There comes a point in some Grand Tours where you sit back, shake your head, and feel like you've hit a point of no return, in terms of what your heart, emotions and nerves can take. Remember the 2021 Tour de France, which began with the drama of the 'omi-opi' crash, and saw the hits keep on coming, in terms of major crashes. This year's Giro has gone above and beyond, in terms of setbacks, with persistent horrendous weather, a slew of covid cases and other illnesses, and the loss of two of the top GC favourites along with many more - 40 riders to be exact, following today's stage, who have departed a corsa rosa besieged with negativity.
Yesterday, the halfway point of the race, marked that 'I can't even' moment for me. Seeing Tao Geoghegan Hart crash out of the race when he was in such incredible form, arguably the best of his life, just seemed too cruel. It compounded the misery of the grim news from Italy, the tempestuous fortunes of the peloton and the complete lack of control over any of it, and I stepped away, metaphorically at least, for a few hours, took some time out with friends, allowing the latent processing part of my brain take care of damage limitation, in terms of my emotional state.
We all need to take some time away - even the riders have a rest day - but equally, we're in it for the long haul, because it wouldn't be right to leave them to it, especially given what they've all endured already - so let's dive back in, full gas, and explore a day which was all about the true spirit of the race - the breakaway.
Today in review
Stage 12 - The Big Breakaway Bonanza
It goes without saying that many of us were feeling a bit fragile this morning, as we prayed to whatever weather gods might currently be frowning over Italy to spare the Giro, and the wider regions of Italy, especially those worst affected by flooding, some respite.
And we were granted our wish, for almost all of the day, in the end. Would we be as lucky with the race; could we avoid a day of further spills and setbacks?
Looking at today’s stage profile, and with a huge mountain challenge on the horizon, it was almost guaranteed that a breakaway win would be on the cards. It took a while for that break to assemble but when it did, it was a mighty one. 26 riders strong, it included plenty of big names, with Trek-Segafredo the best represented team – four riders in the group, presumably riding for Bauke Mollema who was on a mission to complete his Grand Tour trilogy.
A determined Italian quartet chased down the breakaway, featuring two riders from Bardiani, Lorenzo Fortunato and Stefano Oldani, and they made contact to swell the ranks to 30 riders, but the maglia rosa group weren’t giving them a huge amount of slack, the gap stabilising at 3 minutes give or take for a large part of the day.
Jonathan Milan tried to chase on too but was unable to stick with the pace on the inclines, and later visited the medical car for treatment for a nosebleed. His absence from the front group ramped up the tension in the contest for ciclamino a notch, with Mads Pedersen and Michael Matthews clear to sprint for the big points. Pedersen won the intermediate sprint to close in on Milan by 12 points and put himself in a strong position heading into the mountains, where it’s possible Milan may struggle (and I'm not only talking about potential nosebleeds).
With 100km remaining on the stage, the rain made an unwelcome reappearance, and as riders throughout the peloton donned the trusty rain jackets one again, at the front of the breakaway, a group of five riders forced a gap, and in the following group the cohesion collapsed, with Alberto Bettiol among a few launching attacks to try and break clear, while those with riders in the front group disrupted the chase. The leaders were a well-oiled machine, quickly pulling out over a minute as chaos reigned in the larger group.
The pressure showed in the gap as it opened out to 3.45, but back in the bunch a crash brought down Bahrain’s Jack Haig – he remounted his bike so hopefully not too banged up.
Frustrations in the large chasing group were mounting, with Alberto Bettiol and Stefano Oldani clearly keen to bridge across on the long, flat straight, determinedly putting in further attacks only to be repeatedly thwarted by the teammates of the break.
Finally though, a group of three - Scaroni, Bettiol, and Baudin - made the break from the prickly non-cooperative, and they got a gap, but had an awful lot of work still to do, three minutes adrift of the lead group of four. More lone attackers escaped and another group sneaked away, as the gap to the main GC group stretched out to over 8 minutes.
Onto the climb, and it was Toms Skujiņš who pushed the pace, the first victim Alessandro Tonelli of Bardiani, followed shortly after by Seb Berwick, though he managed to fight his way back. The chasing group were drifting further and further away, and growing in numbers as they coalesced once again, but they were paying for their lack of cooperation - it would come down to the trio of leaders for the win.
Skujiņš was in spritely mood and dominated on the climb, with Nico Denz grinding out the ride of his life to hang on over the summit. The worst of the pain was behind him as it was now downhill heading into Rivoli, and with Berwick back in contention, it would be a three-man fight to the line.
Denz tried his luck at winnowing the group at 12km out, and it looked as though he'd done for Seb Berwick but a couple of kms later the tenacious Aussie was able to come back yet again, and the three stayed together for the rest of the race, resigning themselves to the sprint.
It proved to be a second win in as many days for the Germans, with BORA-hansgrohe's Nico Denz able to utilise his power to drive over the line and take the first glory for his team of this year's Giro, and just his fifth ever career victory - his first Grand Tour stage.
Behind, the GC group were content to roll in together, not pushing their luck with a big, serious, proper, race-defining day ahead of them tomorrow.
It was a day of excitement, frustration, joy, but most importantly, minimal drama (of the bad kind - aside from Jack Haig who we hope is all claer to continue the race tomorrow) - more of this please, Giro.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 13 – Friday 19thMay – Borgo Franco d’Ivrea – Crans Montana – 207km (Mountains)
Today’s the day folks. Big boy pants on fellas, it’s time to go up some massive mountains. Three huge ascents to be exact, on the stage when the true GC race will really kick into gear. The riders will have just over 60km to warm up before the frankly cruel 5100m* of climbing begins, and there’s no gentle build-up today, as the first climb is the formidable Col du Grand Saint-Bernard/Colle del Gran San Bernardo. However, due to snow at the top of the peak – the former cima coppi of the race – the race organisation have already confirmed they will send the peloton through the tunnel, lopping off the top of the climb and sending the riders back down towards the second climb of the day, the category 1 rated Croix de Coeur.
As I write, even this climb’s presence on the stage profile is in doubt, with further weather issues causing possible disruption, but safe to say that despite the changes, it’s still going to be a very tough day, and the finale will be dramatic and decisive.
Crossing into Switzerland the race will ride up to the mountain top ski resort finish at Crans Montana: 13.1km of ascent at an average gradient of 7.2%, a pretty steady incline on the whole with a slight levelling off in the final kilometre. It will split the bunch and be a call to arms as those who are in it for the long haul show their mettle. This should be one to remember.
WHAT TO EXPECT: GG fireworks as whoever's still left in the battle for the overall victory test their legs on some serious climbs.
HOT TIP: He's been through the ringer, but so have they all - Primož Roglič has his first opportunity to make a statement to his rivals, on a climb that really suits him. If he can win the stage he'll take the maglia rosa, and the race will look decidedly different come Saturday.
*former total of altitude metres, prior to the shortening of the first climb
Lena's Giro Antipasti
State borders either exist due to geographic features like rivers or mountains or due to political machinations.
In the case of Piedmont it’s very much the latter. Piedmont is the largest of Italy's region on the mainland with an area of 25,399km2. It borders Liguria to the south, Emilia-Romagna to the East, Switzerland to the north and France to the West.
Nestled between France, Switzerland and Piedmont is the autonomous region Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste. I’ve used both languages for a reason.
After Mussolini was defeated and during the reorganization of Italy, Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste received - along with four other regions - the status of an autonomous region. This status gives them a certain kind of independence in legislative, administrative and fiscal matters. This also differs according to each status which is part of the current Italian legislation that grants them 'home rule'.
Before the war, Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste was one region within parts of the current Piedmont. However compared to the Piedmontese, the native language wasn’t Italian but rather French - or rather, the Franco-Provençal dialect Valdôtain - for most of the region, as well as the German dialect Walser Deutsch.
However the fascist dictatorship tried to Italianise the region. Which essentially means they tried to force the people to assimilate to Italian culture, language and identity.
French language schools were closed, towns received new Italian names and official correspondence was only possible in Italian.
Unsurprisingly Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste was one of the heartlands of resistance against Italian fascism the Resistenza.
After the war the region desired independence. However France tried to annexe its former region (that’s a story of it’s own and would make today's Bulletin overly long) once again but was hindered by British and American influence. France had to recall its forces and Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste gained its status of an autonomous region.
Today the official languages are Italian and French, with Italian being the native tongue of 77% of its speakers. Valdôthain is the mother tongue of 18%.
A large part of the population speaks Italian, French and Valdôtain today.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
39: Stage 12: Bill Conti - Gonna Fly Now (theme from Rocky)
Back in the saddle
It’s the day after stage 11, and I think everyone went into the stage a little apprehensive and bruised (literally/metaphorically) after yesterday…
Roglič opened the day with a little unexpected movie wisdom for us all: 'It's like how Rocky said, it's not how much you can hit but how much you can get hit. We're still here and we go on.' And on we go.
This choice is also a not-so-subtle shout out to 'the other Slovenian Rocky' aka Pogačar, who showed us his recovery process training on instagram in clips that begged for a suitably epic soundtrack, preferably by a legendary movie composer with Italian roots.
40: Stage 12: Ricchi e Poveri - Sarà perché ti amo
It’s the little things
This song (that has been covered ad nauseam, including a Danish 80s version called 'Hvor skal vi sove i nat?' aka “Where are we sleeping tonight?” - which is NOT about just sleeping to be clear…) keeps popping up during this year’s Giro. DSM used it for their team announcement and this morning Intermarche’s Laurens Huys (aka Little Laurens, especially compared to the giant that was yesterday’s breakaway king Laurens Rex) did an impromptu karaoke rendition at the podium presentation. So buoyed by this bouncy retro ode to love prevailing through (and inspiring) chaos we sat out for today’s stage.
41: Stage 12: SIX - Haus of Holbein (Broadway Cast - Live on Opening Night)
Joy - with a German accent
The last two days have been rough - but with a silver lining that can only be described as German Joy!
Jens Voigt on the motorbike, Ackerman’s victory yesterday and Denz today! JA!
And with no disrespect meant for any of the Germans in the race or in this bulletin, hearing Jensie’s accent on the bike has caused this silly gem of a musical number to move into my brain rent-free again.
It is very very silly, it’s absolutely unrelatedly about actual Tudor era beauty ideals, royal matchmaking and somehow making feminist sense of history, but it’s also just… JA! Das ist gut, OH JAA!
(The performance of it is on YouTube, I’m doing the dance internally as I’m writing this!)
42: Stage 12: SIX - SIX (Studio Cast Recording)
Musings on destiny, pandemic-nostalgia (weird, I know) and choosing community
So… As I already had SIX playing in my brain, it made me realise how it's the musical recording that brought me somewhat sane (or at least not insane) through the whole extended pandemic experience. Seriously; this song especially was my most played on Spotify for 2020 and 2021.
As this current race is giving hardcore 2020-GT vibes and makes covid seem very present again, I almost got nostalgic for the parallel of how we now have a race where the two riders who maybe suffered two of the most public GT-disasters in 2020 are now poised for redemption.
And in the light of how the favourite group chose to stay safe and slow after that one freaky crash today - and how the breakaway didn’t seem able to put their differences aside…
Here’s a defiantly hopeful (and 2020-nostalgic) song about choosing collaboration over conflict and getting a second chance to rewrite your own history.
The Watch Zone
I've decided to feature this segment intermittently as the race wears on. Today will focus on all the riders who have departed since we last checked in. Instead of writing them all out, here is the list, from yesterday and today.
The Fallen: parts 1 and 2.
That brings us to 40 riders who've departed the Giro train - we wish them all the very best with their recovery, whatever that might entail. Until next time, righteous warriors.
Let's heal ourselves with some joy, shall we? Beginning with that of Nico Denz, the cheerful presence that brightened our day yesterday, as he chatted with Jens Voigt on the moto (shh, don't tell the UCI), and concluded with today's brilliant stage win.
Intermarche-Circus-Wanty win the superteam prize for bringing the joy today, with two blokes called Laurens proving that cyclists aren't just good for riding bikes fast, they can do plenty of other things... well, almost. First up, the performance mentioned in our resident DJ's segment, above, delivered in only the way a pro cyclist can...
OK, if singing isn't their strong suit, maybe something a little more athletic?
See now, wasn't that cleansing for the soul?
The words of Primož Roglič, as quoted above by Momo, really stayed with me today - it's not about dishing out the blows but ultimately about surviving them. It's a message of pragmatic stoicism which is characteristic of the man - a message I think we can all relate to on some level. As a wise man* once sang, 'You gotta roll with the punches, to get to what's real.'
See you tomorrow for the next round.
*Eddie van Halen