TORINO, Italy (VN) — If the real Giro d’Italia started Friday with its first mountaintop finale, the upcoming week should be a wild ride.
Long-range attacks from dozens of riders proved that the finish of this year’s Giro story remains to be written. Virtual race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) proved he’s ice cold when it comes to remaining cool under fire, but the attacks came fast and furious on the climb up to the new summit finish at Lago Serrù.
Overnight leader Jan Polanc (UAE-Emirates) defended pink and Roglic fended off his rivals to keep his “virtual” lead, but stage-winner Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and second-day attacker Mikel Landa (Movistar) confirmed the Giro will deliver surprises.
“The Giro can change in a day,” Landa said. “I’ll keep attacking so long as my legs hold out.”
Zakarin won out a big breakaway of nearly 30 riders that included Joe Dombrowski (EF Education First) and GC threat Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). All the big hitters had teammates up the road, but Jumbo-Visma kept its fleet of climbers around Roglic to avoid a repeat of Thursday’s climb when the Slovenian was isolated without teammates.
The fast pace up the Cat. 1 Colle del Lys at 54km meant it was going to be a hard day. By the day’s second climb at Pian del Lupo, the GC group was whittled down to the strongest few.
There was a bit of a respite heading toward the final climb up the spectacular snow-bound Lago Serrù summit before the fireworks began in earnest.
Zakarin, 29, delivered his first grand tour stage win since the 2016 Tour de France to remind everyone he’s still a force to contend with. He dropped remnants of the breakaway and fended off Spanish stage-hunter Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) for the win. With bonuses, he bounded up the GC, moving from 12th to third, now just 31 seconds behind Roglic.
“The attack wasn’t planned. I just happened to be in the front when people started to move,” Zakarin said. “I didn’t feel very good at the middle of the stage, but I started to find a rhythm, and I gave everything in the end. I’m content to be able to take some time on the GC as well.”
Mollema also bounced up to fourth overall, now just 41 seconds adrift of Roglic, who remained second overall at 2:25 behind Polanc.
The day’s most thrilling attack came from Landa, who opened up things in Thursday’s one-climb stage to test the waters. Showing strong legs and even bigger courage, Landa darted clear of the GC group at the steepest part of the climb.
Like Thursday, Roglic could afford to let Landa move without too much worry. That will start to change as Landa also inched up the GC, climbing from 21st to eighth, now 2:43 behind the Slovenian.
“The end of the stage was very hard,” Landa said. “I attacked from far away, and the distance and the altitude caused me to arrive empty to the line. But I am happy with what I’ve achieved today. The team did a great job.”
Indeed, Movistar is proving to be one of the most aggressive in these early sorties into the mountains. The Spanish team lost ground to Roglic in the opening time trials, so it is forced to move aggressively to try to ride back into contention. Movistar’s rivals are giving Landa room to move, but as he’s clawing back into the GC frame, he will be more of a marked man in the coming days.
“Other people can be conservative, but we cannot,” said Movistar sport director Max Sciandri. “That’s what we have to keep doing, because we lost those seconds in the time trials. We have to keep attacking and keep moving. We have two strong guys and a strong team.”
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), one of the pre-race favorites, moved backward as he was unable to match the speed on the final climb. Despite pacing well throughout the day, Yates lost contact when Roglic and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) upped the pace. Yates is now more than five minutes behind Roglic.
“It’s not lost yet, but it’s not ideal,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “It’s not the situation what we planned on being in, but it is what it is, so we will change our tactics accordingly. We are not here to make excuses. [Yates] couldn’t follow those guys in the last couple of kilometers. It sure went from being very good to not so good in a very short period of time.”
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), another pre-race favorite, continues to suffer minor setbacks that keep adding up. After attacking Thursday with Landa, the Colombian was looking strong when he suffered what appeared to be a puncture on the final climb. That spit him out of the Roglic-Nibali group, and he gave up his gains from Thursday and more against the top of the leaderboard.
“Let’s see how things develop tomorrow and the days ahead,” Lopez said. “Sometimes things just don’t go the way you hope. There is still a lot of Giro ahead of us. We are healthy, and nothing has happened to us. There are still many hard days and you have to stay focused.”
The Giro stays in higher gear with a short, but potentially explosive five-climb, 131km stage to Courmayeur on the Italian side of Mont Blanc.
So far, Roglic is appearing to have things under control. Nibali tried once to surge clear, but the Slovenian coolly checked him, and the pair rode into the finish side-by-side.
As Astana sport director Giuseppe Martinelli said, in order to win this Giro, a rider must be willing to risk to lose it. So far, there are plenty of riders who seem to be buying into that tactic.
Roglic’s conservative pacing has worked so far, but he cannot afford to let big groups ride away again.