Dan Martin’s Giro d’Italia analysis: No hiding place on Blockhaus

Dan Martin watches the Giro d'Italia come to life on the summit finish of Blockhaus and takes VeloNews readers inside the mind of a racer.

Photo: Getty Images

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After what has been an incredibly testing trilogy of stages in southern Italy I expected the stage to Blockhaus to clearly define a hierarchy in this year’s Giro d’Italia.

Reading the results sheets for Friday and Saturday really belies the difficulty of both days; they were typical Giro d’Italia stages on undulating, twisting terrain, with often poor road surfaces that demand 100 percent concentration and fighting for position.

The big breakaway on Saturday meant an infernal pace was kept throughout the day even if the final was ridden a little less aggressively due to the stage honors being already decided. The biggest factor today was the unseasonal and very un-Giro-like heat that clearly took its toll on some of the riders.

Later in the season the riders have had much more exposure to the hot weather: it’s been an unusually cold March and April in Europe this year, meaning this was potentially the first hot days of the year for some of the riders, and I certainly believe that it affected Simon Yates who we saw in trouble early on the climb, as well as Hugh Carthy. In Yates’ case there is also a big question mark over the knee injury that he picked up earlier in the week, but it was also surprising to see how isolated he was after BikeExchange had such a strong team performance on Etna.

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Giulio Ciccione and Tobias Foss, two riders who had great races last year in colder wetter conditions, have also suffered greatly, which could be explained by the meteorological conditions.

I’ve never ridden Blockhaus but gradients like those are really tough. You still get a little bit of draft but it requires more torque in the muscles to push the pedals over. It’s much harder to spin a high cadence up steeper gradients. Once you get above 9-10 percent gradients it also becomes much harder for the heavier guys, so it was inevitable we would see the lightweight climbers come to the fore, the guys who like standing on the pedals as aerodynamics are much less important than on Etna. Basically there was no hiding.

Ineos Grenadiers was again in formidable form, doing a great job of detonating the GC group with a mixture of strength and smart riding. Just notice Richie Porte riding just out from the gutter and allowing Carapaz to get more shelter from the crosswind on the climb.

The strategy also caused issues behind with a stall forcing Juan Pedro Lopez off the road and to lose contact, although I don’t think he would have lasted much longer. When you are comfortable you are much more lucid and can avoid silly incidences like that.

I think we all saw the attack of Carapaz coming but what did surprise me was the lack of further attacks. It’s been a brutal three stages and clearly Bardet, Landa and Carapaz were the strongest but they seemed content to work together to distance their rivals rather than test each other. They each took strong pulls so I am suggesting that there is a bit of poker being played with a view to the finish still being two weeks away.

Romain Bardet (Team DSM) pushes the pace on stage 9 of the Giro d'Italia.
Team DSM’s French rider Romain Bardet (R) cycles in a breakaway ahead of Team Ineos’ Ecuadorian rider Richard Carapaz (C) and Team Bahrain’s Spanish rider Mikel Landa (L) during the 9th stage of the Giro d’Italia 2022 cycling race, 191 kilometers between Isernia and the Blockhaus mountain, in the Majella national park near Chieti, southern Italy, on May 15, 2022. (Photo by Luca Bettini / AFP) (Photo by LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images) (Photo: Getty Images)

Of course, maybe they were on the limit, but Landa especially looked comfortable and able to respond to any attack, but uncharacteristically, he didn’t show any aggressive intent. Perhaps he was feeling the effects of a crash earlier in the stage. He has always been a bit of a loose cannon and when I raced against him I would always dread a Landa attack as he was often the rider to ignite proceedings and attack at any moment. But perhaps we are seeing a more conservative and calculating Landa after a run of disappointments in races.

To the finish, and it had me scratching my head. Jai Hindley rode a great race and did everything right but it’s textbook that if there is a corner with 200m to go you need to be in the top two, especially when everybody is cooked at the top of a climb.

Generally in those scenarios, the guy who launches the sprint will often win as it takes a big power advantage to actually sprint past somebody if they get up to speed first.

That’s why I often did a long sprint as it’s also a big mental advantage to be leading with less slipstream than a flat sprint, so it’s purely a question of power. It was a really long and very impressive sprint from Jai who clearly benefited from Pozzovivo losing a couple of bike lengths in the last turn but there wasn’t much urgency from the rest of the group. I was almost surprised when the sprint opened up, so tame was the fight for the final corner.

So the race is finely poised, with the big favorites again avoiding the obligations and pressure of the maglia rosa, something their teams will be content with. It’s a rest day tomorrow and then four probable sprint stages for the climbers to navigate as easy and safely as possible.

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