Giro d'Italia
Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

San Marino TT was beginning of Carapaz victory

Carapaz set off warning shots with victory on stage 4 and solid time trial in San Marino, but no one paid attention.

VERONA, Italy (VN) — Richard Carapaz (Movistar) made history Sunday to become the first Ecuadorian champion at the Giro d’Italia. The pint-sized climber won it thanks to smart racing, solid protection from his Movistar teammates and a stoic defense in pink.

His GC battle, however, started for real at the San Marino time trial on stage 9.

Coming into the race, no one was looking at Carapaz. Even within his own team, he was lieutenant behind designated team captain Mikel Landa.

In a race hyped for its GC depth, the 26-year-old started as an outsider. Carapaz didn’t make many top-10 favorites’ lists, but Sunday he stood on the top step above Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma).

“It’s true, 21 days ago, no one counted on me as a favorite,” Carapaz said. “No one believed I could do it.”

If Carapaz was still off the radar following his stage victory in stage 4, that was a mistake that his rivals paid for dearly.

Carapaz was just revving up the engines in what would be one of the most unlikely and well-executed Giro victories in years.

Key to Carapaz’s chances was a solid time trial in San Marino. Despite riding in the rain, he was fastest on the final climb, and he limited his losses to Roglic to 1:55.

Landa might have started as Movistar’s GC leader, but it soon became obvious inside Carapaz was going to be more than just a stage-winner in this Giro. The team discreetly started to reshuffle the power structure going into the second half of the Giro.

“The turning point was the San Marino TT,” said Movistar sport director Max Sciandri. “We knew it was going to be a bit of a truth step. Mikel [Landa] lost a bit of time there, and Richard [Carapaz] started to chip it back. When he came he had the fastest time on the climb. He said, ‘I’m ready’.”

That turned things around. Carapaz bounced into 20th overall, just 3:16 behind the “virtual” leader Roglic.

From San Marino going forward, it became clear inside the Movistar bus that Carapaz had the legs to challenge for the Giro.

From there, Carapaz and Movistar built a methodical and deliberate plan to dismantle Roglic and win the Giro.

Nibali and Roglic were in a war of words on who would do the work to control the bunch. Landa and Carapaz were both moving up the road in little flares each time the asphalt titled upward, taking back bits of time to move back into the frame.

Sciandri said he couldn’t believe his rivals were letting his dangerous climbers move so far up the road.

“We were under the radar,” Sciandri said. “I’d go through the Gazzetta, and there wasn’t a mention of us or who we were racing for. It’s strange, it’s not that we were new or so fresh. People know this team. Carapaz was 4th last year and Landa is solid.”

By the time Carapaz won at Courmayeur, it was too late. The previous day, Carapaz countered behind a move from Landa while Roglic and Nibali just stared at each other. The next day, Carapaz was barely two minutes behind when he attacked on the flanks of Mount Blanc to slip into the pink jersey.

Nibali seemed to lose his focus with Roglic constantly marking his wheels when the Giro finally turned into the mountains. When Carapaz bounded clear in back-to-back searing attacks, no one followed. Or perhaps they couldn’t.

“We knew we had to make time back,” Sciandri said. “Thankfully Nibali went hard to dismantle Roglic, which he did, but he got lost up in it himself.”

By the time Nibali tried an onslaught to take down Carapaz over the Mortirolo, Movistar pulled off some brilliant tactical moves to both neutralize the Italian and distance the dangerous Roglic time trial threat.

Carapaz and Landa piled it on during the final mountain stages and the race was on for the podium in Saturday’s anti-climatic final shootout. On Sunday, Carapaz only had to finish it off.

“I never wanted to say or do anything that might jinx the win,” Carapaz said. “I knew that anything could happen and until I passed over the final ‘cobblestone’ here in Verona that the race wasn’t won. It’s something incredible to say now, that I am the winner of a grand tour, the Giro d’Italia.”

It all started in San Marino. Once his rivals figured out how dangerous he was, Carapaz had already disappeared up the road.