A lot of the debate going into the second rest day of the Giro d’Italia was about the lack of excitement around the fight for the general classification. Over the last 15 stages, including three mountain stages, we’ve each day questioned whether it’ll be the day that the GC battle will finally ignite. Much to widespread disappointment, no duel has yet been unveiled. Instead we’ve been spectators to a very conservative race. But we’re not the only ones to be left wanting more.
“I’ve been slightly disappointed as well,” Geraint Thomas said in the Ineos Grenadiers press conference during the second rest day. “I’ve wanted to test myself against the other guys, but I can’t speak for the other teams, only this team.”
It’s not like there hasn’t been chances for a dash of excitement. While the route is heavily backloaded to the third week, there have been plenty of opportunities for the GC riders, on paper anyway. The Gran Sasso d’Italia was the first summit finish and the expectation was for the likes of Thomas, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Remco Evenepoel (before he withdraw due to Covid-19), and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) to throw some punches on the steep gradients, but still nothing came of it. “There was a block headwind,” Thomas said of that particular stage, “there’s nothing you can do about that, so it was a bit of a stalemate.”
Stage four even provided an early opportunity, but “everyone was sussing each other out really, super early days," Thomas said. Then there was the chaotic stage 13, with the summit finish on the Crans Montana. And still nothing. Not even a second has moved between Thomas and Roglič in those two mountain tests. Instead, the GC looks pretty much the same as after the first rest day. The only change is that Thomas is no longer in pink. Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ) instead is donning the maglia rosa with the Welsh rider 1-08 behind, having ceded his leading position after four days wearing the jersey.
This Giro's headlines have centred on the miserable weather, unfortunate crashes, the outbreak of Covid-19, and breakaway wins from the peloton's underdogs. However, this may also be the reason for the GC riders approaching the race with caution.
Thomas noted on previous editions of the Italian Grand Tour where early attacks in the mountains have eventually come back to bite a rider later in the race, eventually losing them the race.
“Obviously, it is entertainment,” he added. “But I certainly want to win the race and I don’t want to just attack for the entertainment and then just blow myself up and somebody else profit from it.”
After the second rest day, a brutal week in the mountains follows, with two gruelling road stages and one tough mountain time trial. Such conservative racing by the GC riders may help them to reap the rewards as they take on the coming stages having played it cool for the past two weeks, and all of the top three will want an advantage heading into the final race against the clock.
Nevertheless, looking ahead, Thomas said he is confident going into the final week with his Ineos team despite the fine margins between Roglič, Almeida, and himself.
“I think the next three mountain stages will be interesting because we’re all going to look if we can try and get something over the others,” he said. “But I don't think any of us are going to feel comfortable with the situation at the moment, between me and Primož there is only two seconds.”
The battle for the maglia rosa should take off in earnest on stage 16, with only two more opportunities to add some comfort ahead of the time trial and before the peloton arrives in Rome. But with only five stages to go, if someone doesn’t make any moves tomorrow, when will they?