The second week of a Grand Tour is a curious mix of flux and stasis. Enough time remains for serious GC contenders to make an impact while keen stage hunters still eye a variety of potential avenues for victory.
The novelty of the early days when everything was shiny and new has worn off and fatigue begins to set in, occasionally leading to turgid stages, long transition and flat days where riders may settle for a relaxed ride in the bunch, writing off today in favour of ‘maybe tomorrow’.
It's still a Grand Tour though, and with plenty to play for on a daily basis and with talking points still rife. With six stages in week two came six fresh opportunities for victory. Here are some of the major moments that have made the second week of the Giro memorable.
Girmay makes history, 2.0
They already call Biniam Girmay ‘the history maker’, and the Eritrean wunderkind set about claiming yet another precious first on stage 10 of the Giro.
It didn't come as a surprise to many. With five top five positions in the stages before the second rest day, Girmay was obviously in peak form, and it seemed as though it was merely a case of positioning which had stopped him from reaching the top step of the podium. He'd often found himself boxed in during bunch sprints and unable to fully commit.
The stars finally aligned on stage 10. After a flat first half, the stage from Pescara to Jesi lit up in the latter stages, turning the Giro into a classic for one day only, with lumps and bumps offering the likes of Girmay and his new-found rival Mathieu van der Poel the perfect playground for some aggressive racing.
With a reduced field in the final, including the more resilient sprinters and some GC candidates, Girmay finally found the space to open up his sprint, and this time there was nothing standing in his way. He crossed the line to become the first black African rider to win a stage at a Grand Tour, and sent the Eritrean fans wild.
The celebrations were curtailed early though, when the cork from the victory Prosecco hit him in the eye, and he was forced to withdraw from the race as a precaution.
The bizarre and unfortunate nature of his exit from the race takes nothing away from his victory though, which will inspire a generation of young riders to follow in his footsteps.
Full gas racing
Full gas racing from kilometre zero was all the rage in 2021, but this year at the Giro it had been a much simpler affair during the first week. Aside from the usual breakaway attempts from Italian Pro teams, the bunch largely rode as one unit.
Following over a week of almost zero breakaway shenanigans, the pressure rose in week two. As teams became more and more concerned with results, the stakes increased, and the fight for the breakaway was well and truly on.
Stage 12 was the longest of this year’s Giro, at 204km, but it passed by in a flash as it took over 60km for the escapees to finally make the break with the peloton. The stage was completed at breakneck speed and there was no let-up on stage 13 either, as the escapees took matters into their own hands as they headed from Sanremo to Cuneo, pushing what was supposed to be an almost textbook sprint stage down to the wire.
It was not to be in the end, though. Despite refusing to stick to the script and almost stealing the show, the break were caught agonisingly close to home, with just 900m of the stage remaining, breaking neutral hearts in the process.
It’s not been an easy Giro so far for many of the top billed sprinters. Caleb Ewan made bold statements about his participation, being up front about his plans for an early departure. Of course, this came with the assumption that he would leave with win or two under his belt, but after a stage one crash followed by some torrid days losing touch on climbs, Ewan bowed out empty-handed before stage 11.
Mark Cavendish has struggled with the hills too. In the sprints he has contended in week two, he has missed Michael Mørkøv after the leadout man dropped out on stage 7. Fernando Gaviria has failed to make an impact and, of the other sprinters present, Cees Bol has been anonymous and Phil Bauhaus has come close only once, on stage 13.
When a sprinter is in form though, the confidence it breeds seems limitless. Arnaud Démare had a tough 2021, failing to make an impact in any major races, by contrast with his excellent 2020 form. He’s banished the spectre of a forgettable year in style at this year’s Giro, though, taking three stages and practically guaranteeing he will carry the maglia ciclamino back home to France at the end of the race.
Week two takes its toll
Although it’s fair to say this Giro has been mercifully quiet in terms of incidents, with very few riders coming a cropper in terms of crashes, there have been casualties of other sorts. With the country experiencing a heat wave, it’s not surprising that some have struggled with the temperatures, and the stomach viruses that plagued the peloton in the spring once again reared their ugly heads. Romain Bardet was the most notable loss – his abandonment on stage 13 was a major blow to the race, as he was in arguably the form of his life and flying high on GC.
Other withdrawals have been largely isolated to sprinters making the decision to withdraw rather than slog through the Alps for their one final shot in week three. Tom Dumoulin, too, was sadly forced to bow out, the Dutchman troubled by persistent back issues.
GC battle ignites
Following a long period of stalemate in the GC, the battle finally sprung into life during Saturday’s incredible stage around Turin.
Trek-Segafredo’s Juan Pedro López surprised many with his dogged defence of the maglia rosa. The young Spaniard wore the jersey for an impressive ten days, winning the hearts of many new fans along the way. Among the twisting climbs of the fiendish Turin circuit though, he was finally broken, as Ineos Grenadiers’ Richard Carapaz launched repeated attacks to try and distance his rivals, resulting in a shake-up of the GC standings.
With Bora Hansgrohe going all-in for a buoyant Jai Hindley, Mikel Landa still looking solid and João Almeida is doggedly hanging on despite looking as though he would lose touch on each successive climb, the GC battle is more finely poised going into the final week than it has been in a long time.
Italians coming up trumps
Following a 2021 Giro in which the home nation’s riders covered themselves in glory – they won a third of all the stages at last year’s edition of the race – the first nine stages of this year’s Giro were lean by contrast.
Week two has been a different story, with three of the 45 Italian riders in the race giving the home fans a reason to celebrate.
Team DSM’s Alberto Dainese blasted through ahead of a disbelieving Fernando Gaviria on stage 11’s bunch sprint, kicking off a week of Italian joy. The very next day, Stefano Oldani of Alpecin-Fenix won from a small breakaway group, bursting into tears as he crossed the finish line, the significance of his first pro win intensified by the manner and location of his victory.
Finally, yesterday’s epic mountain stage to Cogne saw one of the performances of the Giro so far, as Trek-Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone rode solo for the final 19km to take his first win since February 2020. With six stages remaining, it’s still possible that the Italians could equal or surpass last year’s haul.