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Breakaways struggle at fast, furious Giro d’Italia

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PRATO NEVOSO, Italy (VN) — Just call it the Giro d’Italia on a leash.

Through 17 stages of racing, the Giro has yet to see a breakaway successfully make it to the line. No one’s seen anything like it.

“There still has not been a breakaway in this Giro!” said Gianni Savio, manager of the Androni-Sidermec team. “This is a different kind of Giro. No one is letting the breaks go away.”

A peloton hungry for success is growing desperate to break the collective will of the bunch the Giro d’Italia pedals toward its climax in three days across the Alps.

Would Thursday’s breakaway before the first to make it? It looked promising, but no one knew.

Teams like Savio’s Androni-Sidermec live and die in the breakaways. In fact, going into Wednesday’s stage, Savio’s riders had been present in every move. Marco Frapporti leads the Giro’s special “breakaway rider” category.

Yet none of none of those breakaway efforts have stuck. Even days that fit the classic profile of terrain favorable for breakaways, race dynamics have titled the race away from letting a group stay clear.

“I am glad I am not a racer in this Giro because I was a rider who lived with the breakaways,” said ex-pro Juanma Garate, sport director at EF Education First-Drapac. “Before you could put an ‘X’ on certain stages knowing a break would go. That is not true anymore.”

What’s behind this tightly controlled Giro? Garate pointed out several key factors.

First, sprinter teams are not letting the few opportunities they have this Giro get away from them. Under a traditional Giro script, Wednesday’s lumpy stage 17 would have seen a break make it to the line. But Bora-Hansgrohe picked up the chase to give Sam Bennett another shot at a sprint win and the points jersey.

Garate said another major reason is the emergence of Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) as the race leader. Yates has been attacking even in lumpy stages that might have suited a breakaway in order to chase finish-line time bonuses.

“Yates is chasing bonuses to increase the distance to [Tom] Dumoulin,” Garate said. “I think if Sky had the jersey, say after Etna [stage 6], they would have let more breaks go.”

Take away the GC days and the sprinter stages, there are other factors, too. Teams are under increased pressure to win stages in the grand tours. A top-10 on GC just isn’t enough anymore. That’s why WorldTour teams like Astana, EF Education First-Drapac, Groupama-FDJ, Katusha-Alpecin, and UAE-Emirates are putting riders into breaks and then pulling hard when they don’t have riders present.

Another influence is the reduced roster size from nine to eight starters. That’s putting more pressure on teams to control breakaway gaps because the peloton doesn’t have the same firepower to chase down attacking riders. Several teams are already down to seven riders, including Bahrain-Merida, who lost its key helper Kanstantsin Siutsou even before the race started when he crashed in time trial training in Jerusalem.

“One of the ideas of having one less rider is to open the race, but you can see it is not working,” Garate said. “Teams do not want a dangerous big group to get away. We are arriving together every day.”

Some could argue that Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) won Mount Etna out of a breakaway, but his teammate Yates shot out of the main pack and gifted the fading Colombian the win. Had Chaves been a rival, Yates would have blown straight past him.

Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) won solo in stage 10, but that was a late-stage attack out of the main bunch, not from an early stage breakaway.

Many expect a breakaway to finally succeed over the weekend. A promising group was away on Thursday’s stage to Prato Nevoso.

Escape artists will be desperate to take advantage of their last chances in this Giro. The GC contenders will be warily watching each other in the Giro’s three remaining hard mountain stages.

But maybe not. The GC remains undecided. It might take an ax to finally snap the elastic to the bunch.

“Cycling is really changing,” Garate said. “Sometimes it changes faster than we can adapt. It was never easy to win out of a breakaway, but now it’s even harder.”

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