Dear Giro d'Italia,
When we said we wanted the GC battle to come to life, we didn't expect three weeks' worth of emotion in one afternoon.
Today was everything that cycling is about. The vibrant colour and noise of the fans, the agonising gradients - man against mountain, against the clock, against man. Drama, tragedy, mixed feelings... ALL the feelings.
Giro, you've really put us through the ringer this year. But you sure came out swinging.
Here's what we have for you on one of the most epic days of time trialling since, well... YOU KNOW.
Today in review
The profile has been striking fear into the hearts of the riders, and anticipation of something truly memorable has been building, ever since the route information was revealed back last autumn. Concerns over the gravel surface, the hideous gradients, the frankly rude amount of altitude gain in such a short space of time – concern over bike changes, and time cuts, and logistics.
Yet after a Grand Tour beset with issues, there was something satisfying on a soul-deep level about watching the first wave of riders take on Monte Lussari, on Stage 20 – the last meaningful stage of this year’s Giro, at least in terms of the general classification. Because in watching the riders at the bottom of the pile successfully navigate this intimidating 18.5km parcours, and not only that, but to finish it with smiles on their faces, high-fiving the crowd, pulling wheelies, and generally living their best lives, there was a sense that despite the rollercoaster of the past few weeks, that Everything Was Going To Be OK.
The sun bathed the course and spectators lined the narrow, purpose built road, and sure, the first wave was composed of a collection of guys who simply weren’t built for this: sprinters, rouleurs, even time trial specialists like Edoardo Affini, but ones who were not designed to tackle this kind of terrain. But amid the news that the organisers had set the time cut at 50%, meaning that you’d have to literally get off and walk in order to miss out, a sense of logic and fairness prevailed, leaving those who could never hope to challenge on a day like today the time to sit up and smile as they approached the line, to wave to the fans and revel in the knowledge that short of being struck down with gastro issues overnight (you can never be too sure with this Giro), they would complete a Grand Tour. They would be able to say ‘I was there.’
The second wave saw the first suggestion of serious attempts. Thomas Champion of Cofidis enjoyed his time in the hotseat while other real contenders attacked the course. Thomas Gloag, setting the second fastest time despite waving to the crowd and living his best life as he comes to the end of his first Grand Tour, a last minute addition for Jumbo-Visma. Ben Healy, head tucked down, in his Irish national champions skinsuit, helmet askew and struggling with gearing after his bike change. Michael Matthews pouring out everything he had, collapsing to the ground at the conclusion of his effort; and the race’s youngest rider Matthew Riccitello absolutely SMASHING the previous best time, proving that Israel-Premier Tech cannot go one single stage without being the centre of attention, and winning yet more hearts.
The third wave set off, and it was time for the big guns to fire. Santiago Buitrago dropped his chain, with Ilan van Wilder coming in behind hot on his heels. Aussie national champion Jay Vine pipped Riccitello by 3 seconds, before his teammate smashed through that barrier, Brandon McNulty the second American in the hotseat. He was shortly followed by Sepp Kuss, who floated up the climb to beat his compatriot by 2 seconds. Into the top 5, Andreas Leknessund set a great time, going faster than Jay Vine to top off a brilliant run on GC.
It seemed that the organisers had designed this ferocious course to perfection, as it proved that the men at the top were worthy of their place as each successive rider chipped more off the best time. Thibaut Pinot was next to hit the top of the standings with a characteristically gutsy performance, and everyone dared to hope for a few moments… however with the top three out on course it was looking increasingly unlikely that anyone else would feature for the stage win.
But nothing can ever be straightforward, where Primoz Roglič is concerned. As he ascended the slops of Monte Lussari, roared on by the Slovenian faithful who had crossed the border to support their hero, he went over a rough bit of road and dropped his chain. Forced to dismount and reset, he was pushed off again but it slowed him down with the maglia rosa in hot pursuit. Not again! The pain and disbelief was real, and visceral, and rippled across social media as we all shared the same sentiment: surely, not again.
Damiano Caruso was next in the hotseat, followed by João Almeida, as the times continued to reflect the GC standings. Would the final two follow suit, despite the drama?
As Roglič rolled over the line, and Thomas was the lone rider left on the mountain, the cycling world held its collective breath. 26 seconds was all G could afford to lose. The time ticked down. Even when the 26 second advantage had elapsed and he was still pedalling, still, we waited, the crowd in suspended animation, as if it couldn’t be true until someone else celebrated first. In the end, Thomas just didn't have the legs, tiring up a kilometre or so shy of the summit, beaten on the day by a stronger rider, but with a performance he can rightly be extremely proud of.
Thomas crossed the line 40 seconds in arrears and it was true. Primoz Roglič had won the stage and taken control of the maglia rosa. With one ceremonial stage left to ride, Roglič had shed the spectre of La Planche des Belles Filles, buried the memory of the wonky helmet and of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. His notorious bad luck had hit him yet again but this time he had overcome. His teammates were jubilant, and it was clear to see the emotion and release within the group - they will celebrate tonight, and enjoy their day in Rome tomorrow.
And of course, it's this Giro d'Italia. Instead of Gee coming second, it was G. Second on the stage, and on GC, there's a pleasing symmetry in terms of the letters, if not the actual outcomes for the men themselves - both total heroes of the piece, nevertheless.
And so to Rome... it's been emotional.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 21 – Sunday 28thMay – Roma – Roma – 135km (Flat)
Folks, we made it to Rome. How has a full three week Grand Tour passed? As always, it’s felt like about a year. The final stage is a similar story to the Tour de France’s final Champs-Elysée procession stage, and will be one for whichever sprinters have survived the Dolomites to fight it out one last time, which given the generous time cut in today's ITT, will be all of them.
There's not much to say about the route itself, which begins in the centre of Rome, before heading out to the coast and back again. This part of the day will offer photo opportunities, and the usual champagne moments, as the winners soak up the atmosphere and pat themselves on the back. From there, six laps of a circuit around the city of Rome, and we will be treated to views of the city as the riders get down to business and set up for the final sprint-out for the last honours of the 2023 Giro.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Cyclists drinking on the job! A hopeful but ultimately fruitless attempt at a breakaway win. A big sprint. Derek Gee still somehow managing to come second, probably.
HOT TIP: It's hard to look past Jonathan Milan, simply the fastest thing on two wheels at this year's Giro. But in his final sprint at the Giro there would be something poetic about a MARK CAVENDISH win, and he will want more than anything to try his luck in Rome. The romantic in me wants this, so I'll manifest it here (not that this method has worked very well so far).
Lena's Giro Antipasti
Stage 21 - Roma - the eternal city
Everyone knows Rome. It’s one of those cities like New York, São Paulo, Cape Town or Tokyo. Full of history, culture, people. At least as famous as the country itself.
However, the Giro doesn’t always end in Rome compared to the traditional Paris end for the Tour de France.
And maybe by chance or by design this reflects the countries' very different history.
When Rome was at its grandest, France didn’t even exist. When Rome ruled what is France today, Paris was still called Lutetia. However before the Romans could conquer the city, the inhabitants - the Parisii - burned the city. They always had spirit.
When France was at its grandest Rome was ruled by the Pope, its empire long over and its homeland, the Italian Peninsula, divided into different fiefdoms and a play ball for different European dynasties.
France had centuries of unification and centralisation when the first Tour was ridden. Italy had 38 years. And to this day it is very divided.
Italy had many cultural and regional centres: Florence, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Genua, Venice and so many more.
But tomorrow Rome will show us its glory. And what glory it is from different centuries, rulers, religions.
The port of Ostia which lies 3 kilometres further south than its ancient predecessor. The Capitolium which was designed by Michelangelo himself and is built on what was sacred earth in ancient times, with various temples dedicated to various gods. The famous Castel Sant'Angelo originally built for the Roman emperor Hadrian and repurposed to a castle in the Middle Ages.
Rome breathes history - Rome is history.
Thank you for following me along this journey through Italy. I hope you enjoyed it and will come along once again when the Tour starts.
Many new things, but I’m sure also a bit of Napoleon.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
Today will equally stick to the rapid-fire format of yesterday, because my pulse is 180 bpm, I’m simultaneously crying and giggling, happy and hurting, mind-blown and heartbroken…
And most of all; I am sitting here; absolutely besotted and baffled by what turned out to be an unexpectedly chaotic, occasionally convoluted and eventually compelling GT-narrative by the end.
The final hoorays will be left for tomorrow, but for now… Dedications!
84: Stage 20: Eminem - Lose Yourself
This is it. This is the final battle before Rome. On your marks, ready, set, go… up a “HOLY F*** WHAT’S THAT INCLINE” mountain! Good luck guys…
85: Stage 20: Marvin Gay & Tammi Terrell - Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
I cannot express how thankful I am to the Giro Jury for extending the time limit to 50%, allowing the sprinters who battled up this beast of a climb, the last before Rome, and who even gave us some of the most joyful, relieved, happy scenes of the day when they finally made it up. Props to Laurenz Rex for the wheelie-madness too!
86: Stage 20: David Bowie - Young Americans
For a good while it seemed like the hot seat was painted with stars and stripes.
This one is for Kuss, McNulty and most of all the youngest rider in the entire race; Matthew Riccitello. Welcome to the top (11/of the mountain) boys!
87: Stage 20: Prokofiev - Romeo & Juliet, Op.64, Act 1, Scene 2: Dance of the Knights
Alrighty… Time for the serious GC-battles.
Set to the most dramatic piece of ballet-fighting music ever written!
88: Stage 20: Propellerheads ft. Miss Shirley Bassey - History Repeating
Is this the moment we can finally stop talking about THAT 2020 ITT and Roglic?
And the final outing of that picture of Dumoulin and Van Aert in relation to active racing? Please?
89: Stage 20: Olivia Newton-John - Twist of Fate
Jeez, that chain drop. This ITT kept playing with our nerves as watchers and seemed to reinforce the narrative of the guy in yellow being beset by bad luck, until it suddenly wasn’t!
90: Stage 20: Blood Command - I Just Want That Movie Ending
So… this became a very symmetrical narrative afterall, but for a story much longer than just the three weeks this time. It felt like a Hollywood style sports blockbuster, so guess Jumbo got their second GT movie ending in less than 12 months. Both include ample anxiety, catastrophe and fumbles along the way, so congratulations are in order! And the clips of absolutely joyful Jumbo riders celebrating will be my new antidepressant of choice.
91: Stage 20: The Verve - Bittersweet Symphony
Elated for Primoz. Gutted for G. That’s my emotional landscape for the night. Cue melancholic orchestral intro…
92: Stage 20: Chumbawamba - Tubthumping
Adam Blythe’s interview with Geraint Thomas was wonderful.
Thank you Adam, thank you G (And yeah, what is it with that letter and 2nd?)
Geraint, this one is for your off-season plans! Enjoy your two month bender… But please, for my sake, do a Watts Occurring episode before that. Please?
93: Stage 20: Taylor Swift - Shake It Off
To every rider disappointed, sad, exhausted or otherwise having mixed feelings after the last 20 stages: only one stage left, then you get to celebrate for reals! To Rome! And the dance floor!
The Watch Zone
Today's Watch Zone is dedicated to the youngest rider in the Giro, Matthew Riccitello - WHAT. A. RIDE. A long time spent in the hotseat, during which we dared to hope... it wasn't to be in the end but what a promising performance from the 21-year-old, who finished in 11th position in the end in amongst the absolute hitters of this year's Giro. A true credit to his team and a great way to finish his first Grand Tour.
What a day, eh? Three weeks of anticipation, frustration and hope compressed into one afternoon, just ten minutes or so, really, of the most intense emotion, that truly sums up everything that's great about this sport.
It's hard to know where to begin with the fallout from a stage like this but safe to say, personally I think it's one of the most exciting time trials I've ever seen, and it was a fitting end to a mad three weeks, perhaps enough to make up for some of the disappointments.
The most real and present disappointment currently being that of Geraint Thomas. It was a brilliant campaign from the veteran Welshman but it wasn't to be in the end, and as he made his way around the jubilant Jumbo-Visma team congratulating them one by one, he proved his enduring class and great sportsmanship, and made our hearts ache a little bit more.
Speaking of heartache, there's one man who encapsulates that above all others at this Giro, and it's Thibaut Pinot.
Sometimes, though, images are just too good not to share. The joy of the Jumbo Visma boys when hope changed to reality as they watched their teammate Roglic move into the pink was just priceless. There's a video on my Twitter timeline where you can see it happen in real time, but given the bird site is still not playing ball I can't link it up, so you'll have to settle for the bundle of joy in one image:
And so to Rome, where we will reflect upon the first Grand Tour of the year as it reaches completion, and celebrate the achievements of the riders who made it all the way, through one of the most gruelling Grand Tours in recent memory.
Until Roma, ciao bellas <3