GIRO’18: The PEZ Look Back!

Giro’18 Race Review: Chris Froome swept to the final victory of the 2018 Giro d’Italia with a formidable ride in the Alpine climbs of stage 19. From a bad start the team Sky multi Grand Tour winner played a waiting game before throwing down the gauntlet to win, probably, the most controversial stage race in living memory. Sam Larner looks back over the three weeks of ever changing race action.

A different race for Sky, but with the usual result

What a Giro d’Italia. On stage 13 Chris Froome was 12th overall, 3:20 down and behind the likes of George Bennett, Pello Bilbao, Rohan Dennis, Patrick Konrad and Fabio Aru. The Brit was out of the race with only stage wins in front of him. Even one day later after Froome had beaten everyone to the top of the Zoncolan, he had leapt up the overall standings but he only gained 10 seconds on Simon Yates. The very next day he was back to 7th overall and almost five minutes behind Yates and 2.41 behind Tom Dumoulin. Looking back and written it down, it’s still hard to believe that Froome will be riding into Rome in the pink jersey, but somehow he is. So, let’s look at how that happened.

Not a great start for Chris Froome

Week 1
The race started with three pretty dull stages in Israel. The constant refrain had been that sport and politics don’t mix, which is clearly nonsense; politics play a part in everything and especially this Giro d’Italia. For the first three days though it looked like excitement and cycling didn’t mix as Dumoulin motored to the first stage and Elia Viviani trundled to two exceptionally boring stages against an incredibly weak field of sprinters.

Memories of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman…..

When we got to Italy the proper racing started with two hilly stages. Tim Wellens took the first of those stages to Caltagirone to move to fourth on GC and then Enrico Battaglin took the second stage, after coming third the day before. It wasn’t a great Giro for LottoNL-Jumbo but they do take home a stage win and a top ten overall, which may have been the ceiling of their expectations prior to the start of the race. The third stage back in Italy, although not yet on the mainland, was up to Mount Etna. This climb last year had been a pretty tepid affair with a persistent headwind halting any attacking intent. It was a playground this year though and Simon Yates showed his hand and although team mate Esteban Chaves won, Yates moved into a pink jersey he seemed likely to keep until Rome as the race wore on.

The top men pass through the lava of Etna

George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo took fourth place on the stage, which was the highest the Kiwi managed all race. He ended up with a top ten but it’s hard to know how Bennett can get better than this. He hands over time on the time trial bike and going uphills, between 5-10th might be the height of his abilities unless he fancies a move to a super domestique role.

Simon Yates had the early form and the pink jersey

Sam Bennett won the only flat stage of the first week in Italy, beating Elia Viviani. The Irishman has 24 pro wins, but only seven of those came on the World Tour and four of them came at the Tour of Turkey at the tail end of last year. He’s 27 and is hopefully hitting his peak performance, two Giro stage wins are great but he will need to show greater consistency in the top races to confirm his climb into the top echelon of the sport.

The first of three stage wins for Irishman Sam Bennett

The second weekend of the race took us up to the mountains for the relatively tame finish at Montevergine which was won by rising star Richard Carapaz, who would end up just off the podium. The second stage was a more involved one to Gran Sasso. Simon Yates continued to look exceptional and took his first win of the race. The Brit put 1:07 into Froome and 1:14 into Aru. Dumoulin limited his losses to 12 seconds setting up the enticing prospect of Yates attacking to gain the time needed ahead of the week three time trial.

Richard Carapaz – A man to watch for the future

At the end of the first week, Davide Formolo sat 24th on GC, 5:49 down on Yates. Although the Italian rallied to 10th overall he could’ve been staring at a top five had he not handed over buckets of time on Mount Etna, the only really bad day he had in the entire Giro.

Mount Etna with Mithelton-Scott

Week 2
Week two consisted of two hilly stages, two flat ones and a couple of mountainous stages to finish the week. The first hilly stage was a 244km slog, the longest of the race, from Penne to Gualdo Tadino. It was marked as hilly but most of the difficulty came on the opening climb before a rolling rest of the course. That was enough for Esteban Chaves who suffered massively on the climb and fell out the back of the peloton. He was joined by Elia Viviani and Quick Step – Floors helped with the chase but they could never regain the pack and Chaves fell very swiftly out of pink jersey contention. There was talk that Yates would suffer without Chaves as a foil for his attacks in the mountains. It didn’t look that way after Yates was rampant through the mountains until the final week but it’s hard to know how much was taken out of the Mitchelton-Scott team with Chaves largely unable to contribute in the mountains for the rest of the race.

Matej Mohoric got the better of Nico Denz on stage 10

23-year-old Matej Mohoric ended up winning the stage, beating 24-year-old Nico Denz. It was a difficult race for AG2R-La Mondiale, they failed to take a stage, Denz’s second place was the best they could muster, and Alexandre Geniez rode to a completely anonymous 11th overall. All eyes will now be on Romain Bardet at the Tour de France, he holds the hopes of a team who have won just seven races all season and none at .HC level or above.

Stage 11 with Mitchelton-Scott

Simon Yates won what was until the third week, the finest stage of the race into Osimo on a profile that looked lumpy but turned into a serious test as Yates blew the field apart. Tom Dumoulin lost time but turned in an excellent performance on a stage which would not have been expected to suit him and Froome lost even more time. At this stage Yates led Dumoulin by 47 seconds but it was fairly clear that he needed more than that ahead of the time trial.

More points for Elia Viviani on stage 13

After a rough start to the week, the two midweek stages were relatively straightforward, but wet, sprint stages shared by Viviani and Bennett. As ever, the quality of the sprinting field was relatively low and it was only ever going to be a head to head between the Italian and the Irishman. The Giro organisers probably don’t care that much given that the constant difficulties on each stage are one of the main selling points about their race.

Froome had his detractors on the Giro

Chris Froome showed the fans on the Zoncolan what was on the cards

The weekend wasn’t quite as straightforward, first there was the brutal climb of the Zoncolan then the slightly less brutal but lumpier stage to Sappada. Froome launched an impressive comeback on the Zoncolan, more on impressive comebacks later, but despite looking back to his best he could only take six seconds from Yates and just 37 from Dumoulin.

Zoncolan – A pointer to stage 19?

Further down the climb Fabio Aru was busy attaching the white flag to the pole that he would raise a little further into the race. UAE Team Emirates have some serious questions to answer after this Giro, Aru has finished on the podium in two of the three Grand Tours and has won a stage in all three. He looked like a mid-level diesel engine on the climbs and it really is hard to believe he’s got a chance at adding to his 2015 Vuelta victory. It wasn’t just Aru though, the team as a whole have won just three races all season and all have been courtesy of Alexander Kristoff.

A strange Giro for Fabio Aru – Up, down and then out

Diego Ulissi can usually be relied upon to grab a stage win on a lumpy day but he was really poor and managed a best of 13th on the day to Osimo. Valerio Conti can also turn his hand to a breakaway or a hillier day but he never finished higher than the surprise 12th he got on the first day. Darwin Atampuma finished 9th in 2016 but he was 62nd this year and a stage best of 33rd. Quite how riders of this talent managed to collectively underperform is unknown but there’s not a load of riders in reserve to have a go at the Tour de France.

Simon Yates was still in charge on stage 15

In Sappada Yates took control once again and stretched his lead out to 2:11 setting up a perfect final week. It looked like Froome had used up his lives when he lost 1:32 to Yates to leave himself 4:52 down and 2:41 behind Dumoulin. Surely the Brit was out of the race now? There was even talk that he would head home to prepare for the Tour or at least turn his attention to stage wins. Well, that leads us nicely to the third week.

World Time Trial champion Tom Dumoulin got a bit closer to Simon Yates

Week 3
This week was all about the trio of mountain stages to Pratonevoso, Bardonecchia, and Cervinia. First of all though, there was the 34km time trial from Trento to Rovereto. The logic seemed pretty straightforward for the stage, if Dumoulin didn’t gain back all the time he had lost so far then he wouldn’t have the necessary buffer when the race headed back to the mountains. It turned out that Dumoulin didn’t gain back all the time, in fact due to a slightly below average ride from the Dutchman and an above average ride by Yates the Brit finished the day with 56 seconds of his advantage still intact. Then suddenly, due to some below average performances from the rest of the GC contenders Chris Froome was in fourth and less than four minutes behind – this race wasn’t over for him.

Stage 16 time trial

The second stage of the week was a relatively straightforward flat stage won, predictably by Viviani with Bennett, predictably in second place. This was also the stage were Louis Meintjes decided to call it quits after a hugely disappointing race. The South African lost significant time on every single important stage and now has to decide what to do with the rest of his season. It’s likely that he will be sent to the Vuelta with the intention on finishing higher than his career best eighth place on GC. Dimension Data are another team with just three wins so far though in the season and top tens on GC aren’t really what they’re in need of.

A wet finish for Viviani on Stage 17

The first of the trio of mountain stages was to Pratonevoso and it was the easiest stage with just a single major climb at the finish. It was a continuous steady gradient and so suited a rider like Dumoulin who could crank out a hard but regular pace. It wasn’t meant to be a stage where we would see the first imperfections in Yates’ veneer, but it was, the Brit handed back half of his advantage to Dumoulin whilst also losing time on Thibaut Pinot.

Stage 18 winner Max Schachmann

The stage was won by Max Schachmann of Quick – Step Floors ahead of Ruben Plaza who was looking to complete his grand slam of stage wins in each three week Tour. Plaza was riding for the Israel Cycling Academy who had a pretty anonymous Giro. At one stage it looked like Ben Hermans might be able to muster a decent top 20 on GC but that challenge never really got going and the second place by Plaza was the best result of the race. Usually the wildcard teams can be relied upon to snaffle a stage or two but the gap between the haves and have nots is growing. The best placed rider on GC for the wildcard teams was Fausto Masnada of Androni-Sidermec, who was also one of the few bright sparks. Still, Masnada finished 26th, almost an hour and a half down. The situation was even worse for Wilier Triestina whose best placed rider was Alex Turrin, 86th more than four hours down. They also occupied four of the seven worse places on GC.

Not a great Giro for the Israel Cycling Academy

Despite all that came before, the Giro was really decided on the Queen stage of the race to Bardonecchia. There were just four climbs and two of them were ranked second category or below but this stage completely blew the race apart. Simon Yates, who until this point had shown no signs of breaking down, went from 60-0 instantly and plummeted out of contention on the Colle Delle Finestre. Chris Froome did the opposite and took flight and although the initial time gain wasn’t great he was going head to head against Dumoulin and occasionally Thibaut Pinot and team mate Sebastian Reichenbach for the rest of the stage after Miguel Angle Lopez and Richard Carapaz decided to be passengers. Dumoulin never got closer than on those upper slopes of the Finestre and finished the day 40 seconds out of pink. It was a Lazarus like return for the Brit after an equally Icarus like collapse from Yates. Dumoulin was the pivot of the race, he stayed in second as everyone else swivelled madly around him, Domenico Pozzovivo and Rohan Dennis were the big losers, dropping out of the podium and top ten respectively.

Froome’s move on stage 19 looked soft, but…

Pointed humour?

An 80 kilometre solo from Froome – Surprised?

Stage 19

The final stage prior to Rome was always going to have potential but with Froome being so inconsistent there was a chance that he could crack again and let Dumoulin sneak in. Dumoulin had a significant gap back to third place and threw everything at Froome but the Brit was a new man and was unbent. Dumoulin finished a further few seconds back and handed over his Giro title despite a huge effort.

The Giro was as good as over at the end of stage 20

Sam Bennett won the final stage in Rome in a head to head against Viviani. The Irishman finished with three stage wins to Viviani’s four and will carry a huge amount of optimism into his next races. The emergence of Bennett has been a really heartening part of this Giro in addition to the efforts of Richard Carapaz overall and Jack Haig and Sam Oomen in supporting roles.

Three stages for Bennett

So who won the Giro d’Italia? It seems like a pretty easy to answer question doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately we do know who has won the Giro – at least who crossed the line in Rome in pink – but we don’t know who will be in the record books in six months. Froome had fistfuls of dollars pressed into his hands to appear at the start line in Jerusalem, but then the Giro organisers were upset because they didn’t know that Froome was riding under a cloud. It looked like the whole saga would be quietly brushed under the carpet when Froome wasn’t going to have a shot at victory. That all changed though on that ride to Bardonecchia where Froome put in an effort for the ages and he was in pink. The debate will start up again and anyone left in the middle of the debate, who hasn’t dug themselves into a side from which they will never emerge, will have to agree that cycling has once again shot itself in the foot. It is a complete joke that we are still in a position where a Grand Tour can be decided in a court rather than on the road and the UCI need to begin acting like a governing body and not just a passive organisation.

· Maglia Rosa
(pink), general classification leader, sponsored by Enel – Chris Froome (Team Sky)
· Maglia Ciclamino (cyclamen), sprinter classification leader, sponsored by Segafredo – Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors).
· Maglia Azzurra (blue), King of the Mountains classification leader, sponsored by Banca Mediolanum – Chris Froome (Team Sky).
· Maglia Bianca (white), young rider general classification leader, sponsored by Eurospin – Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team).

Chris Froome is the first Briton to win the Giro. Only one other British rider has made the final podium in the past: Robert Millar in 1987.
· Seven riders are now the winners of three Grand Tours: Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome.
· Before Froome, three riders won three Grand Tours in a row when La Vuelta was contested in April-May, before the Giro: Fausto Coppi (Giro and Tour 1952, Giro 1953 as La Vuelta wasn’t contested in 1953), Eddy Merckx who even made it four in a row (Giro and Tour 1972, Vuelta and Giro 1973) and Bernard Hinault (Giro and Tour 1982, Vuelta 1983).
· For the third time running, a Colombian makes the final podium: Esteban Chaves (2nd in 2016), Nairo Quintana (2nd in 2017) and Miguel Angel Lopez (3rd in 2018).
· For the first time in 20 years (since Marco Pantani in 1998), the Maglia Rosa is also the King of the Mountains.

Giro d’Italia Final Overall Result:
1. Chris Froome (GB) Sky in 89:02:39
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb at 0:46
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana at 4:57
4. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar at 5:44
5. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 8:03
6. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana at 11:50
7. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 13:01
8. George Bennett (NZ) LottoNL-Jumbo at 13:17
9. Sam Oomen (Ned) Sunweb at 14:18
10. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe at 15:16
11. Alexandre Geniez (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 17:30
12. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky at 17:40
13. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky at 29:41
14. José Gonçalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin at 34:29
15. Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar at 41:48
16. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC at 56:07
17. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott at 58:16
18. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 1:00:30
19. Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 1:01:24
20. Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 1:03:54
21. Simon Yates (GB) Mitchelton-Scott at 1:15:11
22. Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) Groupama-FDJ at 1:15:18
23. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 1:19:49
24. Valerio Conti (Ita) UAE Team Emirates at 1:23:04
25. Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana at 1:23:11.

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