It all kicked off, then? Yes, in time-honoured fashion, after a day spent bickering on social media about whether or not the race had been boring, the race, of course, did exactly the opposite and, er, be'd not boring.
I reflected on the idea of what makes a Grand Tour objectively 'good' in today's piece for Road Code - you can check it out here.
In the meantime, we have plenty of reading material for you, so let's crack on, shall we?
Today in review
Stage 16 – When it happened, it REALLY happened
Rest day done with, we are on the home straight of this Giro d’Italia, but it’s going to be one hell of a gruelling ride to get there.
It was perhaps something of a surprise, then, that it took quite some time to establish the day's early break, with a great deal of interest from many parties. The first three out of the blocks were Sbragli, Scaroni, and Gabburo (name of a mafia law firm if ever I've heard one), and they opened up a modest gap, as back in the bunch an early crash brought down Kuss, Fortunato and De Plus (all were fine and set off again straight away)
The Italian trio were reeled back in, and usual suspects Healy and Gee set off instead. Bora, Groupama and DSM worked on the front of the peloton. Neutralised. A new group featuring Serry, Cavendish and others went clear for a while. It was a cagey start but super-fast, the peloton flying alongside the stunning coast of Lago di Garda at high speed, disappearing into a long tunnel with no reception while we all speculated about what might be going on inside/sighed at the beautiful scenery. A large group had pulled out some sort of gap although it wasn’t clear yet how much of one – it included two Ineos Grenadiers and many more, including riders who weren’t a mile away on GC like Aurélien Paret-Peintre. A chasing group of six pursued.
And that was that. Comfort breaks were attended to in the peloton and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the break was allowed away. And it was a behemoth, comprising 27 riders, none of them from Team Jumbo-Visma, leaving them to work at the front of the bunch alongside Groupama-FDJ. The lake was so pretty and I wanted to swim in it so much I lost focus on the race for a while, but when the time gap finally appeared on screen, it was almost 4 minutes.
And so the climbing began. Jerseys flapping in the breeze, the absent sun finally bathing the riders in much-needed heat, and for a while the main action came from the KOM hunters, which bizarrely included two Bardiani riders, one launching explosive attack, while the other chased Healy who switched on, went for it and took the full 40 points. Time gap to the peloton: 3 minutes.
The second climb, a cat 3, was attacked once again by Bardiani, who seemed to have drawn the trickster card for the day, and this time they were successful, with Healy sitting up ahead of the summit, opting to save his energy.
Toms Skujiņš gave Jonathan Milan a little run for his money at the intermediate sprint, but Milan took the points with ease.
After that, it was Astana's time to shine. Well, it had to happen at some point. Pronskiy and Scaroni took off ahead of the rest, who dropped to around 1.30 behind them, with the rest of the peloton at 5 minutes. AND THE RAIN STARTED AGAIN. And we all facepalmed because really, have they not had enough?
Down to the business end, with Jumbo Visma driving as the climbing began again (it felt like it never stopped), and the grupetto began to suggest itself as various riders dropped out the back. With Edoardo Affini done for the day, Sam Oomen was leading the charge, and with plenty of riders still present it was a slow process to reel the break back in.
Pavel Sivakov abandoned, leaving Geraint Thomas with one less man to defend his honour heading into the final battle.
With the break diminishing to 8 riders, the brothers Paret-Peintre led the charge at the front of the race, but as they drove into the foot of the final climb the first attacks came, Zana and Verona pulling clear. The gap to the peloton was down to 3.15 and riders were shelled out the back one after the other. Ben Swift pulled back to the main group on the climb, what a guy.
Rohan Dennis took over and there was a frisson of excitement, thinking back to the 2020 Giro where he was instrumental in Tao Geoghegan Hart’s victory. Would he be as significant a player in this year's race? It seemed so, as maglia rosa Bruno Armirail struggled to hold Dennis’ wheel and the group slimmed down to the GC favourites, a group of around 20 riders, as the gap diminished to just two minutes.
With 15km to go, UAE Team Emirates took up the pace-setting and they meant business; by the time they moved to within 10km of the finish line, the maglia rosa had been dropped, despite a valiant, spirited effort from Bruno Armirail, followed shortly afterwards by his Groupama-FDJ teammate Thibaut Pinot.
They had several gears left though, Jay Vine taking up the charge and duly smashing the rest of the peloton to pieces, just Roglič, Kuss, Thomas, Dunbar, Zana and his teammate Almeida for company. Just 30 seconds remained to the break, a gap which evaporated almost instantly.
After that, it was a demolition by João Almeida. He upped the tempo again and six became four, and he executed a perfect 'reverse Almeida' (see above for visual evidence), pulling clear of his rivals for once rather than being dropped and having to work his way back on.
When Geraint Thomas bridged across and the Jumbo Visma pair of Kuss and Roglič could not do the same, the balance of power shifted and the GC contenders were sorted into a new order. Almeida and Thomas matched one another pedal-stroke for pedal-stroke to the finish line, but though Almeida's face displayed evidence of struggle on the final few kilometres, he had enough left in the tank to push on for the win - his first at a Grand Tour. Thomas regains control of the maglia rosa, despite coming second on a Giro stage for the second time, and Roglič ships 25 seconds (not including bonuses), finishing on the same time as Eddie Dunbar.
Phew. That looked hard, didn't it? Ben Healy's spirited ride means it's all change in the mountains jersey too; he will wear the maglia azzurra tomorrow, on the final flat stage before the final tests begin.
It was another gritty day in the saddle from Israel-Premier Tech's Derek Gee - prior to the stage he expressed mixed feelings: 'fresher, daunted, ready' but post, it was clear that he'd given his all and then some: 'empty, drained, grateful (that it's over)'. Think we can allow him the extra 3 words to clarify that one. What a Giro d'Italia the man from Canada has had.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 17 – Wednesday 24thMay – Pergine Valsugana – Caorle – 195km (Flat)
Aaaaand breathe. Because it’s the last chance the riders will have to do so until they reach Rome on Sunday. Yes that’s right, it’s the final flat stage of the Giro before the going gets EXTREMELY tough, and with a profile that you could roll a sausage roll down, there’s not a blip on the horizon to challenge even the most tired of legs, so sprinters assemble and come get your fill.
If there are any left of course, after the rigours of stage 16, and having already lost a few key players from the cast of fast men (Pedersen, Groves, Dekker), there may be just a smattering of competition holding the fort as we get to the final. Could this mean that the band of feisty breakaway riders still without a win – the likes of Skujiņš, Bettiol, and most of the Israel-Premier Tech team – might shoot their shot? I’m not sure. I suspect not though. A day that takes the peloton through north-western Italy, through Venice, concluding on the Venetian coast.
WHAT TO EXPECT: A chilled day in the bunch, a nailed on sprint finish.
HOT TIP: The master of a good storyline, having just announced his retirement, Mark Cavendish will be the man to triumph on stage 17, taking his 17th Giro stage – it’s fate.
Lena's Giro Antipasti
Tomorrow’s Partenza Pergine Valsugana lies smack dab along the route of the Via Claudia Augusta.
I know, I know not another old Roman road some of you might say. But I promise, this time it’s quite cycling relevant.
During the Roman Empire borders changed quite often. However rivers are always a good natural border. Notably the Danube; longest river in Europe. It starts in southern Germany and flows into the Black Sea.
However, between Italy and Germany there’s an even bigger much more difficult natural border: the Alps.
Crossing them is still quite difficult, even today, if you do it on foot. And we have modern infrastructure like paved roads, bothies and freely available food. I once crossed the Alps on foot and let me tell you it wasn’t easy or comfortable. Don’t even attempt it if you aren’t at least a somewhat experienced hiker.
Now the Romans were 'great conquerors' but they were even better engineers. If anyone could manage to build a paved road for wagons across the Alps, it would be them.
To put a few numbers to this feat of engineering, they built nearly 800 kilometres of road.
To this day, the road is more or less the easiest (if you discount tunnels). It served as easy access to the Pope and Italy during the Middle Ages and was one of the reasons why the ownership of the County of Tyrol was such a crucial question.
Today we have several modern concrete roads along the Brenner Pass and Fern Pass - the Fern Pass being part of of the Via Claudia - but several signs of the ancient road are still there today.
Because since the 1990s, the old Via Claudia has risen again in popularity. Particularly for hikers and cyclists.
The modern long-distance cycling route follows the ancient Roman road and is 700 kilometres long. It starts in Donauwörth (Germany), crosses the Alps and divides in Italy. One route leads to Ostiglia along the Po and the second one Leads to Quarto d'Altino, a town close to Venice. Funnily enough tomorrow’s finish is also close to Venice.
If you’re a road cyclist this is probably the easiest way to cross the Alps. You’ll still have to cross several passes like the Fern pass, however no Stelvio or anything like that. Yet be careful, the Fern pass is also a popular route for cars. So I would suggest an early start.
Every 30 kilometres, you’ll find yourself in a different environment and it can be very cold and very warm. So he prepared for stark weather differences during your journey.
To make the route accessible to every cyclist regardless of fitness level, a shuttle service exists to bring you over the steep passes. And along the route you'll see several century old signs and really feel the history.
There’s a corresponding route for mountain-bikers called the Albrecht-Route. It doesn’t follow the old road exactly as that would be quite boring for off-road fans. But it covers the same area in the Alps.
It starts in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) and ends in Tobole at lake Garda (Italy).
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
58: Stage 16: Travis - Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
59: Stage 16: Taylor Louderman - World Burn (Mean Girls - Original Broadway Cast)
Best of the Rest-day Discourse
Rest day 2 came and went, and the two main topics of discussion were the weather (insert umbrella emoji) and grown men having the pettiest grudge-off of the year on Twitter. Popcorns were popped, giggles were had, but it turned incredibly bizarre incredibly fast.
The first song is an obvious choice, the second seems to be the main theme for a man whose team tends to wear pink, not just on Wednesdays and that other dude who never misses an opportunity to make it about himself. (You don’t need to yell 'just @ them, you coward' at me, you all know who I’m talking about, and if you don’t, I envy you).
60: Stage 16: Grover Washington Jr ft. Bill Withers - Just the Two of Us
A numbers game
After this morning’s goodbye from Ballerini, there’s a LOT of space on the Soudal-Quick Step bus these days. This also means that 50% of the team ended up in Top-10 today… Statistics are fun like that, right?
So this one is for the smallest team in the Giro and Van Wilder showing up in his own right!
61: Stage 16: Howard Shore - Riders of Rohan (The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers OST)
One-man army loading…
Given his less-than-ideal preparation (covid, off the team, then on the team again ‘cause more covid), seeing Rohan Dennis getting into killer GT-domestique form might give Roglic a little comfort after the time loss today.
It wasn’t a 'Full Stelvio' from the soon-retiring Aussie yet, but if his form curve stays rising, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the cavalry join the battle in absolutely terrifying fashion in a few days.
62: Stage 16: Ennio Morricone - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (2004 Remaster, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
63: Stage 16: Ennio Morricone - Il grande massacro (C’era un volta il west, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
I promised you all a Morricone Bonanza, and thankfully today’s stage means it’s not even something I have to work hard to fit in.
I won’t pass judgement on which of the three GC favourites are which of the titular roles in the first tense intro to an epic battle, I suspect they could all play each role at different points during this final week… But today Almeida and Thomas drew first blood, which gives me an opportunity to mark the playlist with the first (but in no way the last) track from the 'Once Upon a Time in the West' score. The movie and score is, in my opinion, the crowning masterpiece of the long and iconic collaboration between Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone.
I will without a doubt nerd out about it at a later stage, but for now, here’s a suitable soundtrack to a (small but significant) massacre that foreshadows an even bigger battle to come...
64: Stage 16: Kvelertak - Blodtørst
Blood was drawn, the Top-10 reshuffled, and as it stands now there are 10 different nationalities on the top of the GC. One of these is Norway, and as I haven’t paid proper musical tribute to Leknessund’s consistently impressive ride yet (unnskyld Andreas, min feil!); here is some Norwegian 'blackened rock and roll'/black’n’roll for you all in the form of Kvelertak (stranglehold) with Blodtørst (blood thirst).
This one also serves perfectly as a hype track for the GC battle that undoubtedly will continue after tomorrow’s sprinter-intermezzo.
The Watch Zone
Catching up with some favourites...
Young rider watch: Amid a team brimming with confidence and very active in the race, the youngest rider in the race, Matthew Riccitello of Israel-Premier Tech, is still going strong on his Grand Tour debut. He came in 72nd today solidly within the bunch, and is on course to complete the whole good goddamn thing, the legend!
The Fallen: with three more non-starters, Simon Clarke, Amanuel Gebreigzabhier and Davide Ballerini, and Pavel Sivakov's mid-race withdrawal, the total riders remaining in the Giro is 128 - almost 50 down on the starting 176.
As we reach the business end of the Grand Tour, so the random miscellany of fun interludes and off-the-wall occurrences slows, which is poetic really, given the effort being exerted by all of our contributors, as we too reach the nitty-gritty bit of the race and no longer need concern ourselves with putting eggs in people's pockets.
There was still time for a little fun on rest day though, and who better to bring us the frivolity then everyone's favourite breakaway botherers Israel-Premier Tech, and the King of second places himself, Mr Derek Gee. All together now: IT’S A REST DAY DEREK!!
With Soudal-QuickStep's continued demise, came an interesting contrast to INEOS, who still have strength in numbers –
It's a long way from where they started, as race favourites, however Ilan van Wilder acquitted himself very well in today's stage, finishing in an impressive 6th position and proving himself to be much more than simply Remco Evenepoel's stunt double.
I have a special place in my heart for the valiant efforts of outgoing leader's jersey wearers pouring out every last drop of energy to honour the jersey... Chapeau to Groupama-FDJ's Bruno Armirail for doing just that today.
And that's that for now - somehow, with the flurry of action in the race, I've discovered a sense of calm and managed to pull this together in record time, I hope you have enjoyed it - here's to a warm, dry day in Venice tomorrow. Ciao!