The final week of the Giro d’Italia is widely viewed as one of the most demanding weeks in pro cycling, and the toughest of any of the Grand Tours. The final six days of the race racked up altitude metres in excess of 18,000. By contrast, it took until halfway up Blockhaus on stage 9 for the first half of the race to reach these heady heights.
With the decisive actions in all the major competitions taking place in week three, alongside an array of spectacular stage wins, we’ve pulled together some of the main talking points of what has been a memorable if not a classic edition of La Corsa Rosa.
The star of the show in week one, Mathieu van der Poel came to the Giro d’Italia with one job – to wear the maglia rosa. With that goal smashed on day one, MVDP wore pink for three days before switching for the ciclamino on stage 4, and despite only winning one stage, way back in Budapest at La Grande Partenza, the Dutch powerhouse proved wrong all those who suggested he wouldn’t make it all the way to Verona.
Not only did he complete his first Grand Tour, he animated the race in the way he does it best – visible in breakaways on multiple occasions, even on stages it seemed he would have no hope of winning. On stage 17 he attacked from the front group and led solo up to the final first category climb of Monterovere, and he made a decent fist of it for a rider who’s not known for his climbing prowess.
The Dutchman provided entertainment both on and off the bike, high-fiving the crowd as he wheelied up slopes in the gruppetto, taking time to greet fans and causing collective outrage/amusement (delete as appropriate) with his heinous takes on Italian cuisine (pineapple on pizza? Yes. Ketchup with spaghetti – NO).
Every race is better with van der Poel, and the Giro was no exception – three weeks of MVDP is truly a gift to all cycling fans.
The three weeks take their toll
It’s not news, but the final week of this Giro proved beyond a doubt that three-week Grand Tours really are a case of survival of the fittest. By their nature, Grand Tours are a whittling down process, both in terms of physical condition and the increased exposure to potential mishaps – the longer you’re engaged in an elite level race, the higher your chances of falling ill or succumbing to injury or crashes. This year, a weary peloton had also had the relentless heat to contend with in the first fortnight, with the mist and rain that came in the mountains on the final week likely a relief to many.
A number of riders bowed out in the final week due to illness, including Richie Porte, who was sadly forced to depart the final Grand Tour of his career early in stage 19 due to a stomach bug. But it was the falling away of many of the top GC contenders that defined this Giro, in many ways. After the loss of Miguel Angel Lopez in week one, and Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet in week two, week three saw further casualties, as Simon Yates’ knee injury forced him to withdraw and João Almeida’s campaign was halted following a confirmed case of Covid-19.
Nowhere to hide in the mountains
There’s nothing like cycling the equivalent of over half of Mount Everest in a day to show up chinks in the armour of even the most elite of pros. Stage 16 was a gruelling test, and with three more huge mountain days to follow only the strong would triumph. Jan Hirt took the toughest stage of the Giro, ascending 5,250m to take his first stage win at the race.
Other victors included Bahrain Victorious’ Santiago Buitrago, who took an emotional win on stage 17 just three days after he lost out to Giulio Ciccone on the Mortirolo. Koen Bouwman honoured the maglia azzurra by fighting every day for mountains points and taking two stages in the process, the second won in a controversial sprint to the line in Santuario di Castelmonte on stage 19.
And perhaps one of the finest performances of the Giro, which somewhat got lost in the overriding story of the GC battle finally exploding on the Passo Fedaia, was that of UAE Team Emirates’ Alessandro Covi. The young Italian rode away from the breakaway with over 50km remaining on stage 20, to not only take the Cima Coppi on Passo Pordoi, but going on to seal an incredible solo victory and his first Grand Tour win on one of the hardest of stages.
It was heartbreak for a promising breakaway group and cycling fans as a collective on stage 13, when the four-man group was caught within 900m of the finish line by a peloton who had almost misjudged their efforts. So, when another four-man group went clear on stage 18, there was a grim sense of the inevitable hanging over them for most of the day.
The four men were Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost), Dries de Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix), Edoardo Affini (Team JumboVisma) and Davide Gabburro (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane). It was a group that boasted a wealth of both experience and power. In short, this breakaway had all the ingredients required to survive, if only they could combine forces for the greater good.
In the end, they executed the perfect plan, working together right up to the point where they knew the win was assured, and delighting fans in the process. They did not falter in the same way that the break on stage 13 had done, every man committing to the cause, and proving that a one in four chance of victory really is worth the gamble.
They were effectively a team of four for one day only, and they triumphed, with a rider who is usually a loyal domestique finally taking his own moment of glory – Dries de Bondt of Alpecin-Fenix. When he paid tribute to his fellow escapees in his post-race interview it reminded us all just why this sport is so unique, complex and brilliant.
Down to the wire
After a couple of weeks of tense, racing, the GC battle was the closest in years. It could not have been more finely poised going into the final week, with just three seconds separating the top two riders in the overall standings at the start of stage 20.
However, due to a curious combination of course design, the withdrawal of some of the top challengers, and prudence on the part of some of the teams involved in the battle for general classification glory, the contest lacked something of the sparkle that it usually offers.
After a long, arduous stage in the Dolomites, the race finally ignited with just a few kilometres remaining, when Jai Hindley attacked on the final ascent, the Passo Fedaia. He eventually distanced a below-par Richard Carapaz, combining with his team mate and one of the Giro’s MVPs Lennard Kämna in a move of tactical genius to deliver a killer blow to Ineos. Hindley took control of the maglia rosa going into the final time trial, where he held a commanding lead of 1.25 over the Olympic champion. It would prove to be more than enough.