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There was never any doubt that stage 14 would be a blockbuster day of racing. For the second Saturday on the trot, the Giro organisers struck gold with a short and punchy stage making use of a challenging local loop. Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) was the resurgent winner of the stage, while behind him, the GC race was lit up by a surprising source.
The hills to the east of Turin presented a spectacular stage for the drama, but Bora-Hansgrohe took the race into their own hands long before the circuits began.
The German outfit had a daring plan to ambush their GC rivals, and though it didn’t result in a stage win, their leader and stage 9 winner Jai Hindley has vaulted up to second overall, just seven seconds behind new leader Richard Carapaz.
“We came in with a pretty bold plan to light it up pretty early and try to isolate the other GC guys,” Hindley said post stage. “Like you guys saw, the team were phenomenal today, really ridiculously good. I’m disappointed not to take the win, but the guys showed we’re not here to play around. They put it on the line for me.”
Here’s how they did it.
Round 1: all in
The fight for the breakaway was intense from the flag drop. Once yet another Mathieu van der Poel solo crusade was shut down – or rather, as soon as he sat up – everyone, including two Bora-Hansgrohe riders, wanted to get into the move and the peloton seemed relentlessly unhappy with the various formations.
It took almost 50 km for an escape to form, but they enjoyed less than an hour of freedom before Bora-Hansgrohe put their plan into action. At first glance, it seemed an odd move given they had Ben Zwiehoff in the lead group, but their objective soon became clear.
The counter showed there were still 85 km still to race when Giovanni Aleotti was offered up as a sacrificial lamb for the GC double-header of Hindley and Emanuel Buchmann. The 22-year-old Italian was the first man of the Bora-Hansgrohe formation that took over the front of the peloton (from Ineos Grenadiers), and he almost single-handedly slashed the break’s advantage from three minutes to 30 seconds in a little over 10 km.
With Lennard Kämna next in line, and Zwiehoff dropping back to help out, Bora-Hansgrohe blew the peloton apart. Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) were briefly distanced, while Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Thymen Arensmen (DSM) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were among the biggest casualties of the ambush.
Round 2: the headliners take the stage
Those of us who have made a habit of watching Grand Tours in recent years are used to watching Movistar and the various iterations of Ineos Grenadiers bossing the GC race, but they were the two teams least represented as stage 14 entered its final act.
Going into the final lap, Wilco Kelderman still led the 12-strong group, with Landa and Pozzovivo the only other leaders with a teammate to lean on.
“Wilco keeps saying he’s not going well enough, but chapeau to him,” said Enrico Gasparotto, former pro rider and now Bora-Hansgrohe sports director. “It was not the plan to split the bunch on the descent, we were thinking about the first climb of Superga, so actually it arrived a little earlier than expected.”
When Kelderman’s day was done, it was over to the favourites, and Carapaz wasn’t waiting around. However, the Olympic champion’s acceleration was easily matched by Hindley who still looked incredibly fresh.
The young Australian once again proved his immense return to form with a smart ride on the Saperga, the longest climb of the day, swapping accelerations with teammate Buchmann. The Bora pair seemed unshakeable, and it wasn’t until Carapaz threw caution to the wind with one massive attack near the top, that they were left behind.
“I didn’t know if he [Carapaz] was making faces on the Superga or not, but he didn’t look super strong, so actually I was pretty surprised when he put that attack in,” Hindley said. “I thought it was still quite a long way to go with this last steep climb, so I just waited and stayed patient. I could just ride with the group a bit and could save a lot of energy compared to being out solo.”
Round 3: the final push
Carapaz led the race onto the soul-crushingly steep Colle della Maddalena, but his rivals were less than 30 seconds behind.
With 15 km to go, Nibali attacked his fellow chasers at the foot of the climb, its steepest ramp, and Hindley made following the multiple Grand Tour winner look easy as he grabbed hold of Nibali’s wheel.
“I knew Nibali was looking pretty good and I knew he was going to try something on the last climb, so I was just waiting and when he went, I followed,” Hindley said. “We bridged the gap quite quickly and then it was down this crazy descent into the finish. It was really crazy, it was like a one-day race or something.”
The pair seemed to halve their disadvantage with their initial acceleration, and when they were about 10 seconds from the front, Hindley left Nibali behind.
Ultimately, Yates and Nibali would join the two leaders and the quartet rode together until the final unclassified climb, where the Brit launched his race-winning move.
15 seconds after Yates crossed the line, Hindley out-sprinted Carapaz to take second place, further narrowing his deficit to the new race leader.
After 14 stages, Bora-Hansgrohe is in a rosy position. Not only is it one of two teams with more than one rider in the top 10, both Hindley and Buchmann within two minutes of the pink jersey, but they’ve also got two stage wins to their name, from Kämna and Hindley.
The team’s actions on Saturday’s stage from Santena to Turin had a huge impact on the race, both in real terms and as far as entertainment is concerned. But going on the offensive so soon with a 178 km mountain stage on Sunday was a bit of a risk.
Then again, Bora-Hansgrohe can probably bank on the Ineos Grenadiers reverting to factory settings for new race leader Carapaz.
“We had a plan at the beginning of the day, but Bora surprised us,” Carapaz admitted after the stage. “Tomorrow will be very different. The climbs are going to be longer and we will have to defend the maglia rosa.”