On a day when Olympics 100 metres champion Marcell Jacobs was the guest of honour, perhaps it was only fitting that the contenders for the Giro d’Italia forgot this race was a marathon and suddenly decided it was a sprint.
Turin, graceful centre of industry and thought, has a reputation for order and sobriety rather than chaos and excess. It is, Italo Calvino once wrote, a city that invites rigour, linearity and style.
There was certainly style on show on stage 14 of the Giro, but the narrative was anything but linear. On the day when anything could happen, almost everything did.
For two weeks, the favourites for this Giro had been measured in their approach, carefully meting out their efforts and limiting their exposure. Then, in the space of 147 dizzying kilometres in the hills around Turin, the previous logic of the Giro seemed to collapse upon itself.
Ineos Grenadiers, hitherto the strongest team in the race, were scattered to the four winds by the forcing of Bora-Hansgrohe with some 80km remaining. Yet despite his isolation, Richard Carapaz later reasoned that attack was the best form of defence, accelerating viciously on Superga with 28km to go.
It was that kind of a day. Best not to overthink it, as Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) explained when he reached the finish on Corso Moncalieri. “You couldn’t think about anything,” he said. “You just had to switch off your brain and go flat out.”
Pozzovivo, a graduate of economics and a student of sports science, is among the peloton’s more thoughtful riders, but he adapted well to the terms of engagement here.
He was part of the twelve-man group that reached the last lap of the circuit together, and although he couldn’t match the best on the final haul up the Colle della Maddalena, he fared better than most, coming home fifth, 28 seconds behind winner Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) and 13 down on Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Carapaz and a resurgent Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan).
When Carapaz punched clear a kilometre from the summit of Superga, it suddenly looked as though the Giro had found its padrone. Nobody dared to respond, and as the Ecuadorian built a lead in excess of 20 seconds over the rest of the contenders, it had the feel of a turning point in this entire race.
“Carapaz was incredible in the way he maintained his gap with the riders chasing him,” Pello Bilbao said when he reached the finish, talking reporters through his day in Italian, Spanish and Basque. The race was difficult to explain in any language, but Bilbao cut to the nub of the matter. For him and his Bahrain Victorious leader Mikel Landa, this was about damage limitation.
“We saved the day. The only thought when Carapaz attacked was not to lose the Giro today. We’re still in the fight for the third week,” said Bilbao, who helped Landa restrict his deficit to 51 seconds at the finish. Landa is now 59 seconds behind Carapaz in the overall standings, but he knows it could have been a whole lot worse. Landismo has not yet died.
Big time losses
The riders who failed to make the key selection on the first lap of the Superga-Colle della Maddalena circuit were doomed to the kind of deficit more usually associated with a mountainous tappone deep into the third week.
It was a day where the slightest weaknesses abruptly mushroomed into exaggerated losses. For men like Alejandro Valverde, who conceded eight minutes, or Guillaume Martin, who lost more than nine, the stage became a nightmare from which they could not awake.
“I got to the top of the first ascent of Superga 10 or 15 seconds down because a small gap opened. I found myself alone chasing on the false flat to try to get back on and I started to use up all my energy,” said Martin, who drops to 12th overall, 9:44 behind Carapaz. “I finished as best I could, but it was difficult. It was especially hot in this urban setting, it was stifling.”
Maglia rosa Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) survived longer than most, and his ten-day tenure in the jersey ended with a show of defiance, but the Spaniard eventually had to let go of the lead when Carpaz unfurled his acceleration on the second ascent of Superga.
Carapaz would inherit the jersey at the finish in Turin, but not as emphatically as initially seemed possible. While his Superga solo raid was impressive, it was also ambitious in the extreme, even on a day such as this. Hindley and Nibali bridged across on the final time up the Maddalena, and the Australian would even outsprint Carapaz to second place behind Yates.
In the overall standings, Carapaz is just 7 seconds clear of Hindley, while João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), the most dogged pursuer in all of professional cycling, kept his losses firmly under control too. The Portuguese rider stays third overall, half a minute behind Carapaz, while two other riders – Landa and Pozzovivo – lie a minute back.
The gaps telescope from there. Nibali, now eighth 2:58, is suddenly back in contention for the podium, but riders like Valverde (10th at 9:06) and Martin (12th at 9:04) are out of the hunt altogether.
“They’re quite equal,” Yates said when asked to assess the merits of Carapaz, Hindley and Nibali. “The only thing I would say is that Carapaz spent a lot of energy to attack first. Otherwise, they were quite equal on the final climb, and they didn’t want to give each other space. But maybe the gaps are not so big to Almeida and those guys, and I think next week the climbs will suit those guys a bit more.”
Into the Alps
Before that third week, however, comes the second instalment of this weekend’s double header, as the Giro enters the Alps for the first time with a demanding run into Val d’Aosta on stage 15.
The first-category climbs of Pila-Les Fleurs and Verrogne precede the haul to the finish at Cogne, and 46km of the final 80km are uphill.
Ineos Grenadiers, so notably absent from Carapaz’s side in Turin, will find the terrain more amenable to their mountain train here, but nothing feels quite as certain after Saturday’s miniature epic. The stage to Cogne couldn’t possibly be as explosive as stage 14, but it seems inevitable that several riders will pay heavily for the sheer intensity of their efforts in Turin, particularly given the soaring temperatures.
“It should be more regular than today,” Pozzovivo said. “But then again, the effort from today will stay in the legs too…”
When the dust settles, stage 14 in Turin will surely go down as the most tumultuous afternoon of this entire Giro, but the old tenets of the race hold true. The winning of the Giro is in many days, day after day.