Giro d'Italia

Analysis: How the GC stars fared in the Giro d’Italia’s stage 15 slugfest to Piancavallo

Wilco Kelderman clawed back valuable time, while João Almeida turned himself inside out to hold pink. Veterans flailed while youngsters soared. Here's how the GC stars fared during the Giro d'Italia's 15th stage.

Sunday’s stage 15 of the 2020 Giro d’Italia provided the uphill slugfest we’ve been craving for the last few stages.

Team Sunweb did its best impersonation of Team Sky, and used its entire squad to set a terrifying tempo up the Piancavallo climb. GC riders like Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang crumbled, while youngsters Jai Hindley and Teo Geoghegan Hart surged into contention. Wilco Kelderman narrowed his gap to the lead, while João Almeida pushed himself deep into the pain zone to retain pink.

How did the GC stars fare in this summit test? Let’s break it down:

João Almeida (Deceuninck–Quick-Step)

Almeida went deep to keep pink. Photo: Fabio Ferrari – Pool/Getty Images

The good news: João Almeida’s improbable run in pink continues for another day — barely! Almeida bent but did not break under Team Sunweb’s one-two punch of Wilco Kelderman and Jai Hindley to hold his lead by 15 seconds. Almeida was dropped with 7km remaining to the summit of Piancavallo, but instead of giving up, he ripped his earpiece out and went full ‘YOLO’ mode to the top. Sure, he lost 41 seconds. But he kept pink, and in doing so won countless hearts and minds across the cycling universe. Some day, when Almeida wins a grand tour, we will look back to his this duo of stages (stages 14 and 15) and see the foundation of what was to come.

Almeida’s defense of pink is quickly becoming the Generation Z example of a rider who attains his absolute best through a seemingly Quixotic defense of a grand tour jersey. This is the stuff of Julian Alaphilippe (2019), Thomas Voeckler (2011), Rinaldo Nocentini (2009), François Simon (2001), and countless others.

The bad news: Pink blood is in the water and the sharks are circling. Almeida is a lovable contender for the overall, but he was definitely dropped on Sunday, and the other GC contenders are now licking their chops and preparing to attack him in the mountains. Plus, Almeida is lacking team strength for the climbs, as Fausto Masnada is his only helper for the high mountains.

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo)

Nibali lost more time on the grueling ascent to Piancavallo. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: There’s not a ton of good news for Vincenzo Nibali today.

The bad news: Barring some dramatic turnaround, Nibali will not with the Giro d’Italia. Sunday’s summit finish is supposed to be the preferred hunting grounds for the Shark of Messina, and he was among the GC stars to be dropped well before the finish. While Nibali held on longer than Jakob Fuglsang or Pello Bilbao, his detonation was so complete that he ended up riding alongside those guys. In the end, Nibali finished 10th on the stage and ceded 1:36 to winner Tao Geoghegan Hart. He lost two pegs on the GC ladder and now sits in 7th place, 3:29 down. That’s a sizable gap in any circumstance. Now that Nibali has appeared weak on the climbs, that gap appears far too big for him to overcome.

Jakob Fuglsang (Team Astana)

Fuglsang’s run at pink took a huge step back. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The good news: Like Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang bit into a bad news sandwich on Sunday.

The bad news: Fuglsang is taking on water, and he appears to be the weakest of the top GC contenders heading into the final week. After a dismal ITT on Saturday, the Dane was the first major GC man to be dropped on the climb to Piancavallo. Credit to Fuglsang for collecting himself and then mounting a concerted chase to catch Nibali, Brandon McNulty, and Pello Bilbao, among others. But at the top, the damage was done, and Fuglsang ceded another 1:36. He’s now in 12th place overall, 5:07 behind. His run at pink has taken a major setback.

Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb)

Kelderman is now poised to take pink. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Kelderman was among the big winners on Sunday, as he finished second on the day and clawed back 41 seconds on Almeida. He’s now in second place overall, just 15 seconds out of pink. Aside from the stage result and time gaps, Kelderman’s big win today was confirmation that his Team Sunweb squad is perhaps the strongest GC team at the race. Sunweb did its best Team Sky impression on the Piancavallo climb and simply rode to the front and tapped out a lung-busting tempo. Chris Hamilton, Sam Oomen, and Martijn Tusveld lit things up for the first half, and their tempo crushed Nibali, Fuglsang, and others. Then, Jai Hindley surged on the front to drop Almeida and boost himself from 10th place into 3rd place overall.

The time gaps on GC show that Sunweb transformed the Giro on Sunday into a two-man race between Almeida and Kelderman. Kelderman is just 15 seconds behind Almeida, while the gap to Hindley in third place is nearly three minutes (2:56). The next group of GC stars is clustered in the 3-4 minute mark, meaning these men will need to score a knockout blow on Kelderman in order to win. And given Kelderman’s veteran status and strong team, that’s not likely.

We’ve often written about Wilco Kelderman’s seemingly snakebitten run in grand tours. Well, guess what? He’s now the favorite to win the 2020 Giro d’Italia.

The bad news: The only bad news was that Wilco Kelderman couldn’t finish things off on Sunday with the stage win.

Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers)

Geoghegan Hart surged into GC contention. Photo: Fabio Ferrari – Pool/Getty Images

The good news: We have a newcomer to the GC list! Geoghegan Hart on Sunday vaulted into the GC conversation by winning the stage and jumping up from 11th overall to 4th place on GC, 2:57 behind Almeida. Ineos Grenadiers now has a bonafide GC contender, 12 stages after its strongman Geraint Thomas abandoned after crashing on stage 3 to Mt. Etna. And, to be fair, much of Geoghegan Hart’s time deficit comes from that day — as he told reporters on Sunday, he stood around for three or four minutes as Thomas struggled to remount his bicycle on stage 3, and then mounted a serious chase to help Thomas regain the peloton. Geoghegan Hart then suffered on the climb to Mt. Etna after burning so many matches, losing 2:33.

If you were to remove that day, Geoghegan Hart would be in 3rd place overall, just a few seconds behind Kelderman.

This is a terrific showing for Geoghegan Hart, who is still just 25 years old. For years Team Ineos management has pointed to him as a rider for the future. With Thomas out of this Giro, the future has come for the British rider. While the victory may be a tall order, the podium is definitely within reach.

The bad news: The only bad news here is that we are destined to read some bizarre autocorrect-butchered spellings of ‘Geoghegan Hart’ in the coming days.

Brandon McNulty (UAE-Team Emirates)

McNulty struggled on the climb. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Tough day for Brandon McNulty. The good news is that he’s gaining valuable knowledge and experience that will help him battle for grand tour wins in years to come. While he was dropped, he fought hard to stay in contention for the top-10.

The bad news: The time McNulty gained in Saturday’s individual time trial was lost on the climb to Piancavallo. The American held tough for much of the long climb, and after he was dropped he was able to ride alongside Fuglsang and Nibali for several kilometers. But then, just before the summit, he lost pace and gave up an additional minute or so. McNulty crossed the line in 15h place, 2:43 down. He tumbled from 4th place overall to 11th place, losing the positions he gained from his awesome ITT ride. McNulty is now 4:29 in arrears. Hey, if McNulty can crack the top-10 at this Giro, that should be viewed as a tremendous success for the youngster in his grand tour debut. This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Brandon McNulty in this year’s Giro d’Italia.

Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb)

Hindley is now in GC contention after a strong ride. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The good news: Another newcomer to the list! Hindley rode admirably for Kelderman on Piancavallo, and it was his attack that dropped Almeida. He finished 3rd place on the stage and now sits in 3rd place overall, up from 10th. Hindley’s massive ride gives Sunweb another card to play in the coming stages as the team looks to drop and distance Almeida. While Kelderman is the obvious choice for pink, Hindley showed himself to be among the top climbers in this year’s race. It’s a huge ride for the 24-year-old, who earlier this year won the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

The bad news: No bad news here. Hindley just announced himself on a very big stage.

Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren)

Bilbao looked to be in trouble early on the Piancavallo climb. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Although he was one of the first GC riders to be dropped on the Piancavallo climb, Pello Bilbao did an admirable job to limit his losses, eventually teaming up with Nibali and Fuglsang to ride to the top. Plus, his teammate Hermann Pernsteiner showed himself to be among the strongest climbing domestiques in the race.

The bad news: Bilbao just didn’t have the legs to follow Sunweb up the final climb. When he was dropped, Kelderman still had three or four teammates on the front. Bilbao shed 1:36 and fell from 3rd overall to 5th place at 3:10. His race has now become a fight for the final podium, as victory does appear out of distance.

Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Majka was dropped but limited his losses. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Majka was one of the only riders to maintain his spot on GC, even though he was dropped on Piancavallo. He was the second-to-last GC strongman to be dropped, losing contact just before Almeida went.

The bad news: Majka is supposed to be one of the top climbers in the race, and he just didn’t have the legs to follow Kelderman, Hindley, Geoghegan Hart, or Almeida. He lost 1:22, and while he maintained his 6th place overall, he’s now 3:18 behind. His race has become one for the podium and not the win.

Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling)

Pozzovivo lost time on the climb to Piancavallo. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Pozzovivo only lost one spot on GC, slipping from 7th to 8th.

The bad news: Like Majka, Pozzovivo is supposed to be among the top pure climbers in this year’s race. He looked extremely strong on the stage 3 ascent of Mt. Etna. But the diminutive Italian was out of gas on Sunday, and he lost contact with the front group long before the big salvos began to fly. While he rallied in the end, Pozzovivo wasn’t able to catch Nibali or Fuglsang, and he finished 1:54 down. His fight for pink too a huge blow.