Analysis
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Giro calculus: Why betting on time trials could be Roglic’s undoing

Primoz Roglic has come under heavy fire in the mountain stages of the Giro. While the race will conclude with a time trial, there's no guarantee he'll be within striking distance of pink

CLUSONE, Italy (VN) — Is Primoz Roglic playing it cool in this Giro d’Italia until the final-day time trial, or has the Slovenian let the maglia rosa sneak away to an unbeatable rival?

That’s one of the big talking points going into the final week of the 2019 Giro.

Sunday’s unhappy ending for Roglic — who was forced to swap bikes with a teammate, then crashed and lost 40 seconds to Richard Carapaz (Movistar) in the frenetic finale of stage 15 into Como — changed the narrative substantially.

Instead of just hovering seven seconds behind the Movistar climber, Roglic is now 47 seconds back.

Two big questions stand out: was Jumbo-Visma playing it too tactical by letting Carapaz ride back into the frame? And can Roglic take back that time in the 17km time trial waiting in Verona to close out the Giro?

The latter question first: No one expects the time differences on Monday’s rest day to remain static all the way into next weekend’s race-closing test against the clock. There are simply too many mountains between Bergamo and Verona.

As it stands now, Movistar is comfortable in pink, ready to defend, but quick to admit that Carapaz needs more time against Roglic before Verona.

“Although he is not in the leader’s jersey, Roglic should be considered the virtual leader due to his superior time trialing abilities,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué in a rest day press conference. “It would do us well to have another minute of advantage going into the final time trial.”

Right now, Carapaz is the real maglia rosa and shows no signs of giving it up easily. The Ecuadorian barnstormed into pink in emphatic fashion Saturday, playing off a growing rivalry between Roglic and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) to win his second stage of this Giro and leap-frog into the lead. On Sunday, Carapaz adroitly followed the attacking Nibali and bolstered his lead when Roglic crashed in his wake.

Carapaz says he fears neither the responsibilities that come with wearing the pink jersey nor the final time trial waiting in Verona.

“I don’t fear what lies ahead,” Carapaz said. “I have confidence in myself to keep giving the maximum.”

Permitted loses

So how much time could Roglic realistically expect to take on Carapaz? One number making the rounds is that Roglic could recoup up to two minutes.

It’s likely Roglic will take significant time, but that figure could be overly optimistic considering the time trial comes at the end of three weeks of racing.

So far, Roglic has crushed Carapaz in the Giro’s first two time trials. In Bologna on stage 1, Roglic took 47 seconds in 8km, nearly six seconds per kilometer. In San Marino, racing in the rain at 34.8km, Roglic took 1:55 on Carapaz, at just over three seconds per kilometer.

Even at a conservative estimate of three seconds per kilometer, Roglic could reel back enough to reclaim the pink jersey if nothing changes before Sunday. At five seconds per kilometer, Roglic could take back 1:25.

Forecasters are calling for dry roads, which would help Roglic, who held back on the flats in wet conditions in San Marino. Yet final-day time trials typically favor whoever is strongest. And right now, Carapaz is at a higher level in the mountains.

Movistar, which lost Nairo Quintana’s pink jersey to Tom Dumoulin in a final-day time trial to decide the Giro in 2017, said it’s not looking that far down the road.

“We are not even thinking about the time trial right now,” said Movistar sport director Chente Garcia. “That’s way too far away. We have so many mountains to come that we expect everything to be very different than the ways things are now.”

Two things are obvious: Movistar must keep attacking to widen Carapaz’s lead both to Roglic and the equally dangerous Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), now third at 1:47 back. And Roglic will need to regain the lost time to Carapaz, either in the final day time trial or before.

Under attack

Now the first question — has Jumbo-Visma miscalculated by allowing Carapaz back into the GC picture?

Before turning into the mountains on Thursday, Roglic was 3:16 ahead of the Ecuadorian, a seemingly comfortable margin. Jumbo-Visma, perhaps haunted by what happened to Steven Kruijswick in the 2016 Giro when Nibali attacked over the snow-bound Agnello summit, seemed fixated on the Shark. Roglic marked Nibali at every turn over the first two mountain stages, allowing Movistar’s pair of climbers Mikel Landa and Carapaz to recoup lost ground.

Landa went on the attack in stage 12 to claw back 28 seconds, while Carapaz finished in the same group as Roglic, who was quickly denuded of teammates on the Giro’s first major climb. On Friday, Landa attacked again and Roglic did not chase. During the final climb up Lago Serrù, Nibali lost his temper when Roglic refused to help him chase other GC threats attacking up the road.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) won Friday out of a breakaway, but Carapaz counter-attacked in Landa’s wake in the closing kilometers. Speaking on RAI TV following Sunday’s stage, Nibali even accused Roglic of pulling what he called an “amateur move” and swung over to try to force Nibali to chase Carapaz.

The Ecuadorian never stopped as Nibali and Roglic bickered, and Carapaz took back 1:19 on Friday, erasing nearly all of his TT losses to Roglic in one fell swoop.

The Nibali-Roglic cold war continued Saturday, and Movistar sensed an opening as Roglic was once again isolated without teammates. Following two back-to-back stages with long-range attacks from Landa, it was Carapaz’s turn. He boldly attacked midway up the Colle San Carlo to carry a 30-second gap over the summit.

An unorganized chase and a spirited Carapaz turned the race upside down. Instead of recapturing the pink jersey Saturday, Roglic was still stuck in second. Some say that was by design, but if it was, it’s proving a dangerous bet. Instead of being behind a place-holder jersey like Jan Polanc (UAE-Emirates), Jumbo-Visma and Roglic are now facing the experienced Movistar team and a very strong Carapaz.

Carapaz quickly shot down any suggestion that anyone “let” him ride away in the mountains.

“There were no coincidences [Saturday],” Carapaz said. “I opened a good gap, and I had good legs, and that’s the difference. People can say what they want.”

Going into the final week of the Giro, Movistar now holds the advantage. With Carapaz in the lead, and Landa as an extra ace up its sleeve in fifth at 3:15 back, it has two cards to play. Despite what appeared to be an effort to bridge across Sunday, and possibly bring Roglic with him, Landa sat up on the road into Como to prove loyal to the team.

“The most important thing is that Movistar wins the Giro,” Landa said Monday. “Surely there will be a moment when I can help ‘Richi.’ I am sure we will be able to defend on the Mortirolo, with the condition of Carapaz and my experience on the climb.”

Jumbo-Visma admit things have gotten away from them more than they would have liked. Sunday’s travails only exacerbated the problem.

“It’s difficult to predict how much time you can make up in a time trial but it’s going close to the limit,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “It’s going to depend on how Primoz passes the rest day and how he goes in the next mountain stages.”

Engels said if Roglic can defend his position relative to Carapaz in the Giro’s final act, there’s still a chance to win the Giro in Verona.

“We’ve lost a battle, but I think were still in the war,” Engels said. “I think everything is still playable in the time trial.”

By betting on winning this Giro in time trials, Roglic and Jumbo-Visma might have a made a critical mistake at overlooking the mountains.

Movistar, which lost a Giro in 2017 in a similar scenario, will be doing everything it can to blow up the race while there’s still the chance.