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When I agreed to write this Giro d’Italia column I briefly flicked through the roadbook and barely gave stage 14 a second’s look. Surely, I thought, stage 15 would be the more challenging stage with its three long climbs and 4,000m of elevation gain?
If I had noticed the double ascension of Superga I would have had an idea of what to expect on stage 14 but I’m not sure I would have predicted how it played out. Stage 14 was what we used to call a ‘sleeper stage’. No high-altitude long climbs, an average stage, with an average total elevation gain. It had a profile that didn’t attract attention nestled among the shark tooth profiles of the week ahead.
However, the brutal combination of short steep climbs and narrow, twisting, and technically demanding roads blew the race to pieces. Once the inevitable break was decided and began to gain an advantage, Bora-Hansgrohe ripped up the script, accelerating on a short climb into a technical downhill that detonated the peloton and led to many GC riders being completely isolated for the final 60km. Many more GC outsiders saw their hopes of a podium disintegrate.
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Over the years we have become accustomed to a controlled style of racing, and stages with mountain top finishes being decisive. Increasingly it’s these ‘sleeper’ stages that cause the most damage but why?
If you put the top-10 on GC in a lab and tested their threshold power, they would be covered by a couple of percent. A stage like Saturday tests much more than sustainable power with bike handling, ability to recover from repeated efforts, and lactate tolerance all crucial.
However, there is also a much greater difference between the riders’ shorter term, for example two to five minutes, power than threshold.
Steep gradients and shorter climbs make drafting much less important, meaning the stronger squads cannot suffocate the race. It still requires a certain impetus and vision for a race to be so aggressive and chapeau to Bora for taking the race on.
The way that the race unfolded would have meant getting bottles and food onboard would have been tricky, and with the high temperatures and humidity in that region, it’s the kind of stage that takes a lot to recover from. The riders would have been feeling weary heading into Sunday’s stage 15, which was designed to exploit any weaknesses.
Have a bad moment on one of the climbs and you would lose a lot of time quickly, but with the long, steady and mostly headwind climb to the finish the route was never going to create vintage viewing.
This would have been marked out as a breakaway stage with the long flat start leading to the sequence of climbs, and the thoughts of the GC riders were already turning towards what is an incredibly difficult sequence of stages after the rest day. Ultimately, they were happy to follow the pace set by Ineos and conserve as much as possible.
How to rescue a lost cause
With Simon Yates and Giulio Ciccone taking the stage honors this weekend, we had two riders who started the race in Hungary with ambitions for the maglia rosa getting some form of consolation.
It’s not easy to reset mentally as preparing for a GC challenge takes months of preparation and sacrifice. It’s a huge disappointment when things falter but as long as you recognize there is a clear reason for the failure then you can move on and challenge for stages.
You can take confidence from the fact that you have the best condition possible and learn from your mistakes but it’s more often a case of paying back the team for their efforts. Being a team leader is a heavy weight to carry and there often comes a feeling of guilt from letting down your teammates, and even the staff, who are all there for that one goal.
With 10th on GC at eight minutes, there is a huge list of potential breakaway candidates in the final week, with a number of GC riders with potential ideas of jumping back into that top-10 as well as aiming for a stage win.
The other GC riders will be happy to see Carapaz in pink. He and his team shouldering the burden of what could potentially be an out of control race means that Ineos take on all the pressure and responsibility.
For Ineos it doesn’t matter who goes in the break as long as it’s not any of the top nine who are easily controlled and will most likely not waste energy attempting the coup. That means we could see some huge breakaway groups of 30-40 riders the next few days, which for a team controlling is often easier than a group of 10 to 12 as they don’t work as well together. Carapaz has looked the strongest the last few days, and he has the strongest and most committed team at his disposal, but with Bora and Bahrain having two cards to play, and a very threatening strong time trial for Almeida at only 30 seconds, all is still to play for.