PONTE DE LEGNO, Italy (VN) — Primoz Roglic has been isolated every time the road tilted upward so far in this Giro d’Italia. With three major GC teams gunning for him over the fearsome Mortirolo, Jumbo-Visma succumbed to the inevitable.
Movistar, Astana and Bahrain-Merida poured it on as rain poured down on the peloton in Tuesday’s 16th stage. On a day when he couldn’t afford to lose more time, Roglic ceded 1:22 to his direct GC rivals.
“I gave everything I could,” Roglic said. “It was a really hard day at the end. I’m happy to take a hot shower.”
For the first time since he won the San Marino time trial in stage 9, Roglic dropped from second place to third, now 2:09 to Movistar’s Richard Carapaz and 24 seconds behind Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who leap-frogged to second.
Following the Mortirolo, the conversation has started to shift from winning the Giro to finishing on the podium.
“The hope is still there,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “Maybe he can keep up the fight, maybe for the podium or even pink. Of course, he has to follow those guys, Carapaz, Nibali and [Mikel] Landa, who [are] now the biggest threat for the podium.”
Team dynamics were like a cold shower for Roglic. Movistar, Astana and Bahrain-Merida all had riders up the road. They were then available to help set the pace and drive a wedge between Roglic and the GC favorites. Jumbo-Visma also sent Koen Bouwman up the road, but he was unable to make it over the Mortirolo to be much help to Roglic.
Up until Tuesday, Roglic had withstood a series of miscues, miscalculations and misfortune through brute strength and the gains he made in two early time trials. Finally on the slopes of one of cycling’s steepest mountains, his legs couldn’t respond and his exposure became the weakness that his rivals finally could exploit.
Nibali jumped midway up the Mortirolo. Movistar’s Landa and Carapaz patiently tapped away, but Roglic couldn’t keep pace. On a climb so steep and so long, the time gaps can defy the actual distance between the riders.
Roglic found help with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), but the front group had the numbers. Nibali and Carapaz had teammates, and the target was Roglic.
The gap was about 1:20 over the Mortirolo summit, and Roglic did well to trim the gap to 40 seconds at the bottom of the descent. The gap, however, grew again on the false flat run up to the line at Ponte di Legno.
“It was one big fight to the top of the Mortirolo,” Engels said. “He did a really good descent. We heard the gap at the bottom was 40 seconds, so he got closer. Then you have hope, that in a strong group with Mollema and Yates, they could keep coming closer. Roglic was fighting to stay on the wheel. Normally that’s a part that suits him well, and he wasn’t able to speed up.”
Of course, all is not lost. Roglic is still defending a podium position and even third in this hard-fought Giro would be a milestone for both Roglic and his team.
There’s a bit of a respite between now and Saturday, the next major mountain stage. Wednesday and Friday stay in high terrain — with Thursday’s sprint-friendly stage in between — so if Roglic can avoid losing more ground, everything will still be in play on the final weekend.
Throughout this Giro, Roglic was counting on his time trial dominance to help him carry the day. But that depends on him keeping his rivals close and not losing more time. But even Engels admits the chances are grimmer than they were 48 hours ago.
“We have to be honest. With a guy like Nibali, he normally won’t show any weakness, and he will keep his level. What Carapaz showed so far is that it’s more likely he will not lose his strength,” he said. “The Giro isn’t over, there is still a time trial. We will keep on fighting and we will see how it will end.”