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Dan Martin retired at the end of the 2021 season after a glittering career that included five grand tour stage wins and two monument victories. The Irishman also finished inside the top ten in all three of cycling’s grand tours in a career that spanned three decades. During the 2022 Giro d’Italia, Martin will write exclusively for VeloNews, taking readers behind the scenes with his expert knowledge of the sport.
I’ll start by thanking VeloNews for inviting me to share my babblings during this, the first grand tour that I will spend as an armchair (mostly) impartial fan.
I have to admit to having partially written this piece in my head before the stage even started, waxing lyrical about the difficulties of managing a rest day during a stage race — especially when it was as arduous on the peloton as yesterday seemed with the not insignificant trip from Hungary down to Sicily complicating the routine — and the riders then being greeted by pouring rain. The condition meant most, if not all, preferred to stay on the indoor trainers to spin their legs.
We are accustomed to seeing GC riders lose time, if not their GC ambitions, on the first mountain stage but nobody expected to see Miguel Ángel López stop his race before we even reached the lower slopes of Etna. López was always one of the riders I feared the most, and in my eyes, a strong favorite for the GC.
Explosive, unpredictable, and on his best day totally unbeatable, it’s a loss to the race. But I just hope López can break this string of DNFs in grand tours, as that can really start to play on your mind and prove difficult to shake.
The race played out mostly as I expected. The nature of grand tour racing now means teams look at the long game and want to avoid the burden of the pink jersey so it was almost inevitable the stage would be taken by a rider the breakaway.
Lennard Kämna is a class act and judged the last climb perfectly. The gradient suited Kämna’s style, although he had a bit of luck that Juan Pedro López didn’t take him out on the final corner. That could have been an interesting sprint to the line.
As a GC rider, you enter the first mountain stage with a mix of excitement, anxiety, and trepidation. You’ve done all the hard work at home, but you always arrive wondering did you do enough?
You have no idea how good your competitors are. There are also the question marks over how you coped with the rest day and if you have kept your climbing legs. The riders traveled to a very flat Hungary roughly a week before this stage; and the final hard climbing efforts are generally done a week out from stage 1, meaning the riders will not have climbed a mountain for 10-11 days.
And then they were climbing for one hour today! That is a challenge you only get in grand tours, and all this adds up to a GC group riding, as expected, conservatively.
One can get such a good draft on the wheel on a climb like Etna, especially with the headwind, so the stage was all about getting to the finish as economically as possible. You can save a lot of energy on a climb like Etna, if you know the road.
Ineos Grenadiers controlled the tempo and began the wearing-down process. One of Carapaz’s strengths is his ability to recover — we all could see how good he was just six days after the 2021 Tour when he won in Tokyo.
The Ineos game plan will be to stay safe and start creating fatigue in their competitors in hopes that Carapaz will be the strongest in week three.
It was important to be in the front for the downhill or technical sections and avoid the elasticity in the group, but on the more straightforward parts one could really sit back. It took confidence to do it and you could see that Yates took as much shelter as possible. He knows he is strong enough to react, if need, be but today was about getting to the finish feeling as good as possible, and attacks were very unlikely with all the factors against an aggressive race.
The big losers were clearly Astana Qazaqstan and Jumbo-Visma. Not only did Astana lose López, but Nibali had a day to forget, too. Meanwhile, the Dutch team had a number of cards to play, and they all fell flat.
I’m not sure Tom Dumoulin came into the race with any expectations for GC, but Jumbo’s Tobias Foss (9th in 2021), Koen Bouwman (12th in 2021), and Sam Oomen are all class climbers who lost time. It’s by no means game over, but a significant hit to team morale.
As always, the first mountain stage was about who lost out — not about time gains — and it’s difficult to read anything into the form of the contenders. There are a few nervous days ahead as the riders prepare for some tricky stages in southern Italy, where road conditions and a technical nature can easily catch one out. Hopefully, all the favorites get to the next rendezvous at Blockhaus, which historically sees a much more open, aggressive race.