
That was it, infrastructure-wise, for a long while. During the world wars - especially the Second World War - easy Access to the pass was the complete opposite of what the Swiss desired. Famously neutral but armed to the teeth, the Simplon Pass served as an important military base against Italy.
Let’s say it like this: a plane crossed over the Simplon pass decades before a modern road was built. Although, while the pilot proved he could do it, he sadly died on the Italian side in the town of Domodossola. However Jorge Chávez is still remembered as the first human to cross a major alpine subrange.
The modern street over Simplon was not a major infrastructure project that was built in a specific year - like the highways from Rome to Abruzzo I mentioned in an earlier Bulletin - but rather the street was periodically improved piece by piece until it was passable year-round in the 1970s.
Cycling had been visiting long before that. The first time was in the 1949 Tour de Suisse. The Giro visited for the first time in 1963 with Vito Taccono as stage winner.
During the first few years, the climb only began on the western side of the pass. However, this year, just like in 2006, the peloton climbs the eastern side coming from Switzerland.
One year the Simplon pass even served as Cima Coppi despite 'only' being 1995 altitude meters.
The most recent stage winner Fortunato Baliani rode for Ceramica-Panaria-Navigare. Through various iterations the team that is today known as Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè. Who knows, maybe we will see a second conti-team breakaway hero.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
43: Stage 13: Michael Bundesen - Ti små cyklister (transl: 10 small cyclists)
What’s Danish for Hunger Games?
So with Mads P out of the race due to non-covid illness, yet another high profile rider leaves the Giro.
Attrition during a GT is always a factor, but it’s starting to look more and more like it’s a miracle if we get something that resembles a peloton all the way to Rome.
So I am sorry, but my Danish upbringing makes this the only appropriate song for the situation.
It’s an old morbidly-comic cautionary tale for Danish children about how to not die in traffic - which is useful given that in some parts of Denmark it’s perfectly normal for kids to bike to school alone from a young age. (I was probably 7, living in a fairly normal residential area, but obviously that’s ages ago…)
The song starts with the titular '10 small cyclists' setting out on their trip and every verse chops away one of them in a variety of ways ranging from casual (bike theft) to horrifying (brakes not working, running a red, grabbing on to a car) until only one is left… I swear, it’s a kids’ song. I’m just Danish. And just so we’re clear Cycling Gods - this is NOT the platonic ideal for a bikerace!
You can find + translate the whole thing here if curious: https://sangetilboern.dk/ti-sma-cyklister/
44: Stage 13: Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman - 16 tons
Solidarity (and safety) is sexy!
2023 is the year where both Starbucks and Stripclubs are getting unionised (in worker-driven and democratic fashions in general), and yet a surprising amount of people on couches seems to think that the same option shouldn’t be extended to professional cyclists. So as we’re going into the weekend and maybe even have time off, a right that wouldn’t have existed if the workers’ rights movements of yore hadn’t done the uncomfortable and unpopular work of making it happen, here’s my musical hat-tip and high-five to Adam Hansen and his insistence on being transparent about the ungrateful work of trying to give the riders a voice based on more than 'vibes'! And honestly - an imperfect move towards a more democratic process is not rendered null and void just because Moscon and Healy disagree on the day.
In case you didn’t know the song is a foundational song in the fight for those who have to put their bodies through the ringer as a job.
45: Stage 13: The Volcanos - War Drums
So… Etna erupted…! Because of course it did. Volcano eruption was missing from my Giro bingo sheet, but I’m close to winning now. Thankfully there wasn’t a stage happening there.
Today’s stage was short, shifty on the descent, still safer than the original and gave us a very animated breakaway on the final climb. Animated as in 'they were arguing almost the entire way up'! There was less open battle in the GC group, and in the end that part fell a bit flat, but thankfully everyone made it through the stage, and I can only assume (read: hope!) they are gearing up for a full-on war for the podium in the 3rd week.
So with a slight amount of impatience; here’s an aptly named band with some 'engines revving'-vibing surf which provides a compelling soundtrack to today’s war on words and the battles to come.
46: Stage 13: Pete Seeger - We Shall Overcome
Heartbreak and hope
Pinot. Man… You can’t help loving him, even when your heart breaks like today. And yes, he could have raced smarter, we all know, but this is probably also part of the romanticised hero myth we've collectively built around him, so why change this fundamental character trait in the final season of the show?
So from more or less all of us to you Thibaut: we know you have it in you and we will keep cheering. So in the already established vein of old grassroot songs in this segment: Allons-y TIBOPINO!
47: Stage 13: ody icons - WE CRY AT NIGHT
Communal coping mechanisms
This extremely niche pick (just a casual occurrence of your everyday Cypriotic/Parisian gloomy-glam polymath-artpop, really…) is dedicated to one of my co-writers here at WriteBikeRepeat. Anna McEwen has distilled the entire ordeal of coping with the onslaught of dramatic/sad news during this year’s Giro down to this perfect twitter hashtag:
As she would say: We cry at 8! Bring your own tissues.
The Watch Zone
Back to our regulars...
Young rider watch: Matthew Riccitello! He was there in the breakaway today, and it was great to see him looking lively and getting involved on a climby start that was well suited for him. In the end, it was his teammate Derek Gee who went on to perform really well, coming in 4th, but Riccitello was able to hang on and finish in a brilliant 22nd spot, just 2.14 behind the winner.
EF watch: as focus shifted to GC it was a good day for EF, who saw Hugh Carthy steal a march on his rivals to gain a few precious seconds in the race for overall victory. Of course, they had a good day out in the breakaway too, not far away from a stage win with Cepeda.
Did you really think that a Giro stage of this level of unexpected weirdness would yield less content? Think again. Because OF COURSE buses carrying riders in lieu of them actually riding their bikes would turn into jokes about racing. Never ones to miss an opportunity, Team Corratec try to get a jump on the traffic and make the bus breakaway...
Spirits must have lifted in the Ineos camp, as Geraint Thomas regaled us all with this classic Italian-themed Dad joke
And journalist Chris Marshall-Bell summed up the whole of this year's Giro by planning a future bestseller...
Ultimately though, on a day where safety came first and it actually worked for once, and we were still able to experience the true heartache that only a Thibaut victory near-miss can offer, we think it was this Tweet that summed it up best:
Ciao lovely folks, until tomorrow.