The first two weeks of the 105th Giro d’Italia had one name that stood out: Richard Carapaz.
From the opening stage onwards he was the only pre-race favorite that was constantly up front when he had to be. The Ineos Grenadiers leader was always among the strongest.
Even when Jai Hindley won atop Blockhaus on stage 9, he had been subject to the pace set by the Ecuadorian, rather than the other way around. He had even been dropped for a while. And yet, Carapaz got mugged on the last road stage.
At first, it appears that the Taoiseach has been in trouble in the opening stages. That year, his rivals had made a mistake when he was dropped on the Mount Etna stage. But then again, Tao Geoghegan Hart was not considered a major threat – so why would they have?
This year, the only moment Carapaz dropped Hindley for any length of time he was on Blockhaus Bardet and Mikel Landa – hesitated before the dash to the line. Before that day, the Australian had been part of the front group on the hills, but he wasn’t prominent or looking exceptional.
When I looked for clues in the progression of the top two, it is quite telling to see that, including climbing, Carapaz finished in front of Hindley most of the time. Up until the beginning of the final week, the scores were definitely in favor of Ineos.
Of the seven mountainous or hilly days, Carapaz preceded Hindley five times. Only on the Blockhaus sprint, and again on stage 14 where Simon Yates triumphed in Turin, did the climb fall in the favor of the Australian. Maybe that’s why I had the feeling that Carapaz didn’t do enough to get rid of him when he might have seized the chance.
Maybe we were all too focused on Bardet and Landa, who certainly looked winning at the high mountains of the third week loomed. And yet, with the days counting down, suddenly Jai Hindley appeared much more comfortable than Richard Carapaz when the road rose up.
Differences at the top level are small, however. Richard Carapaz was beginning to have the effect. He was less settled on his bike than he had been. Conversely, Hindley had become more fluid in his pedalling compared to earlier in the race. He often used a smaller gear than the Ineos rider for the same effort, which indicated that he was not quite at his maximum yet.
Would he have distanced Carapaz without the help of Lennard Kämna? We’ll never know.
Maybe Hindley hasn’t taken quite so much time and only distanced the maglia rosa in the final sprint but Kämna and Carapaz have a bit of history – especially stage 16 of the 2020 Tour de France and the climb to Villard-de-Lans when the young German countered to move from Carapaz and won that stage convincingly. Remember, Kämna had already won on the Italian mainland, so he had the speed to hurt people. The acceleration he provided on the Passo Fedaia cracked the race leader and allowed his Bora-Hansgrohe teammate to ultimately seal the overall victory.
Tactically, Bora outsmarted Ineos in the final week, not that the British squad has done anything wrong up until then. They protected Carapaz, took bonuses when they could, and rode to their strengths of controlling the race when they had. Carapaz positioned and ready to use his aggression.
However, losing Richie Porte was a blow and the pressure of holding the pink jersey appeared to catch up with them. They tried saving Pavel Sivakov for the role that Porte would have assumed but he isn’t quite there yet. Bora, who had been able to sit back most of the race, who observed and waited to play their cards, came into the last days with fresher legs.
If you have been in the race then you would have been different and probably have more As it came down to those last days, the rider with most reserves was likely to win. That was Hindley, who had managed his race in hopes the third week would be his best.
And it was.
The best of the rest
Landa finished the race after he showed so much promise and strength in the second week. He looked likely to be the strongest climber heading towards the big mountains but it didn’t happen, even with the support of a Bahrain team dedicated to his cause. The days they took control of the race promised fireworks but then the Spaniard just didn’t have the sparkle to drop his rivals.
Ultimately, the route did not include high mountains for his steady-state climbing style. And his time trialling needs much more work.
João Almeida could have made the podium, though he did not have the Giro in 2020. As for Simon Yates, two stages the overall. It is a good idea to find the best GC riders have to do with the best of them. Definitely a case of what might have been.
Biniam Girmay, Jan Hirt and Intermarché-Wanty Gobert were impressing. It was no surprise that Alpecin-Fenix added to the Mathieu Van der Poel show with Stefano Oldani and Dries De Bondt winning their stages. Nor was it that Lotto Soudal’s Thomas de Gendt ground everyone to a pulp on the Naples circuit.
Juan Pedro López has a new hope to cultivate in Juan Pedro López. After the opening week it was nice to see the home nation take four stage wins and Vincenzo Nibali was involved in the GC, fighting for his last Giro.
Generally, it was a Giro d’Italia that had very different paths to how it was raced, the GC conservatively and the breakaway fights with a lot more entertaining dynamic. There wasn’t much interaction between the two camps. Whereas some years see classifications like the mountain jersey contested by GC riders, this year Koen Bouwman won that by going in the escapes. It’s not a criticism, as the other Grand Tours have developed in the same way, but the format for the classifications probably needs to be refreshed to generate a slightly wider level of interest.
It wasn’t the most spectacular Giro that we’ve seen in recent years, but Bora-Hansgrohe and Jai Hindley won’t care about that. For them, it was mission accomplished.