The riders of the Giro d’Italia will enjoy a much needed second rest day today after another week of gruelling racing in horrendous weather conditions.
Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) was the lucky one, winning stage 15 in Bergamo after a day of sunshine on the roads of Lombardy. Many of the stage winners so far at this year’s Giro have crossed the line soaked through as the weather has impacted much of the race so far.
As he celebrated his first ever Grand Tour stage win, the American had the sun on his back as it poked through the walls of the old town in Bergamo, capping arguably the best day of action yet at this year’s corsa rosa.
Once the rest day is out of the way, the peloton face a classic third week of Giro action, with multiple days featuring more than 5,000 metres of elevation in the heart of the Dolomites. So far, the battle for overall victory has been relatively subdued. However, by the time the summit finish of Tre Cime di Lavaredo arrives that could well be a different story.
Here are our five takeaways from the second week of action at the 106th edition of the Italian grand Tour.
Ineos are willing to play the long game
After holding the race lead due to Remco Evenepoel’s abandonment due to Covid, Ineos Grenadiers and Geraint Thomas appeared to be firmly in the driving seat at this year’s race.
In the past seven days the British squad have subsequently lost Filippo Ganna and Tao Geoghegan Hart to illness and injury respectively which resulted in ceding the maglia rosa to France’s Bruno Armirail (Groupama FDJ) on Saturday.
However, Ineos are still very much in control of the race and seem willing to play the long game. Geraint Thomas sits second overall, one minute and eight seconds behind Armirail, with Primož Roglič just two seconds behind him.
As a result, Ineos and the Welshman can afford to ride conservatively once more in the final week and wait for Roglič to make the first move as the action moves into the mountains.
Ben Healy means business
After his stunning stage win just over one week ago in Fossombrone, EF Education-EasyPost’s Ben Healy was back for more on the roads of Lombardy and went painstakingly close to a second stage win in Bergamo on Sunday.
The Irishman had a sensational spring campaign, landing second in the Amstel-Gold race and Brabantse Pijl and narrowly missed out on the podium at Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Healy then took his scintillating form into week one of the Giro, taking his career best win at the end of week one.
Just a handful of days later, the EF rider was at it again in the breakaway and if it wasn’t for Brandon McNulty’s unrelenting will to win, would have almost certainly added a second Giro stage win to his palmarès. Stage 15 bore many similarities to the final monument of the season, Il Lombardia.
After thriving in the hills around Bergamo on Sunday, Healy could be a serious challenger for the race of the falling leaves this Autumn.
Cavendish is moving into race-winning form
On Monday, Mark Cavendish announced that he will retire from professional cycling at the end of the current season and that this year’s Giro would be his last.
The Manxman has 16 Giro stage victories to his name and has shown throughout the race that he’s been gradually moving into race winning form once more. Cavendish finished fourth behind Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Kaden Groves in Salerno on stage four. He followed that up with third on stage 11 in Tortona behind Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates).
One of the final opportunities for the sprinters at this year’s Giro comes on stage 17 to Caorle.
If his performances so far are anything to go by, then expect to see Cavendish in the thick of the action once more as he looks to grab one more stage victory at the Italian Grand Tour before hanging up his wheels.
Should he grab a 17th Giro stage win, it will be a much needed confidence boost ahead of the Tour de France this July where Cavendish will attempt to win a record breaking 35th stage.
He is currently tied on 34 wins with Eddy Merckx.
Covid continues to ravage bike races
Over the course of the past two weeks there have been extensive numbers of riders withdrawing from the Giro due to Covid as well as other illnesses.
Covid in particular has had a large role to play in the 106th edition of the Italian Grand Tour, with Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) being the most profile rider at the race to contract the virus. Monday’s rest day passed without further announcements that more riders had withdrawn due to the illness, but the impact it has had has still been notable.
Speaking to the media on Monday afternoon, Geraint Thomas dismissed suggestions riders were “afraid” of the virus and stressed that his team were doing all they could to make sure it stays away in the closing stages.
“Afraid might be a little strong, but it’s something that we’re certainly aware of,” he said. “We’re trying to do our best to stay away from it and do all the little things, even though they might seem insignificant… It’s a shame that guys have gone out of the race because of that. Hopefully no one else does.”
Mountains form amongst GC favourites is still a mystery
By the time the final week arrives in any Grand Tour, we often have a pretty solid idea of the pecking order amongst the favourites for overall victory.
At least year’s Giro there was the early shakeup on the stage finishing on the Blockhaus which was won by eventual winner Jai Hindley. Unfortunately horrendous weather when the race has reached altitude this year has made for a stalemate in the fight for the pink jersey.
Stage seven to Gran Sasso d’Italia presented itself as a perfect chance for that to develop. However, a headwind on the final climb put to bed any chance of a battle between the favourites.
With the GC fight evenly poised going into a week containing three summit finishes and a mountain time trial, those hoping to make their move for the maglia rosa will be hoping the weather stays away on Tuesday’s stage to Monte Bondone as well as in the heart of the Dolomites later in the week.
Just a handful of seconds separate Geraint Thomas, Primož Roglič and João Almeida. Due to the current situation, expect fireworks in the coming days from the aforementioned trio as they look to do all they can for overall victory before the final weekend arrives.