The best of the rest: Analysing the performances of the 2024 Giro d'Italia's top five

Beyond Tadej Pogačar, a rider with almost 10 minutes on his rivals, Rouleur looks at how the other GC riders will feel about their own race around Italy

Stage 20 today brought to an end what has been an unusual GC race at this year's Giro d'Italia. Not only did the fate of the pink jersey seem sealed long ago, but the top 10 of the GC has also seen little movement. In fact, the top six of the general classification as we head into the final processional stage in Rome remains exactly the same as it did at the beginning of the final week. 

This was a Giro that was raced more on the defensive than offensive, and we saw the same on today's stage with Tadej Pogačar riding away from everyone else at will without, it seemed, even trying to, and the rest of the field scrambling behind to find their own rhythm and ride at their own pace. There were no adventurous team ploys nor risky all-or-nothing attacks, as riders instead sought to protect what they already had. 

Still, despite the lack of dramatic attacks, fighting for places and sudden collapses, and despite Pogačar’s overwhelming superiority, there were plenty of excellent performances to enjoy throughout the three-week race that we can reflect and take stock of now that the race is about to come to a close.

The standout performance from a rider not called Tadej Pogačar was from Dani Martínez. It’s easy to lose sight of how good he’s been while the maglia rosa delivers more history-making rides, but by finishing Best of the Rest, the Colombian rounded off a fine performance that instantly elevates him to among the world’s elite Grand Tour riders. We all know how strong a punch he can pack and how well he can go over one week, but by excelling so much in the race’s time trial and continuing to be as strong deep into the final week, he’s reached new frontiers. A reversion to domestique duties awaits him at the Tour de France, where he’ll be riding in service of Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Primož Roglič in his bid for the yellow jersey, but his runner-up finish at this Giro means he can command leadership roles in Grand Tours of the future — and perhaps even win one.

Martínez’s gain might have been Geraint Thomas’ loss – given that he just about edged him into second place by a slender 28 seconds – but Thomas' accomplishment in managing yet another Grand Tour podium finish at 38 years old should not be underestimated. By doing so, he joins Alejandro Valverde as the only rider that age or older to make the podium of a Grand Tour since Chris Horner’s victory at the Vuelta a España eleven years ago, and in many ways, is becoming the new Valverde as an elite rider apparently resistant to the ravages of age. This is his third Grand Tour podium in as many years, indicating that he has developed a new-found consistency that was lacking in his youth when crashes and other mishaps would more regularly befall him. 

Just as Thomas’ satisfaction with another podium finish might be tempered a little by the fact it was third place rather than second, Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) will likely have mixed feelings about his eventual finishing position of fourth of GC. On one hand, he was never able to quite put either Martínez or Thomas under any serious pressure and spent stage 20 instead looking over his shoulder in defence of his fourth place after he was dropped on Monte Grappa. And given how optimistically he started the race, when he tried (albeit in vain) to follow Pogačar’s pace on stage two’s Oropa mountain top finish, that might be lower than he was targeting. But on a positive note, this finish equals his highest ever at a Grand Tour (fourth at the 2021 Tour de France) following years of injury problems and other setbacks and reiterates his status as a serious Grand Tour contender who can go the distance and compete for podium finishes — even if he is still without one on his palmarès for now.

While all of these riders have mounted GC campaigns in the past, the race’s major revelation in this sense was Antonio Tiberi (Bahrain-Victorious). His success perhaps didn’t attract as much attention as it warranted: not only did he win the young rider classification (the first Italian to do so since Fabio Aru in 2015), but he also managed to finish as high as fifth overall on GC. You might have expected a rider as young as 22 to tire towards the end of the third week, but instead, Tiberi was getting even stronger, threatening to move up even further on GC when he went away with Martínez and Einer Rubio (Movistar) on Monte Grappa today. It seems the new Grand Tour star could be capable of ending Italy's drought of Giro winners, having been impatiently waiting for years. 

The brilliance of Pogačar at this Giro means all of these rides are in danger of being overlooked, especially as they and every other rider in the top ten finish the race without a stage win after the Slovenian hoovered so many up. But they’ve all made it to Rome with top-five finishes intact and can afford to celebrate tomorrow as the race comes to its climactic party.

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