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Richard Carapaz sits on a bench on the Ineos Grenadiers team bus. Between the two black cushions supporting the current leader of the Giro d’Italia runs a bright blue detail. To the outside world everything is on-brand Ineos, but inside there are still hints of the glorious past which still sees fans, media, and even riders sometimes accidentally calling the squad by its old name: “Team Sky- err, I mean, Ineos Grenadiers”.
The lingering blue after the facelift to navy and red isn’t the only colour shift for the British squad. Once known for their Tour de France dominance, the last few years have seen Ineos trade yellow for pink, having won both of the Giri d’Italia since the last time the team took home the yellow jersey.
All signs point towards Richard Carapaz making it three in a row. The Ecuadorian was the stopgap in between Ineos winning three of the four previous maglia rosas and warns his rivals that he feels even better than he did when winning the Italian Grand Tour back in 2019 for Movistar.
“The final week is favorable for us,” Carapaz said on the rest day, a warning to his rivals. The race gives way to a series of mountain days now, where Carapaz should thrive, and where he will be backed by an Ineos squad which has led from the front throughout the first two weeks in Italy.
“We were five there in the final and [in] the hard final week it’s important to have one teammate at your side in the decisive moments,” Carapaz said of the mountain tests that have already passed, where Richie Porte has been his right-hand man and the likes of Ben Swift, Pavel Sivakov, and Jhonatan Narvaez have all played their part. “The team will count for a lot during this final week – if you’re caught out on your own you can really pay for it.”
According to the Ecuadorian, it will be the mountains that decide the Giro, not the final time trial in Verona. He expects large time gaps in the lead-up to Sunday.
“I think these four big days in the mountains will be the biggest factor in who wins the Giro,” Carapaz said. “The time trial final will not be so decisive in who wins or who doesn’t win the Giro.
“We have a good idea of who will be there to fight for the jersey, with [Jai] Hindley, [João] Almeida, and [Mikel] Landa. It’s going to be a hard week with a lot of mountains. I think we have a good idea of who will be the challengers for victory.”
Once again, it will be Ineos vs the usurpers to decide a Grand Tour.
If the maglia rosa was judged by which contender provided the best quotes on the second rest day, Hindley would surely have it sealed with his “we’re not here to put socks on centipedes”. The Australian has been closest to denying Ineos the maglia rosa, both in this year’s race, and in his 2020 tussle with Tao Geoghegan Hart, in which the pair were only separated by a final time trial.
For the Spaniard Landa, it was European halcyonism instead of Aussie slang.
“I’ve dreamed many times of racing and winning the Giro and at the moment this year there are still options, so let’s keep dreaming,” the Bahrain Victorious rider said, currently sitting a minute behind Carapaz.
“The favourites have been watching each other because we all knew that it would be difficult to find stages in the second week on which you could make a difference. We’ve all just focused on to trying to get through the stages with as little fatigue as possible and without any setbacks.
“We’re about to start the third week. I’m one minute away from the pink jersey and I think everything is going according to plan.”
Forecasts suggest bad weather could be inbound for the final chapter of the Giro. Not that Carapaz is too concerned by that.
“If it rains tomorrow, we’ll see how we respond,” Carapaz said as dark clouds loomed overhead. “So far there’s been a lot of heat, but we’re ready to take on anything that the mountains throw at us. The weather doesn’t worry me too much.”
After the sunshine comes the precipitation. We’ll just have to wait to find out whose parade will be rained on.