The final stage before the second rest day of a Grand Tour often sees the action kick off as the GC contenders aim to outdo one another and gain the upper hand going into their day of recovery. Would today be such a day?
With an absolutely BUMPER crop of features for you today I'll get right to your contents - look out for NEW FEATURES including the return of rider reactions in 3 words, and a Talking Tactics section with new contributor Tom Portsmouth.
Today in review
Stage 15 - Another day, another break
It was the Lombardia day at the Giro, as the weary peloton tackled the final day of the race before the second rest day, traversing the region that usually hosts the autumn classic. Bruno Armirail in pink for Groupama-FDJ, a new set of faces in command of the peloton for the day. It was another day for a strong break and as has become customary, they escaped with relative ease, Ben Healy and Simone Velasco taking off early, a large chasing group in their wake, eventually making contact, with two more trying to come across including Einer Rubio.
With the peloton just over 5 minutes back, the leaders headed onto the category 1 Valico di Valcava. Rojas dropped back to tow Rubio across to the front group, which now numbered 15 determined riders. Ballerini had a bit of fun with his fanclub, riding exceptionally well on the climb given his capabilities, and the gap grew to around 6.40, with the GC group still unwilling to stick their noses in the wind.
With the KOM summit approaching, Rubio launched and Ben Healy followed, and an elbow-to-elbow battle for position ensued as they fought for their line, Healy getting the better of Rubio and flying through to take maximum points and head off alone for a while, presumably to cool off from the conflict, before he was reabsorbed by the group.
There was a lot of downhill after that, with the bunch strung out on the wide, twisting descents, and then a mysterious hot ball of fire appeared in the sky and miraculous things happened – riders began to unzip kit and NOT immediately replace it with other, drier pieces of kit! Ben Healy even sprayed himself with water – as if it hasn’t been raining enough?! |Yes, the weather was finally taking a blessed turn for the better.
The gap stretched out to 7 minutes and the climbing began again, with Healy topping the category 2 first to add to his KOM total. A small crash for Velasco, Berwick and McNulty held them up briefly, but they soon chased back on.
Healy and Rubio engaged in a full-on two-up sprint for the third collection of KOM points, Einer Rubio's superior bike throw scoring him the points on that one, the two riders really bringing the contest for the maglia azzurra back to life. A fist bump to bury their differences as they crested the climb and we rolled on towards one final test.
It was all quiet for a while which made it all the more surprising when Ben Healy took off, on the pretty streets of the outskirts of Bergamo, with 70km still to ride. It was a short, speculative attack that was quickly reeled back in and the group returned to stalemate heading toward the final climb, until Nicolo Bonifazio took his chance to sneak away, moving into the solo lead.
As the break hit the slopes of the Roncola Alta, Bonifazio had built up a lead of 1.18, and Ballerini was immediately dropped, followed by Albanese and Gavazzi, Berwick and Pasqualon, as Healy, Rojas and others set off in pursuit of the Intermarche rider, eating swiftly into his lead before passing him.
Feisty breakaway team Israel-Premier Tech’s Marco Frigo set off, with McNulty in pursuit, and Rubio and Healy behind, until Healy dropped Rubio and went after the pair in the lead. He went straight over the top of Frigo, who dangled off the back but ground his way back on. McNulty launched an attack but Healy was equal to it; when the roles were reversed, the American couldn’t stay with the explosive Irishman, who had a gap for a number of kilometres before the UAE rider managed to reel him back in. It looked set for a two-up fight for the stage win.
Frigo began to close the gap on the duo out front, and with 10km to go he finally closed the gap and they became a trio once again. With 7km to go, McNulty launched an attack, and Frigo sat on Healy’s wheel as the Irishman was forced to close the gap.
Heading into the short, steep climb in Bergamo, Healy attacked, and Frigo dropped immediately, but McNulty was not so easy to shift, sticking to the EF man’s wheel like glue. It was cagey heading into the final couple of kilometres, and miraculously with just under a kilometre to go, Frigo made it back on AGAIN and opened up his sprint - it looked as though he might take an incredible, well-deserved victory for IPT but it was too soon, McNulty and Healy reaching full speed and the American taking the win and breaking both Irish and Italian hearts. McNulty wins his first Grand Tour stage and takes the second win for UAE Team Emirates.
Heading onto the climb into Bergamo the GC favourites massed at the front of the peloton, with João Almeida looking keen to make a difference, Primož Roglič in close order, the maglia rosa not visible but the rest of the favourites sticking with the Portuguese champion. A group of 8 detached themselves from the rest, with the likes of Lennard Kämna and Hugh Carthy missing out, but Pinot and Kämna headed the charge of the chasing group to close the gap which in the end, was almost erased, just 2 second. The maglia rosa followed around half a minute later but would retain the jersey into the second rest day.
A few short moments of excitement to end two weeks of what has been one of the most invisible GC battles in recent memory. Thank the cycling gods for the likes of Ben Healy, Derek Gee and the band of breakaway brothers who’ve made the race live and breathe in the absence of an overall battle.
with the Giro peloton
After all his efforts in the break so far this Giro it is no surprise that Toms Skujiņš pre-race impressions were ‘My Grupetto Time’. And for once the weather gods have been kind to the riders and the sun has shone on them all day, resulting in a post-race conclusion of ‘Toastie Sunshine Grupetto’, which is a nice feeling to carry into the rest day tomorrow.
Our other breakaway hero Derek Gee had mixed emotions before the start today ‘Excited, Sleepy, Ready.’ The fact the riders avoided another soaking by the elements was also reflected in his post-race analysis ‘Exhausted, Stoked, Dry.’ Here’s hoping that Gee gets to rest those legs tomorrow, so we see him in some more action next week.
It seems like it was a hard day for our friend Charlie Quarterman, before the race he was ‘Scared for time-limit’ but thankfully for him, and for us, he managed to come in well within the limits in a group that included Mark Cavendish. His thoughts after crossing the line were ‘Hot, Sick, Relieved,’ We are all relieved too and hope he recovers during his well-deserved rest tomorrow.
with Tom Portsmouth
A warm welcome to a new contributor, Bingoal WB's Tom Portsmouth, who takes a closer look at the tactics that made the final 20km of today's stage so intriguing.
Giro Stage 15 - Bergamo Tactics (Final 20km)
The tactical nous of Marco Frigo was something I haven’t seen on the TV screen for a long time, even GCN’s Robbie McEwen stating he did everything right. So let’s delve into the dealing of his cards, and how he used them to the best of his abilities.
A 16-kilometre time trial to the finish challenged Frigo as he was all alone against some of the finest time trialists in the professional peloton. At the midpoint of the downhill, Frigo was trailing behind at 37 seconds. Once McNulty made the junction on the technical descent, Healy killed the speed by taking some questionable lines around some of the long sweeping bends at the base of the Roncola Alta descent.
By the foot of the mountain, Frigo was some 20 seconds down on the road; yet he was managed to close the gap second by second. Two steps forward one step back. Six kilometres later though, the two leaders scrubbed their speed further, allowing Frigo to jump across the gap in a mightily aero position Ben Healy would be envious of. He achieved all of this despite two TV motorbikes sandwiching the two leaders, offering a little cocoon of draft for them to cruise along in. The lead motorbike was just ten metres in front of McNulty and Healy!
Once Frigo rejoined the duo out front, he noticed Brandon McNulty taking on fuel in the final nine kilometres of the stage. Frigo, wisely, recognised that he should do the same. It took him several seconds to retrieve his precious fuel after fumbling around in a pocket without anything in it. So easily done after a long and arduous day with over 4000m of climbing, and in the breakaway for the entire day. He managed to find a gel successfully, and recuperated for a few kilometres in the wheel, playing the psychological game perfectly.
Inevitably, the two stronger riders began to look to Frigo to pull a turn on the front. Ben Healy turned his attention on the Italian, allowing McNulty to break clear. Frigo, playing into the philosophy of game theory, did not budge from the rear wheel of Healy. This forced the Irishman to close a large gap, which he managed to do in no time with mighty strength in the ridiculously aero position that he adopted. Another match burnt, well done Marco. Polo.
Eventually they came to the final 2.5 kilometre kicker synonymous with the final of Il Lombardia. Memories strike back to when Pogacar attempted to drop Fausto Masnada. Or Bob Jungels launching a searing attack before winning the bunch sprint from the GC favourites on a like-for-like finish in the 2017 Giro d’Italia. On this ‘berg’ Frigo’s fatigued climbing legs began to show once more, losing the wheel after Ben Healy struck out for gold.
Once again, Frigo used his cards well, setting a pace on the climb which may well have deterred the two, better, climbers from attacking on the earlier slopes. With 19 seconds to close after the summit of the berg, Frigo somehow managed to claw his way back, timing the junction at precisely the right moment. He took the slingshot from the TV motorbike, and proceeded to surprise the inseparable duo up front. He used the speed difference to his advantage, opening up a gap of around three to four bike lengths over the two infront. What worked against his perfect deal of a bad hand? Well, Brandon McNulty looked over his left shoulder to see where the Italian was on the road, managing to slightly pre-empt the move.
This rush initiated Healy’s jump just as Frigo drew level with his front wheel. A move well played, but as Robbie McEwen said in The Breakaway it was just 50 metres too far for the young Italian. It was eventually Brandon McNulty who, rubbing shoulders with Healy, came around for his first Grand Tour Victory on Stage 15 of the Giro D’Italia 2023.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 16 – Tuesday 23rdMay – Sabbio Chiese – Monte Bondone – 203km (Mountains)
It’s a 5 star stage, baby! Let’s get this party started. Assuming everything goes ahead as normal and there are no further route changes due to frog rain, cockroach landslide or llama plague (seriously I would not put ANYTHING past this Giro), then the riders have a huge 5200m of altitude to face down on stage 16, on a day which will redefine the general classification, and find out who has the legs to go all the way to Rome.
The bunch will enjoy the first 64km of the day, as they head along the north-west coast of Lago di Garda towards Trentino. Because of the natural beauty of Italy, I’m sure, but mainly because it’s almost completely flat. It will allow them to save their energy for the efforts ahead.
And the efforts are quite something. First up the Passo di Santa Barbara, a category 1 climb of 12.7km with an average gradient of 8.3%, which is tough enough without then rolling immediately down and up again onto a short, sharp category 3 climb. Then there are two category 2 climbs, and then a beast of a summit finish to Monte Bondone – a long, gruelling 21.4km of climbing, with an average of 6.7% which hides within it 10 hairpin bends and a maximum pitch of 15% on the upper slopes.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Um, I keep touting stages as THE DAY for the GC to kick off and so far, well. Yes. I fully expect there to be a GC battle on this day because if not now, when? It seems likely that we'll see another big breakaway go, but with many riders having tried their luck it's down to whoever feels they have mountain goat spirit to launch a big move.
HOT TIP: Honestly, if it’s not a day for the GC to come to life I don't know when will be. Will they win the stage though? Hey, if I predict it, it won't happen, so let's go again with a breakaway rider. But who? Lorenzo Fortunato, or perhaps THIBAUT PINOT, to take the win on Monte Baldano.
Lena's Giro Antipasti
Tuesday’s stage will mainly take place in Trentino. It may surprise you to hear that Trentino in and of itself is not its own region in Italy. Rather it’s a combined region with Südtirol/Alto Adige. And here’s where the difficulties start.
The language of Trentino is Italian. The language of Südtirol is German.
The Italian nation state is rather young compared to many of its European neighbours. What is today Italy belonged to several different European kingdoms.
In the case of Trentino-Südtirol, to the Austrian Habsburg empire. Then named the County of Tyrol which consisted of northern Tyrol - which borders what is today Germany and now belongs to Austria - Südtirol, which is now part of Italy, Trentino (also part of Italy) and East Tyrol which is again part of Austria today.
One of the reasons this area has been so contested is the Brenner Pass. One of the earliest trans-Alpine roads was regularized by the Romans. And it was majorly important for the Holy Roman Empire because it served as their primary connection to Italy which held access to the Pope and their Italian feudal territories.
Lots of interests connect here. But as I was saying it was for a very long time part of the Habsburg empire. One thing changed that - or rather one man.
If you’ve been reading our Bulletins diligently you probably know who I mean. Let me once again introduce Napoleon to the scene.
In 1805, the Habsburgs had to cede Tyrol to the Kingdom of Bavaria. This was met with three Tyrolean uprisings and the birth of Andreas Hofer's mythos as Tyrolean national hero.
Tyrol also was part of the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy. Then Napoleon was defeated and the county of Tyrol was once again part of the Habsburgian empire. However, following Napoleon the idea of an Italian nation state was growing and growing, and Italian-speaking Trentino wanted to be part of that.
What made everything more dicey was the county of Tyrol receiving more parts of what is today Italy (and was before that part of the papal state and Italian speaking). The Trentini wanted independence from the Habsburgs.
The Habsburgs lost Lombardia and Venetia during the 19th Century in the Italian independence wars. That made trade, commerce and travel to their Italian-speaking neighbours even more difficult.
Wishing for autonomy, they devised a plan to make the Italian state border along the main chain of the Alps. Which would mean a significant loss of territory for Austria and Switzerland. It would also mean that the Italian-speaking minority would replicate their fate on French and German-speaking minorities in an Italian nation state.
The First World War once again changed European maps severely and Trentino-Südtirol became part of the Italian nation state. Autonomous government wasn’t granted and the fascist government tried to move Italians out of South Tyrol.
Trentino-Südtirol remained part of Italy after the Second World War but received certain concessions like the dual use of German and Italian in schools and as the administrative language.
However despite cultural and language differences the provinces Trentino and South Tyrol remained one region, which was a recipe for conflict. Several violent bombings happened during the 1950s.
A second autonomy decree was granted in 1972 which provided autonomous self-government within established institutions and peaceful conflict resolution between the different minorities.
This proved a major success and made it possible to do what was unthinkable just 100 years ago. The Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino Euroregion was established in 1996 with the goal to promote cross-border cooperation in the areas of infrastructure, tourism, traffic, environmental issues and many more areas.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
54: Stage 15: Glenn Miller and his Orchestra - Falling Leaves
Location, location, location
Today’s setting was, as everyone else has already stated as well, Giro di Lombardia territory. With the sun out (say whaaaat!?!) and the scenic Bergamo backdrop it all felt very classy in a 'wear a nice dress, maybe a hat and sip cocktails from the good glasses' way - which is as good a reason for Glenn Miller as anyone will ever need. So chin-chin, enjoy the bike racing.
55: Stage 15: Wham! - Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
To the non-Twitter readers of this bulletin, this might be a bit of a journey, but stay with me, please?
I have learned that I have something in common with Ben Stiller (yes, THAT Ben Stiller); we both cheer for Geraint Thomas and watch the Giro. So we’re basically besties, right?
The rest of cycling Twitter learned this too, and this morning it prompted the Giro’s already high-performing Twitter admin to post a clip of various riders doing the 'Magnum' from Zoolander and serving some impeccable blue steel (Edoardo Affini won that pose-off in my opinion!)
This in return caused the GCN Breakaway hosts to do their own response video in their trademark adorkable-but-also-kinda-cool vibe, and here we are with me realising I’m a Robbie when I pose for pictures AND roaming through the Zoolander soundtrack.
The choice was made as this one is played RIGHT before it all explodes (literally!) in the movie, and after 2022’s Torino stage I had high expectations for today in the GC-battle department.
Those didn’t exactly manifest to a level that could be called explosive (...no one but Healy was planning on going solo, so to speak…) and I maybe felt a bit taken for a spin (...like the proverbial yoyo…) even if the sun DID shine brighter than Doris Day for the finale, but there was small sparks and glimmers that the GC guys will take us dancing next week instead…! So I have hope!
(Apologies for the incredibly silly lyrics-based sentence here, when it comes to Wham! I really just do wanna hit that high… SORRY! I DID IT AGAIN!)
56: Stage 15: Wham! - Young Guns (Go For it!)
When today’s first-time GT-stage winner McNulty at the ripe ol’ age of 25 and a birth certificate saying 1998 is the oldest in the front breakaway trio that definitely went for it, this feels like an appropriate celebratory song of Brandon, Ben and Marco’s great big Bergamo adventure!
57: Stage 15: Ennio Morricone - Il Triello / The Trio (From: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo)
Tense trios & third week suspense
Okay. Here’s the deal: The fact that I’ve not just made a playlist solely consisting of Morricone tracks is almost a mystery! (Or a miracle, depending on your pov…)
But as we go into the third week with minuscule time differences between the GC favourites and some strong looking surprises in the mix, a full Spaghetti Western musical bonanza is destined to happen in the week to come.
We start off the proceedings with a teaser from the probably best known classic of the genre; Sergio Leone’s 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly'. Don’t worry, you’ll get the one you expected, ocarina thrills and all, next week, but for now we go with a track that both fits the front group today AND the current GC-top trio of Almeida, Roglic and Thomas… Let the suspense build!
Happy Rest Day!
It would be remiss of me not to begin today's Codetta by jumping back to the sunny Sunday morning which saw the interaction referenced by Momo, above - cue blue steel...
And of course, the GCN Breakaway team's efforts for comparison...
On another quiet day, GC-wise at least, Davide Ballerini was responsible for about a third of the day's entertainment (Healy and Rubio took care of most of the rest). He had some fun with his fanclub as he passed through this town, as you can see below.
Popcorn moment of the day
If you haven't caught up on the Twitter drama, Jonathan Vaughters posted a rather controversial comment following the conclusion to today's stage, which triggered a flurry of responses, including from the man who Vaughters had originally called out. I've screenshotted the highlights, feel free to grab a bucket of sweet and salted and catch up on the rest...
Israel-Premier Tech: Underdog Heroes
I declared myself an official EF fangirl prior to the race and I've not changed my tune - they've been brilliant. But I have to add another team to the list - Israel-Premier Tech have been ebullient, resilient, entertaining and aggressive. Every single one of their riders has contributed something to the cause of enlivening this somewhat subdued Giro, and yet they are still without a win, a situation I find frankly unacceptable. So I'm launching an official 'IPT STAGE WIN' campaign for week 3, possibly an ill-timed effort given the GC battle is about to kick into gear but hey, it's the thought that counts. LET'S GO BOYS!
Enjoy your rest day, folks - six stages to go. Ciao bellas!