Racing for the podium: Do Pogačar’s rivals need a change of mindset at the Giro d’Italia?

With the maglia rosa’s impressive lead on GC, has the rest of the peloton lost sight of victory?

It’s understandably difficult to stay motivated in the face of Tadej Pogačar’s undeniable, unflappable strength during this year’s Giro d’Italia so far. When the Slovenian won three stages in the opening week to build a GC lead of almost three minutes, he proved to his rivals in a ruthless fashion that he is the strongest rider in this race. It seems that Pogačar might have put the pink jersey so far out of reach that podium positions in Naples are all that’s left for his rivals to dream of. 

Stage 10, for example, which came after the Giro’s first rest day, provided opportunities for the likes of Ineos Grenadiers or Bora-Hansgrohe to put pressure on Pogačar with a view to gaining some time back on the general classification. He was left isolated on the climb to Bocca della Selva, with only his loyal mountain domestique, Rafał Majka, with him in the group of GC favourites. As the 18 kilometre ascent rumbled on, and the gradients continued to kick up, however, no attacks came. The maglia rosa was able to sit in the wheels of his rivals to have a relatively relaxed ride to the summit – no one tested him, no one asked anything of him.

There were only two moments on the Bocca della Selva climb which saw general classification riders making any attempt to animate the stage. The first came when Ineos Grenadiers took to the front of the group and began to pace. This wasn’t to set-up Geraint Thomas for an attack on Pogačar, however, instead it was to ensure that Romain Bardet, who had got himself in the breakaway of the day for Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL, didn’t gain enough time on the general classification up the road to challenge Thomas’s current third place in the standings. It was offensive riding to limit losses, rather than a real attempt at making a difference to Pogačar’s race lead. 

The second moment in which we saw action from the general classification group was when Ben O’Connor made a late attack for Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale. It was in the final metres of the 18 kilometre climb that the Australian rider made his move, seemingly spurred on by the fact that Visma-Lease a Bike’s Cian Uijtdebroeks was dropping from the group behind. O’Connor’s move successfully put more pressure on a struggling Uijtdebroeks and it was also a sign that the 28-year-old is coming into some good form as this race rolls on. While it was a positive that O’Connor rode assertively, he would have had the chance to reap more rewards from having such good legs if he’d made his attack further down the climb. Instead, he waited until it was too late to gain any real time, spurred on only by the fact that a rider close to him on the general classification was dropping from the group.

It seems that Pogačar’s riding in the first week of the Giro d’Italia has not only given him a healthy lead on the general classification but also has created a sense of caution amongst his rivals. His unpredictable, attacking style means that no one really knows what to expect on climbs like the Bocca della Selva, and this is discouraging early, brave moves from others early on. 

Credit should be given to teams like Bahrain-Victorious for at least trying to make a difference today. Damiano Caruso led out Antonio Tiberi to try and set up an attack on the final climb, for example, but the team’s plan ultimately wasn’t executed because Tiberi failed to increase the pace when the moment came to attack, eventually getting dropped from the group of GC men.

The Giro d’Italia still has some extremely tough stages remaining, and it could be that the likes of Thomas, Martínez and O’Connor are waiting for the mountainous days in the Dolomites to try and loosen Pogačar’s vice-like grip on the pink jersey. If we are going to get a real battle for the general classification at this year’s Giro then we can only hope that the climb on stage 10 isn’t a sign of what’s going to happen as the race continues. Podium positions in Grand Tours are certainly important, but it’s more exciting across the board if everyone is racing for the win.

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