After Saturday’s stage eight, where 10 minutes of battling between the general classification contenders finally broke out, we were left with the tantalising prospect of two hard and closely fought weeks to look forward to at this Giro d’Italia. While that prospect does still remain, the extent of it has been curtailed somewhat by a situation that is continually reshaping itself, the race currently one of survival.
First of course was the seismic loss of the then race leader Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step) to Covid-19. The Belgian is certainly the highest profile loss to the lingering virus, but the list of riders to leave the race because of it – which includes Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Rigoberto Uràn (EF Education-EasyPost), and overall hopeful Domenico Pozzovivo (Israel-Premier Tech) – is growing every day.
It’s no exaggeration to say Evenepoel’s exit changed the face of the race entirely; Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) now leads narrowly over Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), with Thomas’ team-mate Tao Geoghegan Hart close behind, putting the onus of control very much on the Ineos Grenadiers.
But Covid isn’t the only factor now beginning to morph this Giro. Sickness and exhaustion in general coming out of the first rest day took its toll on a number of riders before and during stage 10, with the persistent rain and cold that has so far blighted the race beginning to unveil its full effects.
Tuesday’s stage was another day held almost entirely in torrential downpours, and a hilly start coupled with a ferocious fight for the breakaway put paid to any chance Aleksandr Vlasov had of overcoming whatever was leaving him with “empty legs”, as his Bora-Hansgrohe team put it. The Russian, who sat 1-48 down in GC after Sunday’s time trial, was the next to be cut from the dwindling list of potential podium finishers when he was forced to abandon. He leaves Bora-Hansgrohe relying on GC rookie Lennard Kämna to deliver a result for them.
They aren’t the only team ruing the loss of a GC card thanks to stage 10’s grim conditions. While the breakaway forged on, eventually succeeding in holding off the chasing peloton as Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) won, a number of UAE Team Emirates’ riders were desperately attempting to bring Jay Vine back to the other contenders. Not for the first time this Giro, the Australian was involved in a crash on the treacherous and slippy long descent midway through the stage, eventually conceding over 11 minutes and seeing his chances of a first Grand Tour top-10 significantly dented. He’ll now surely muster fully behind the team’s Plan A, João Almeida, who, despite his consistency, still has much to prove in the high mountains versus those above him.
These exits and time losses leave the shape of the GC looking starkly different before we’ve even had the first in earnest mountain scrap between the overall hopefuls. Ineos, for now, have the biggest advantage, counting three other riders within three minutes of Thomas’ lead. Bahrain-Victorious are the only other team to have more than one rider within that time, handing Ineos the tools to apply relentless pressure to Roglič and Almeida when the mountains arrive.
Friday’s summit finish will provide the first setting to use that tactical supremacy, should they make it there with the current situation intact. But with the way this Giro is constantly changing and two stages to come before then, there’s no telling what will happen next.