The first of three gruelling days in the mountains, today's stage 18 marks another day closer to the end of this Giro d'Italia, and another day of pressure for the GC riders - catch up with the news from the stage, and look ahead - if you dare - to what the riders face on Friday, as we inch ever closer to crunch time.
Today in review
Stage 18 - Reverting to type
There have been two breeds of breakaway formation at this Giro so far: immediate, or never-ending. Today was the latter, the race moving so fast that they hit the first climb of the day before the break was established, and with riders scattered all over the road, rouleurs dropping like flies and Jumbo-Visma desperately trying to gain some sort of control while pure chaos unfolded around them.
Some things are a given though, and this Giro that thing is Israel-Premier Tech. Not one but two riders – Derek Gee and Marco Frigo – eked out a gap as they worked they way into the lower slopes of the Passo della Crosetta, with one Thibaut Pinot for company, and what remained of an already diminished bunch nipping at their heels. A bunch which didn’t include Ben Healy, who after two weeks of aggressive riding, following an incredible Ardennes classics campaign, seemed to have finally gone ‘pop’, his KOM lead disappearing in the process.
Aurelien Paret-Peintre bridged to the lead group followed by Filippo Zana, and as the march up the climb began in earnest, other riders tried their luck getting across in a trail of ones and twos, but with the GC group keeping them on a tight leash, it was hard to see any of them staying away for very long.
Just as things looked to be settling, they broke up again, with another group trying to get away, and Ineos fighting to bring them back and causing a split in the GC group in the process.
Things settled. Again. The stragglers were gathering back in leaving five men up the road, who began to open a decent gap, and Pronskiy and Barguil worked to bridge across to them. The group swelled to 7, but still maintained just a slender gap of 1.50-ish as the race passed through 100km to go and moved onto the next climb.
After that an entente cordiale was extended, with everyone having their lunch, and Ineos allowing the break to move clear. The gap continued to grow, going out to a maximum of almost 6 minutes with 40km to go, before the collective decided enough was enough, and UAE Team Emirates alongside BORA-hansgrohe cranked up the pace a bit, with plenty of climbing still ahead. But it made no difference and it was down to Ineos to do the damage, and they took over the driving with just under 30km to go.
A long descent did not do much to close the gap though, which stood at 4.30 with 15km remaining. Israel-Premier Tech’s Marco Frigo lost touch with the group, dangling off the back, but he managed to regain contact, but it was all for nought, as heading onto the final climb, Thibaut Pinot took off, with only Filippo Zana for company. It was mano-a-mano heading into the finale.
With 7.4km to go, Sepp Kuss upped the pace and Roglič went with him. Speculation had been rife all day as to the condition of the Slovenian, at times guilty of poor positioning, but when the time came, he was the one to lay down the challenge, the maglia rosa and Eddie Dunbar the only ones able to stay with him and Kuss. Almeida hung off the back, working steadily with Jay Vine supporting him. All was not lost – never, ever write off the Portuguese.
But two kilometres later, Roglič attacked again – this time only Thomas could go with him. Dunbar dropped back to join the UAE pair, and the trio suffered a scare where they all managed to stay upright despite a wobble, and began to work their way back on, on the descent, with Sepp Kuss for company.
Finally, a view of the lead pair heading towards the finish, and with 500m to go, Pinot held the front position, with Filippo Zana on his wheel. As they opened up their final sprints heading for the line, the Italian champion was equal to the Frenchman’s challenge and passed him; so close but yet so far for Pinot, who suffered heartbreak, agony too for his many fans, for a second time in the space of a week. At least he takes back the maglia azzurra for his troubles.
So a 16th new name on the list of stage winners, and for Zana, a first Grand Tour stage victory, on home soil, and in the national champions jersey. For Jayco Alula, a second stage victory after Michael Matthews was victorious on stage 3, and with Eddie Dunbar looking good for a top 5 on GC, it’s been a successful outing for the Australian team.
Behind, the pairing of Roglič and Thomas could not be separated over the line. Almeida arrived to the line alone, 21 seconds down on his rivals, a ten second swing in their favour following his victory on stage 16, heading into tomorrow's hellish day out in the Dolomites. It was all round a day of reverting to type, be it Roglič back in form, the breakaway feisty and fearless as ever, or the heartbreaking near-miss of one Thibaut Pinot. But it's been all clear for the maglia rosa Geraint Thomas so far, and on his 37th birthday, the Welshman is sitting pretty, three days from Rome.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 19 – Friday 26thMay – Longarone – Tre Cime di Lavaredo – 183km (Mountains)
Oh, my. This is the kind of profile you open up, take one look at, and thank your lucky stars you don’t have to ride yourself. Uphill for the first 75km, and THEN the climbing starts. A shark tooth profile from there, the valiant riders remaining in the 2023 Giro will have 5400m of altitude to complete if they hope to remain in with a chance of completing the race.
Three category 1 climbs and two category 2s await them, and a summit finish on Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the race’s new cima coppi, following the decapitating of the Grand Saint Bernard. This may complicate things somewhat, as the ascent represents the (new) highest point of this year’s Giro, meaning those interested in the King of the Mountains classification will be hoping to hit the peak first to collect the sweet, sweet bonus points. Usually though, this point arrives in the middle of a stage, offering hope to the non-GC climbers and explaining why often, the Giro’s King of the Mountains is a different rider to the GC winner, unlike at the other Grand Tours. It may be different tomorrow, with the GC riders on the march.
Anyway, good luck and god speed, this one is an absolute killer of a stage, and will separate the men from the, er, other men who simply cannot ride as fast up big pointy hills.
WHAT TO EXPECT: A pure explosion of the GC battle with whatever the riders have left deployed to varying extents. No doubt another feisty breakaway... but with so much at stake, they may, finally, find their luck runs out before the finish line.
HOT TIP: It's been a long, cagey 3 weeks in Italy, and Roglič has held his cards so close to his chest he probably couldn't even see them himself at times. But cometh the hour, cometh the Slovenian ex-ski jumper. After a shambolie prediction record so far I think that I might finally get this one right... I think it will be PRIMOŽ ROGLIČ who will take all the glory on the Tre Cima.
Lena's Giro Antipasti
Tre Cime di Lavaredo (or Drei Zinnen if you wish to use their German name), is one of the most striking mountain formations in the Alps.
They are also a very popular destination for the Giro. Including this year, Tre Cime di Lavaredo was ridden 8 times and served as Cima Coppi 7 times.
However the start for this mountain in the Giro wasn’t easy. It first featured in the Giro 1967 but the stage was discounted due to the amounts of snow and some irregularities of cars towing cyclists. Poor Felice Gimondi was the first winner and yet he wasn’t.
That honour would go to Eddy Merckx just one year later and with much better weather. The mountain however didn’t favour him the second time in 1974 when he nearly lost the Maglia Rosa.
The Giro took a ten year break from Tre Cime de Lavaredo. If it had visited last year, its last winner - from 2013 - would have still been riding. Alas, the Shark of Messina, Vincenzo Nibali, is now retired.
While the mountain is also popular for amateur cyclists, it’s even more popular for climbers - and I don’t mean the cycling kind . Easy to reach and simply stunning, these mountains are a centre of tourism today.
It wasn’t like that during World War I when they were part of the frontlines between Italy and Austro-Hungary. To this day there are still remnants of old fortifications around.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
70: Stage 18: Maximo Park - Apply Some Pressure
Anthem to all kinds of Almeida-ing
Happy birthday G. Here's a song fitting for the aggressive early-stage Ineos racing, about not giving up, going again, and again and… despite what people say and think, you do it again.
It's dedicated to so many people today. G, Roglic, Almeida (the titular yo-yo of a comeback kid, see above), Pinot, Gee, Frigo, Dunbar…
So many examples worthy of the 'What happens when you lose everything? You just start again. You start all over again!'
And tomorrow's stage is a great time to do exactly that.
It's a brief sign-off today, partly because it's been a busy one all round, and partly because once again, when it's all business on the GC, there's less peripheral material to shine a spotlight on.
This Tweet made me smile though - it is possible for two people to be declared the winner, do you think?
Until tomorrow, and the final meaningful road stage of the Giro d'Italia, when the contenders will leave everything out on the mighty Dolomites in their quest for glory - ciao, and thank you for being a part of this journey with us.