Unlike back before stage four when the then Giro d'italia leader Remco Evenepoel openly proclaimed his team’s intentions to give away the pink jersey, there was no indication that it was part of the plan for Geraint Thomas and the Ineos Grenadiers on stage 14.
Nevertheless, an almost perfect situation arose in which Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), over 18 minutes down in GC, made it into the stage’s humongous breakaway. He didn’t win the stage as Nico Denz (Bora-Hansgrohe) doubled up, but he did claim a stint in the maglia rosa after Ineos tactically paced the stage to finish just over 20 minutes behind him, confident in the certainty the Frenchman won’t play a role once the race hits the gruelling high mountains next week.
But exactly how much does losing the jersey change for Thomas and his team? In a practical sense, the Welshman would have had a reprieve after the stage from the round of interviews, press conference, and doping control, and would have made it to the team hotel much earlier for some added recovery. Ineos will also be hoping Groupama-FDJ now pick up the mantle and control proceedings in the peloton on tomorrow’s tough stage in Lombardy, should they have a desire to keep hold of the jersey heading into the rest day. Moreover, not having the jersey will mean there’s almost as much onus on the likes of Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates to help manage the break, potentially giving the remaining Ineos riders some time in the wheels before those three quite horrific looking mountain stages.
That difficulty in the final week is more or less entirely why the GC picture (aside from those forced to leave the race) has remained relatively unchanged, and resulted in another stalemate on Crans Montana on Friday. Everyone is seemingly waiting, biding their time for their decisive moment to attack. Thomas himself remarked on how the race appeared to be building to a “big crescendo” in the coming mountains and, all being well, he’ll go into the first of those stages with less of a target on his back.
Stage 14 does feel relatively late to be handing a Grand Tour leader’s jersey away in the conventional sense, a gesture usually reserved for the first week. But unlike most of Ineos/Sky’s previous Grand Tour victories, there’s little room to be defensive and calculated in the lead at this point in the Giro.
It was grupo compacto on Crans Montana between the GC contenders (RCS Sport)
Where and when the top three will decide to try and distance the others will be intriguing. None of Thomas, Primož Roglič, or João Almeida are really well known for their long-range, daring mountain attacks, which is something we’re currently more likely to see from those further down the GC like Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) and Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), or Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Easypost). Yet the leading trio can’t all wait for the final few hundred metres or couple of kilometres to try and use their final turn of speed to put a handful of seconds into each other, and will want the comfort of a gap to their rivals ahead of the mountain time trial, a format much less predictable than its flat equivalent.
With just a two-second lead over Roglič and 22 on Almeida, absorbing attacks is not really a choice and Thomas will, like them, need to find an opportunity to really make his mark ahead of the final race against the clock. That might be just that bit easier without pink on his shoulders.
Cover photo by Zac Williams/SW Pix