Or: all the things I wish to remember from this year’s Corsa Rosa
And so here we are, dearest word-consumers, about to find ourselves in ACTUAL JULY. One Grand Tour safely stashed in our 2022-shaped back pockets, with all the action, drama and memorable moments that come along with it, and time propels us on to the next, with barely time to gather our thoughts.
I admit it’s a little late due to circumstances (mostly) beyond my control, but for posterity, and because I’m a bit weird when it comes to finishing things, I couldn’t let the 2022 Giro go without marking some of my favourite moments, in my usual scatter-gun, listicle style. Read it all, pick the bits you fancy, dip into it as and when you desire a return to the glorious rose-tinted days of yore (er, May), and I’ll see you in a mere matter of days for the departure of the yellow-fuelled hype train.
Top 5 Awesome Stages
All stages are equal, but some are more equal than others. Or words to that effect… Let’s face it, despite the grand length of a grand tour (clue’s in the name), you’re never going to get 21 barnstormers; the riders couldn’t manage it and, frankly, neither could we, as much as we’d like to pretend we’d love a high octane three weeks of non-stop action.
There’s something for everyone; a little punch here, a flat sprint-y one there, a vertiginous jaunt through achingly pristine mountains to make us all glad we’re sitting on our butts at home. The Giro had 21 such treats in store, but these were the stages that lit up the race, for me:
Stage 1 – Budapest – Visegrád (195km) - Ah, the first Grand Tour of a new season; the freshly brewed hype, the rose-draped Hungarian crowds; the first stage was so full of excitement and hope. Then a breakaway of just two riders detached themselves barely 30 seconds after the first flag drop and that was that for the day.
Dull, right? Well, mostly. Until the final punchy climb, that is, when all hell broke loose as the hopefuls for the stage win went hammer and tongs up the short sharp ascent to the Castle to be crowned the first king of the race. Caleb Ewan took a spill in his haste to keep up with Biniam Girmay, and Girmay was unable to get in the way of Mathieu van der Poel and his goal – the maglia rosa.
Stage 8 – Naples – Naples (153km) – no messing about with dramatic mountain passes and hairpin bends, stage 8 provided us with a crit race around the city of Naples, and it was cracking entertainment. It provided another round of everyone’s new favourite rivalry, van der Poel v Girmay, along with a commanding performance from the breakaway king, veteran Belgian rider Thomas de Gendt who went on to win his first stage of the Giro since his historic victory on the Stelvio in 2012.
Stage 9 – Isernia – Blockhaus (189km) – there was much hype over the Blockhaus stage, and with just cause. The climb was arduous and seemingly endless, and with a summit finish approaching followed by a rest day, it was time for the GC battle to kick off in earnest, with a gradually thinning group of favourites giving us our first glimpse into the heart of the GC battle – who would stand up to the test, and who would fall by the wayside? The answer surprised many, with Romain Bardet and Mikel Landa at their best, matched by pre-race favourite Richard Carapaz, UAE’s leader João Almeida, and eventual winner, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Jai Hindley.
Stage 14 – Santena – Turin (147km) – how did I love stage 14? Let me count the ways. The shortest stage of the race featured circuits of Turin with vicious climbs, the GC contenders with no choice but to get involved, riders all over the road, pure chaos and balls-out attacking. Every grand tour should have a stage like this. I bloody loved it.
Stage 17 – Ponte di Legno – Lavarone (168km) – otherwise known as ‘The One Where Mathieu van der Poel gives it a good old crack in the Alps’, followed by the ascendency of a really worthy winner and future star of the sport, Santiago Buitrago, sandwiched around young Jumbo Visma breakaway star Gijs Leemreize getting closer than anyone could have predicted. Stage 17 was the mountain stage that had it all, and was my favourite of all the final week’s stages in terms of pure entertainment from start to finish.
Top 5 Meaningful Stage Wins
I waxed lyrical in an earlier piece about a stage win I enjoyed, for many reasons (my partisan feelings for Jumbo Visma the primary driver behind the piece). With hindsight however, there are a few stage victories that stood out because of their meaning, to the individual, the team, or the sport as a whole. These were my picks:
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) – Stage 8 – a full decade after his first Giro stage win atop the Stelvio, the iconoclastic Belgian did what he does best, but in quite uncharacteristic style, as the criterium-style race around Naples became the perfect launching pad for a breakaway attack. He was able to stay away from his break mates as well as the pursuring spectre of van der Poel and Girmay to seal the deal, at the age of 35.
Biniam Girmay (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux) – Stage 10 – after making history at Gent-Wevelgem in the Spring, Girmay had the form to make history once again, and become the first African rider to win a stage at the Giro d’Italia. His victory had a sense of inevitability about it. He came close many times: beaten to the line by MVDP on stage 1, he proceeded to be out of position in several bunch sprint finishes but he was not daunted and kept at it, undaunted.
It finally happened on stage 10, a stage perfectly designed for his capabilities, with a short climb leading to a reduced bunch sprint finish, where he was able to turn the tables on van der Poel and take a sweet victory for himself, his team and the die-hard Eritrean fans celebrating at home. And everyone liked this.
Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) – Stage 15 – times were tough for Ciccone in 2021. Riding as a GC rider for Trek at both the Giro and the Vuelta, he was caught up in crashes and unable to complete either race, let alone show himself at his best. Once again pegged for general classification in this year’s Giro, the first week and a half saw Ciccone hidden in the bunch and not making any waves, a pale imitation of the glasses-throwing maglia azzura winner of 2019.
Once he’d lost enough time to no longer be a threat, he unleashed his best climbing form, proving his doubters wrong, as he rode solo to victory in Cogne, a win complete with sunglasses throw. Without the pressure of GC Ciccone seems to ride with more freedom and panache, and the victory kicked off a gripping battle with Koen Bouwman for the king of the mountains jersey which saw him animating the following stages too.
Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious) – Stage 17 – in spite of being happy for Ciccone’s brilliant victory, it was impossible not to feel for the young Colombian Buitrago on stage 15. He worked tirelessly to try and close the gap to Ciccone and proved that second place is sometimes the worst place to finish. His disappointment spurred him on to once again go on up the road in stage 17, but his day was almost over when he misjudged a turn and he came off his bike early in the day. His anger at the mistake was the final push he needed to ride away and take a fantastic first grand tour stage win, at the age of just 22.
Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) – Stage 18 – the award for the best post-race interview of this year’s Giro must surely go to the former Belgian champion De Bondt, who at the age of 30 took his first grand tour stage win following an impeccable performance from the breakaway. The four-man group, also featuring Edoardo Affini (TJV), Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost), and Davide Gabburo (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè) worked brilliantly as a team to put the win beyond a doubt, and de Bondt was able to seal the deal. His joy following the stage was a true delight.
The Real MVPS (A Top 5)
There were a few riders who made this year’s Giro truly memorable. Who, why, how? Here:
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) – it’s literally not possible to write an article about the Giro d’Italia without mentioning this man. What did MVDP NOT do at the Giro? He was the first man to wear the maglia rosa. He animated almost every stage at some point or other, from punchy finishes to sprint stages, the second stage time trial where he almost won despite having only completed a handful in his career, to full-on mountain stages, where he defied those who doubted him by heading off in breakaways, getting some training in and even making it over a category one climb and halfway up another one at the front of the race, on stage 17.
It was the first full grand tour of the Dutch genius’s career, but you wouldn’t have known it. He rode in his usual inimitable style, ripping up the rulebook and providing great entertainment both for fans on the ground and for us watching from a distance via social media. There were the daily gruppetto wheelies, as he rode up climbs on one wheel, with one hand, high-fiving the crowd. He even wheelied into the stadium on a TT bike on the final stage, like the king he is. There was pineapple pizza-gate, as he trolled the Giro social media team with his crimes against cuisine, putting ketchup on spaghetti and proving that he really does not give a f&*k. And of course, finally winning the Most Combative Rider prize. What a guy.
Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) – when looking back in years to come and reminiscing about the role the feisty German played in the race, it will be easier to try and recall stages he WASN’T involved in at the 105th Giro. Kämna stated his intent from day 1. He was the second man to attack up the final climb at Visegrád, after Lawrence Naesen, and his attack looked as though it might stick for a while. He sat in the hot-seat after a brilliant time trial on stage 2, coming in 8th on the stage eventually. He won stage 4 up Mount Etna, wore the King of the Mountains jersey for three days and combativity numbers on more than one occasion.
That’s before we even come to the audacious piece of tactical bike riding which led to the demolition of Richard Carapaz’ GC challenge on stage 20. Part of a breakaway group of attackers, Kämna dropped back and when Hindley launched his attack on the Marmolada, Kämna was there to offer him a helping hand, playing the role of both bridge and slingshot, as he supported Hindley at the crucial moment, and allowed him to dig in and extend his lead even further.
Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) – The Australian won the Giro, so it seems unfair not to include him. Two years on from just missing out at the hands of Tao Geoghegan Hart’s final time trial performance, and being remembered more for his rain jacket malfunctions than his overall performance, Hindley showed why the Giro is his favourite race this year.
He asserted his dominance in the mountains, beginning with a win on Blockhaus that struck the first psychological blow to his rivals. He was comfortably part of the main group of contenders on the crazy stage around Turin, and never allowed Carapaz, Landa and the others out of his sight as the race drew on. He calmly executed a decent time trial on the final day to put his victory to bed and was able to celebrate becoming the first Australian winner of the Giro, and only the second winner of a Grand Tour ever from the nation.
Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) – ‘Juanpe’ Lopez: prior to the Giro, you’d have been forgiven for not knowing the name. But the young Spaniard took the maglia rosa on Mount Etna and held it for a full ten days before finally losing it on stage 14, and he earned himself a horde of new fans by working his ass off to keep the leader’s jersey, learning the ropes along the way.
We all went on a journey as he grew into wearing one of the most revered jerseys in the sport; who could forget his shy suggestion that the peloton might stop so he could take a comfort break? And his vast range of emotions, from tears, to anger, to joy reflected the emotional rollercoaster we all enter into every year when we follow a grand tour. Juanpe finished the Giro in the white jersey which was a well-deserved prize for the role he played in the contest as a whole, and no doubt we’ll be hearing more from him in seasons to come.
Koen Bouwman (Team Jumbo Visma) – it’s common in grand tours for some, if not all, of the subsidiary jerseys to be awarded to the eventual GC winner. One of my favourite things about this year’s Giro was that it finished with four different jersey wearers, and that’s due in part to a hotly contested King of the Mountains competition, with its eventual winner Bouwman instigating plenty of action and winning two stages in the process. Combined with a strange, last man standing style GC battle which saw many breakaway winners and very few GC winners in the mountains, this guaranteed that the maglia azzurra didn’t simply default to the overall winner. More of this, please!
Unsung Heroes – Top 6 Riders Who Didn’t Win A Stage
Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) – the lanky Lancastrian quite literally rode himself into the Giro. He didn’t look to be up for a GC battle early on, but by week 3 he was most definitely ready to take on the big climbs, his favoured terrain. Carthy is made for week 3 of the Giro, and he set about inserting himself into every breakaway going in an effort to try and add to his palmares. And in a surprising addition, his heart-rate became a constant source of interest (especially when it was -1 – see Whoop data, at the end of the post). It’s a shame he wasn’t able to convert his appetite for victory and good legs into a what would have been a richly deserved stage win.
Gijs Leemreize (Team Jumbo Visma) – another young Dutchman benefitting from the lack of GC action from his team leaders, Leemreize was frequently a part of breakaway action and almost made it count on stage 18, when he went all the way to the line on the stage won by Dries de Bondt. He dropped Mathieu van der Poel on a climb on stage 17, and once again came close to a win. Another one to add to the watch list.
Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) – how can you not love Davide Formolo? Lining up daily at the head of the peloton, shooting the breeze with race director Stefano Allocchio, working for his team mates, for the peloton and sometimes just because he loves to work. He’s a man of many faces, most of them variations on a grimace, and his love of suffering endears him to fans and means that he’s always involved somewhere on a big climbing stage. He wasn’t as close as many to a win but his work on stage 7 against the dual power of Bouwman and Dumoulin makes him worthy of this list, for my money.
Wilco Kelderman (BORA-Hansgrohe) – the perennial nearly-man suffered a crash on stage 9 of the race which he blamed on his disc brakes. He lost so much time that his prong of the alleged Bora ‘trident’ was irrevocably blunted. Undeterred, he shifted effortlessly into the role of super-domestique and committed himself to Jai Hindley’s cause wholeheartedly, working tirelessly to help secure the Australian’s historic win. It would be a crying shame if he doesn’t one day take the big win that he has come close to on so many occasions.
Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) – the young Dutchman put in a strong effort following the departure of his team leader Romain Bardet, securing 4th place in the young rider competition and proving why he has been snapped up by Ineos. He rode maturely in the mountains, snapping up 2nd place on stage 16 and 5th on stage 20, before putting in the second best performance of the day on the final time trial.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux) – the veteran Italian rode his 14th Giro this year and while it seems that the stars of the sport are getting younger year on year, those more long in the tooth have been proving this season that they still have plenty of appetite for battle. With his impressive ride on Blockhaus, Pozzovivo put himself in contention on GC and forced himself back into the public imagination. His crash on the descent from the Mortirolo on stage 16, a grim reminder of his horror crash in the 2015 Giro, sadly set him back, but he was thankfully unharmed and still able to go on to secure 8th spot on the GC in the end.
And One Who Did…
Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) – he won a stage, but still belongs on the Unsung Heroes list for me, as his incredible victory on the Marmolada went largely unnoticed due to the broader, more crucial narrative of the GC being decided on the slopes up to the summit finish of Passo Fedaia.
What a stage win to be so overlooked though… Covi headed off solo on the 2nd major climb of the day with over 50km remaining on the stage. He ascended the Passo Pordoi alone, snapping up the Cima Coppi points for his troubles, and that, as they say, was that. Neither his breakaway companions nor the GC contenders saw him again that day as he rode magnificently, alone and without assistance over thousands of metres of ascent, to his first grand tour victory.
His stage 20 triumph will be one of the defining moments in the young Italian’s career and yet it went by the wayside, from a media perspective, as Bora-Hansgrohe and Hindley masterminded a brilliant GC raid. And that was mightily unjust. So here I am, celebrating an immense performance. GO ON COVI, MY SON!
A Bag Of Other Bits
And some other things happened! Like the world’s most niche short story collection, a Grand Tour is always replete with subplots and side notes, little vignettes of the random, the weird and the wonderful, and this year’s Giro was no different. Bet you didn’t have any of THESE on your bingo card…
MVDP didn’t have Wout to play with, but Biniam was up for the challenge. The two newfound rivals butted heads almost every day right up until the moment when Girmay had to leave the Giro. His win was acknowledged with a thumbs up from van der Poel, and the first chapter in this new head-to-head was concluded.
Giant Prosecco bottles really aren’t sensible – both of the aforementioned riders were injured by wayward cork action, including the Eritrean who was forced to withdraw from the race as a result of his unwanted interaction. Luckily he’s all OK.
Mikel Landa crashes into his own team mate. Finally, fans of Landismo had something to shout about, as the Spaniard looked in good shape and went toe-to-toe with the other GC contenders and was genuinely in with a chance of winning. Nothing ever goes quite according to plan for the Basque rider though, and as he hadn’t crashed yet he took matters into his own hands on stage 16, crashing into his own team mate, Pello Bilbao, because apparently he has to engineer SOME chaos in every grand tour he rides.
De Gendt GC – when two De Gendts – Thomas (Lotto Soudal) and Aimé (Intermarché) lined up for the Grande Partenza, little did we know we were in for a contest-within-a-contest based on name alone.
Thomas tweeted this, following stage 3:
When Aimé responded in kind after stage 5, the De Gendt rivalry was born. Although it was effectively over as a contest following Thomas’ stage victory on stage 8, it just goes to show what a unique community exists within the peloton and how lucky we are to have such an excellent bunch of characters to support.
Sprinters dropped! – the sprinters had a hard time this Giro, in particular Mark Cavendish and Caleb Ewan who were several times distanced on days which were expected to end in bunch finishes. They still did end in sprints, but the pace was too tough for some and Arnaud Démare became the primary beneficiary, his Groupama-FDJ team masters at keeping him in touch even on tough climbs.
The sprinters’ teams had their work cut out for them throughout the race, as they rolled the dice and took their chances against various breakaways on deceptively tough stages. On stage 11 it worked out, with Démare snatching victory when one link in the breakaway group blinked, and their day was done. Stage 18 though was a different story (see above).
Bora tactics on stage 20 – I’ve run out of time, words and conviction but you know this already. It was a thing of beauty, they played a blinder, a GC won and lost in the space of just a couple of minutes, etc. It may not have been a vintage GC battle but the closing act on the Passo Fedaia really was something to behold, and the German team were the masters of strategy.
Whoop data – telling us everything we didn’t know we needed to know about riders’ heart rates during stages, including at one point that Hugh Carthy had a heart rate of -1. Worrying stuff!