The Magic of the Giro Breakaway

Following Taco van der Hoorn’s already famous breakaway win at the Giro d’Italia, we remember some of the greatest Giro rides from the breakaway in recent times.

There is something special about a breakaway victory. Victories that reaffirm our love for pro cycling.

When you think about it, the breakaway is an intriguing phenomenon. In the opening days of a Grand Tour in particular, the underdogs venture up the road with a main goal: generate TV time to appease their sponsors in the biggest race of their season. Of course, they also compete for the distinctive jerseys, particularly so in the early stages of the race. But to hold-off the chasing pack, full of the strongest riders and richest teams in the world, all hungry for a stage win at a Grand Tour? That’s a feat that very rarely comes off.

So, how did Taco win?

Image credit: LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images

Taco van der Hoorn joined the breakaway on stage three of the 2021 Giro d’Italia with little expectations but big dreams. With numerous hills on the menu, the stage looked perfect for Peter Sagan. His BORA team setup shop on the front of the peloton and prepared for a long day of controlling the gap to the breakaway. That they did and entering the final 20km, BORA had the peloton within one minute.

As the gap dipped to 40 seconds and the kilometre counter ticked under 10km, Taco decided to go solo. Simon Pellaud, the only other rider remaining at the front of the race, was dropped by the Dutchman and it was a tired Taco vs. the peloton.

At the time of Taco’s departure from the peloton earlier in the day, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert had not claimed a single victory in 2021. They also had never won a stage at a Grand Tour. 

That was all set to change, though, and although the peloton closed the gap exponentially as the metres ticked by, Taco was a grand tour stage winner. No one could’ve predicted such a result just hours beforehand.

Chris Froome Image credit: Thomas van Bracht/SWpix

Feel-good breakaway rides aren’t always from the lesser known riders. It was in 2018 that Chris Froome entered the Giro d’Italia with one simple mission: become the seventh rider to win all three Grand Tours.

Entering the final few days and it wasn’t looking likely. Froome was three minutes behind the maglia rosa Simon Yates and almost as far from Tom Dumoulin in second. 

Stage 19 featured the menacing Colle delle Finestre and Froome decided it was now or never. Team Sky blew up the race with an extraordinary rider from Kenny Elissonde, and it swiftly became clear that the Simon Yates was in trouble. Tom Dumoulin was still there, though, and Chris Froome attacked. Not from the early breakaway, but with over 80km remaining at the time of the attack it would require an epic solo ride with so much road remaining.

Froome pulled it off, though, winning the stage by over three minutes and catapulting himself into the maglia rosa. One of the greatest comebacks the Giro d’Italia has seen, and a breakaway that can’t be compared to any other.

Iljo KeisseImage credit: Pier Maulini/SWpix

Throwing things back a few more years to 2015, and the Giro’s winner was decided ahead of the final stage and the flat stage to Milan would provide one final chance for the sprinters to taste glory.

The breakaway had other plans, though. After Alberto Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo's celebratory parade, the attacks went off. With 15km remaining, the two-man break of Iljo Keisse and Luke Durbridge held a 30 second lead, an advantage which would typically give them almost zero chance of victory. However, a plethora of punctures in Milan caused turbulence behind and entering the final 1000 metres, the duo still had 20 seconds to play with.

Durbridge led-out the sprint, but Keisse had the better turn of speed and came through to take the only WorldTour win in his career.

Adam HansenImage credit: Offside - IPP

Adam Hansen is one of the most experienced Grand Tour riders of all-time with an incredible 29 to his name. It was in his 13th, though, where he’d first taste victory. 

Hansen joined the early breakaway on stage seven to Pescara where the riders would be subject to appalling, rain-soaked conditions. Hansen managed to stay upright and ride strongly throughout to shake off his comrades and hold off the challengers behind by over one minute.

“They weren’t supposed to stay away today,” commentator Rob Hatch stated following Van der Hoorn’s shocking win. But that is precisely why we love them. On-paper, if managed correctly, the breakaway should almost never win. They must spend additional energy throughout the day to hold their advantage over the group behind whilst the leaders conserve energy in the bunch. It simply doesn't add up.

The breakaway is not supposed to win, and that is why we absolutely love when it does.

Cover image: LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images

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