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The Slovenian powered back from a late mechanical on the extreme Monte Lussari final of Saturday’s stage 20 time trial to stop the clock 40 seconds faster than pink jersey Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).
Roglič’s ride up the leg-snapper climb close to the Slovenian border left him with a 14-second GC lead that all but guarantees him a fourth grand tour win, his first Giro d’Italia title, and banishes the demons of his devastating defeat at the 2020 Tour de France.
“It’s something amazing. It’s not about the win itself, but about the people and the energy here. It’s a moment to live and to remember,” Roglič said at the line.
Roglič’s push at the pink jersey looked like it had been derailed when he dropped a chain in the final kilometers of the Lussari ascent.
“I dropped the chain, it’s part of it. I put it back and I just went up,” he said. “For sure you didn’t want these things to happen, but I could put the chain back on, and I could restart.”
Barring disaster, Roglič will seal the Giro d’Italia in a sprinter stage Sunday around Roma. After DNFs in his last two grand tours, the 33-year-old Roglič will adds the corsa rosa to his three Vuelta a España titles.
Roglič rode to the top of the GC for the first time of the whole race in front of mobs of Slovenian spectators that flooded across the nearby border.
“I had the legs, and the people, they give me extra watts. I was just flying and enjoying,” he said.
“One more day to go, one more focus, because the lap is technical, but it’s not over until it’s finished, but it looks good.”
Thomas came to the line ragged and ashen-faced after he lost his opportunity at pink after he spent so long leading the race.
He did enough to finish second on the stage, but not enough to counter a time trial for the ages from his Jumbo-Visma foe.
“I could feel my legs going with a K and a half, I don’t want to make excuses, I just didn’t feel like I had that grunt,” Thomas said. “At least he smashed me. To be honest, Primož deserves that, with the mechanical he had.”
Thomas was characteristically courteous amid his crushing disappointment.
“If you had told me this in February or March, I would have bit your hand off. But now I’m devastated. After the season I had, I can be proud of that,” he said. “I am just gutted for the boys, they’ve worked so hard.”
The final phase of the stage 20 time trial was a nail-biter.
Roglič set the fastest time on the flat opening portion of the stage by the slimmest of margins but nobody knew whether he had enough to reverse a 26-second defecit.
Thomas took the time to switch from a road to time trial helmet when he swapped out his bikes at the base of the Lussari climb, opting for a lighter and cooler lid on the hot sunny afternoon.
Despite the Welshman’s slower equipment switchover, he was only 2 seconds back on Roglič ahead of the leg-snapper grades of the uphill final.
The severe 7km Lussari ascent was mobbed-out with Slovenian fans that had swarmed across the nearby border. Roglič rode a huge rear sprocket for the 15 percent grades that enabled him to spin smooth and easy, and grew out his advantage over Thomas to 14 seconds by mid-way up the mountain finish.
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However, Roglič suddenly looked on the brink of disaster.
The Slovenian bumped over a pothole in the road surface in the final kilometers of the climb, lost his chain, and hemorrhaged precious seconds while he remounted and got moving again..
Roglič must have ridden on adrenaline through the final kilometers of his stage. The Jumbo-Visma captain powered to the finish in a lightning fast climb that set a fastest time of 42 seconds and was good to have scored him a first maglia rosa.
Thomas looked ragged by the time he ground his way through the Slovenian crowds that massed at the summit.
The Welsh veteran rode with skinsuit unzipped and pain etched over his face as he went deep – but not deep enough – in his attempted pink jersey defense.
US racers rule the hot seat
Access issues and restrictions on space on the goat path-style Lussari ascent saw riders set off in three spaced-out tranches Saturday to allow time to evacuate finished racers.
Thibaut Guernalec (Arkéa Samsic) set the fastest time of the first wave of riders with his mark of 48:35.
The Frenchman sat in the hotseat for some time before a flurry of riders in the second wave went faster.
U.S. grand tour rookie Matthew Riccitello (Israel-Premier Tech) put in the ride of his life on the 18.4km test. The 21-year-old started the climb seventh fastest of the day so far but blazed to the summit with a time of 46:19.
Riccitello’s mark was a whopper two minutes faster than the previous best set that day, and the pocket-rocket climber stayed at the top of the leaderboard ahead of the heavy-hitting third tranche of GC riders.
It seemed inevitable rookie racer Riccitello would be topped. Jay Vine (UAE Emirates) went a few seconds faster before U.S. racers Brandon McNulty (UAE Emirates) and then Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) set successively faster times.
Kuss’ 45:28 remained the best time once first of the “big three” Almeida hit the bottom of the climb and the race for the maglia rosa moved into play.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and then Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) and João Almeida (UAE Emirates) blitzed into the lead of the race for a brief period while Roglič and Thomas powered over the upper half of the Lussari.
However, all their times were overshadowed by the beyond-belief drama and climbing performances of Roglič and Thomas in a day of grand tour racing for the ages.
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