With more altitude metres on the menu than words in this bulletin (yes, it's true), it's probably for the best that I keep today's intro short and let the action do the talking. There was plenty of it, and we have loads of cool stuff to entertain you in today's mighty bulletin - here's the contents, read at will!
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Today in review
Stage 19 - The Big One
I'm going to warn you in advance, that this review was 1000 words of hastily typed notes in a previous life: I will attempt to condense that for you now to summarise the chaos and beauty of a climactic day in the Dolomites. LET'S GO! (said Stefano Allocchio) and they were off.
Ah, Larry Warbasse and Vejko Stojnic, the first pair to successfully depart the confines of the bunch, and man oh man, were they made to work for their gap. Laurenz Rex tried to join them, along with another group composed of about 50% Astana riders, but all were unsuccessful. Lots more tried, and as the route swept briefly downhill the gap to the duo up front closed to 30 seconds. Behind, there was plenty of looking at each other and not a lot of decision-making going on. The battles continued: it was the last chance for a meaningful breakaway, and there were many, many riders who refused to go down without a fight.
Michel Hessman took a flyer over the top and tried to get away forcing a chase behind but it was short-lived. A four-man group snapped the elastic, the rest of the peloton stretched thin down the early climb, and Warbasse and Stojnic’s gap narrowed to 12 seconds.
Then one of the funniest moments of the Giro so far (and two of them happened today), as the breakaway entered a tunnel, disappearing from view, only to emerge with Derek Gee among them. It was peak Giro 2023, I actually laughed out loud. Alex Baudin joined the party too, doubling the AG2R representation.
Yet more cagey riding in the bunch, with Jumbo Visma trying their luck again. Magnus Cort made it across. Another group began to move, the gap diminishing from almost a minute down to just a few seconds again as they were pursued. The four chasers caught hold of the group just as yet another sizeable group extricated themselves, including two members of Jumbo Visma, who were riding really aggressively. Gap closed by ineos. 50km down. They tried to calm it but there was no control, and further attacks flew in. Buitrago got away with two chasers in pursuit, Oldani and Hepburn. Then, finally, a calming. 60km odd of breakaway formation, and probably the most exciting of the race so far. Rojas from Movistar squeezed out too, followed by Carlos Verona.
The stragglers joined up with the group one by one, with the Movistar pair last to make it over, joined by Mattia Bais who'd appeared at some point. And the gap drifted out quickly.
Everyone switched off, except for one man… Ben Healy. He snuck in a ninja attack on the first climb, with Pinot trying to follow. A split in the bunch was the result, as Pinot closed down Healy and the pair of them began to cut into the gap, but it would never be enough and Healy sat up, Pinot begrudgingly shaking the hand offered by the Irishman in recognition of the fruitless chasse patate.
A few minutes later Healy went AGAIN, the little mischief-maker, and Pinot was straight back on his wheel, his expression one of resignation, like a father having to chase down an unruly toddler for the umpteenth time, and it all came to nought, but was highly amusing.
Vejko Stojnic went pop. The gap opened out to 7 minutes. Carlos Verona suffered a crash, ripping his jersey at the hip, which it later became apparent was caused by an AG2R team car, later excluded from the race for being at fault for the incident.
The gap opened out to 8.30. Gee won a big chunk of mountains points, presumably aiming to finish on the podium in that competition to match his other podiums. What a guy.
Heading onto the Passo Giau, the gap slimmed a small amount with an epic amount of climbing still on the cards. Buitrago, surely the most likely to win from this particular configuration of riders, moved away, with a small gap to Alex Baudin and Stefano Oldani behind, then Carlos Verona moved past them both, followed by who else but Derek Gee. They both caught Buitrago. Hepburn and Cort joined them, the rest looking spent. Ineos drove the pace in the bunch for Geraint Thomas.
Michael Hepburn was on the form of his life, putting in a dig at the front of the bunch, but Derek Gee pulled past him in time to take the KOM points at the top of the Passo Giau and seriously, what an epic performance from the Canadian. I took my hat off to him a while back, I think I need to buy more hats to take off. Canadian themed hats.
Salvatore Puccio and Ben Swift put in seriously strong shifts for Ineos. Roglič took a planned bike change with 19.5km to go. See, I'm just leaving in my original notes here, it was that kind of a day.
On the day's penultimate ascent, the Passo Tre Croci, Warbasse was the first rider to launch, but he faded quickly, Buitrago, Cort and Gee passing him as the break split into pieces once again. The rain came back. Because of course it did.
Hailstones! Because why not? Jay Vine dropped which was bad news for Almeida. Meanwhile, Thomas was safely sandwiched between De Plus and Arensman, and Roglič still had four helpers, a yellow and black horde behind the leaders.
De Plus put in a devastating turn to slim down the peloton to just the top favourites, and diminish the gap to under 4 minutes. The breakaway came back together yet again on the descent.
Onto Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and Gee stole an early march, setting his own pace with Buitrago and Hepburn in pursuit.
Back in the GC group Dennis dropped away, and Arensman pulled clear of the rest. With De Plus having given his all, the top riders were down to one domestique each.
Buitrago was never in doubt though, and with 1.5 remaining of the climb he cruised into the solo lead, leaving Gee grinding up the climb at his own pace in the Bahrain rider's wake. Buitrago would win the stage, a year and a day since he last won a Giro stage, the pure climber triumphing atop the cima coppi.
Derek Gee arrived second, another second place to add to his collection, and in a cruel, or perhaps perfect, twist of fate, he finished the day in second in both the KOM and points classifications too.
The GC action centred around the three protagonists heading into the final kilometres. Almeida moved to the front, Thomas on his wheel and Roglič behind, the top three rising to the top, swapping turns as Roglič was next to attack, and only Thomas was equal to it, Almeida distanced for a bit but then working his way back in his inimitable style and moving through to the front. Arensman and Caruso make back onto the leading three GC riders to keep their GC positions intact.
Thomas was next to attack, and Roglič followed, but Almeida could not. Though Thomas was able to pull clear for a stretch, Roglič moved past him on the final flat run-in to the line, to make three seconds back on the maglia rosa, Almeida losing almost 20 seconds on both of his rivals.
It will be decided in the final, epic mountain time trial, as many suspected it would - to Monte Lussari. Where Derek Gee will, probably, find a way to come second.
with Tom Portsmouth
When looking for tactics in the high mountains, it’s more common to see them deployed at the rear of the peloton. Today, on a difficult route to il tre cima di lavaredo. We saw many riders use the slip ‘n’ slide method to circumnavigate the extremity of the slopes enroute.
After the initial breakaway of fifteen riders got clear, it was the Ineos Grenadiers who were set the task of controlling the race. Over the next hundred kilometres or so, their two domestiques, Salvatore Puccio and Ben Swift, used this effective technique for riding efficiently over the high mountains.
Picture this. Puccio gets to the final couple of kilometres of a long mountain pass and discovers it is impossible to keep the required tempo. It is still too far from the finish for his teammates Laurens De Plus and Thymen Arensman to ride. Their job, instead, lies to ride the final two climbs at an infernal pace in order to protect their GC leader, Geraint Thomas. What do you do?
His best course of action is to swing over. By remaining within his limits, he will be within touching distance of the rear peloton. By utilising this tactic Puccio is able to return to the tail end of the peloton; he will progressively move his way through the strung out group. By the base of the descent he is able to recommence his hard but steady tempo at the front of the peloton for yet more kilometres.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sam Oomen was struggling in the closing metres of Passo Tre Croci under the rapid pace of Laurens De Plus. He decided to hang onto the peloton for as long as possible. Resulting in an implosion of energy, losing more time than if he continued at a speed just below the pace of the general classification favourites over the summit.
The tactical skill was also identified in the breakaway group. Weaker climbers are able to save some much needed power in the legs for the walls rounding out the stage. Whilst the front runners are attacking and bridging across gaps, they are consuming higher energy through their regular punchy accelerations. It’s possible Derek Gee could have deployed this tactic to reduce his energy expenditure before attacking the final two ascents of the Cima Coppi.
The skill is to take courage in maintaining your threshold power, whilst being aware that there is only so much time per kilometre to be lost. It’s difficult to explain, but at a speed of 20km/h, a reduction of 5km/h would only result in a loss of one minute per kilometre. With the steeper gradients of Stage 19, the speed ratio would only need to be 15km/h to 12km/h for a loss of one minute per kilometre.
This tactic may seem easy to implement, but only the wiliest and most experienced riders implement this tactical advantage effectively, also showing full confidence in their descending ability to fall down the hill at meteoric speeds. They are able to think logically despite being in clear oxygen debt. Once you see it, it cannot be unseen. Riders you think were out of the game may have just been playing the wily game to get to the finish in the best shape possible.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 20 – Saturday 27thMay – Tarvisio – Monte Lussari – 18.6km (ITT)
It’s not often you see time trial rated 5 out of 5 stars in difficulty, especially when it’s less than 20km long (by contrast, last Sunday’s 35km flat ITT was 4 stars). But this isn’t any ordinary time trial. This torture, disguised as a time trial, which makes the 2020 Tour de France Planches des belles Filles time trial look like a coffee ride.
The first 10km are undulating, and the final 8km will see the riders ascend just under 900m – an astonishing effort which will carve massive gaps into the GC race, as only the strong will survive.
Monte Lussari is a beast. The riders will be offered the option of a bike change 9.4km in, before they attack the lower slopes, not that there’s anything low about them. The first 5km of the climb averages an astonishing 15.3%, and with maximum pitches of up to 22%, it’s fairly regular throughout, and will cause significant cracks to appear.
The path snakes through the woods as it ascends the mountain, and there is a short respite of around a kilometre at 3.9% before nasty kicker that maxes out at 22%. Pure, unadulterated agony for the riders as they fight to complete the final section of this year’s Giro d’Italia. I can’t wait.
There were photos of a gravel section on the climb, but the official site suggests it’s all been paved – this remains to be seen – but will add in yet another obstacle. It's the sprinters you've got to feel for. To earn their chance to fight for one more stage victory in Rome, they will have to make it up, and within the time cut, whatever that may be - let's hope it's extremely generous.
WHAT TO EXPECT: PAIN! AGONY! SUFFERING! The most epic gurning you've ever seen. Brilliant entertainment. Hopefully (please) no wonky helmets.
HOT TOP: It’s redemption time for PRIMOŽ ROGLIČ on the border of his homeland, he will win the Giro on the slopes of Monte Lussari and finally lay to rest the spectre of La Planche des belles Filles.
Lena's Giro Antipasti
The Giro is quickly coming to an end and its finale will be a mountain time trial right at the Slovenian border. I expect tons of Slovenian fans tomorrow. We already saw quite a few of them scattered along the last few stages and that’s no surprise at all since the peloton has been riding through the Friaul.
If you’ve been following the Antipasti you’ll already know that borders, people, language and culture are a bit complicated in Italy.
There are two Friûli today, so to speak. One is a cultural area in northeastern Italy and the other is an administrative-political entity, the autonomous region of Friûli Venezia Giulia.
Friûli is multi-ethnic and multilingual. Today, standard Italian is the primary language however that’s a rather modern development.
Friûlan is part of the Rhaeto-Romance language group (which can also be found in Switzerland in the canton Graubünden in its own regional dialect of Romansh) and has 600.000 speakers.
Friûlan has protected language status and is taught in school and in common conversations in the provinces Udine, Gorzia and Pordenone.
The Venetian dialect is also used in Perdonne and even a Venetian dialect with large Friûlan and Slovenian influences can be found: Bisiaco.
However, due to the close proximity to the Slovenian border and a sizeable Slovenian minority, several Slovenian dialects are also used in the area. There are currently 45,000 - 51,000 Slovenian speakers in Friûlan.
Historically, a large German minority also existed in the region. However, due to relocation during the wars their numbers have been much reduced.
Protected languages are currently Friûlan, Slovenian and German. None of the dialects are protected.
The region suffered similarly to other multi-ethnic regions when the fascists tried to Italianise the region.
Friûli is only used in the Friûlan language; the Slovenians call it Furlanija and the Germans Friaul.
Monte Lussari also has its own name in several languages. It’s called Svete Višarje in Slovenian and is only 28 kilometres from the famous winter sport hub Krajanska Gora.
It’s only fitting that Primož Roglič should ride this mountain time trial with a home crowd advantage. Even more so, given his history at Monte Lussari: he visited for sporting reasons once before - a junior ski jumping competition in 2007. The result? A win, for team Slovenia.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
Okay… This is gonna break slightly from the format, because I honestly feel like everything I know about this world has gone out the window with Derek Gee and Magnus Cort coming in 2nd (but of course!) and 3rd on the Cima Coppi of the Giro. So…
First we have some quick dedications:
71: Stage 19: The Beatles - With a little help from my friends
To the domestiques, the helpers in the GC battle, the teams rallying around a sprinter as the road just went up and up.. and then more up!
72: Stage 19: Lady Gaga & Arianna Grande - Rain On Me (Purple Disco Machine Remix)
We’ve had a lot of rain, but THAT shower had to be the most aesthetically dramatic yet, right?
73: Stage 19: The GO! Team - Everyone’s a VIP to Someone
As we get closer and closer to Rome, it becomes clear that you don’t need to win stages to win hearts. Pinot AND Healy, Gee, Van Wilder, Charlie Quarterman… add your own favourites to the list as you see fit.
74: Stage 19: eee gee - perfect 10 (ft. Harvey Sutherland)
Three words, eight letters, and I’m yours. The words are obviously: G, Giro, Gee!
75: Stage 19/20: Klara Hammarström - Run to the Hills
Well, guess all that’s left now is that pesky time trial, no biggie, right… Right?
76-83: Stage 19/20: Morricone Madness
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Okay, so… You can see the titles and what movies they are from on the actual playlist.
And if you aren’t aware of how goddamn perfect Ennio Morricone’s Western Oeuvre is as dramatic battle tracks, please educate yourself. And watch the movies. In my humble (but over-educated) opinion, 'Once Upon a Time in the West' is probably THE most impressive example of how narrative lines and character description can show up as functional storytelling elements in the instrumental score as well! Just… watch it. Charles Bronson is cool and Claudia Cardinale is probably the most beautiful woman to ever walk the earth, so it’s not just for your ears.
This is a longform attempt of encapsulating the final throes of the GC battle…
It has nervous anticipation, ample violence and chaos, soft emotional intermezzos, strong thematic lines, a cinematic backdrop, redemption, revenge, rolling wheels and the ecstasy of gold by the end of it.
Yes, this section might be long, but so have these three weeks been for the riders, so surely you can survive 8 tracks of epicness as well?
And so is Monte Lussari.
Three men enter the final showdown tomorrow, and who the heck knows how many leave?
It’s the Giro, I’m already traumatised. I hope the current top-3 all get to share the podium in some constellation or other, and that everyone still in the race makes it safely to Rome now. I hope that everyone gets to celebrate once the suffering is finally over, y’know?
No one has fought this far, to only come this far…
There have been a number of emergent legends at this year's Giro, and three of them made themselves very much known today.
From Ben Healy's gleeful attacks which can surely be summed up as 'just for shits and giggles', to Derek Gee morphing into the new Wout van Aert, as capable of achieving on a (ridiculously) high mountain stage as on the flat, to Charlie Quarterman, who has suffered a great deal but kept his chin up, and us entertained, throughout and has proclaimed himself such, so who are we to argue?
For now it's late, and I'm tired, and I would love for you all to read this before we all turn in for the night so I'll leave it at that for now. Apart from one man, and his stuffed fox... Because cycling is just the most wonderful, unpredictable and absolutely bonkers sport, and that's why we love it. Ciao!