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Last year, Richard Carapaz came out of nowhere to win a stage and finish fourth overall. This year, he was a marked man, but the Ecuadorian rider had the legs Saturday to ride away with the pink jersey.
The Movistar rider played off the growing rivalry between Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and attacked midway up the day’s penultimate climb. Not only did he win his second stage of this Giro, but snatched away the pink jersey.
With bonuses, he is now seven seconds ahead of Roglic. The highly efficient climber, who was born high in the Ecuadorian Andes, is suddenly a very dangerous threat to win this Giro.
“It’s a lot easier to defend the pink jersey than to try to take it,” Carapaz said. “We have a strong team, so we will do whatever we can to try to defend this all the way to Verona.”
Carapaz jumped out of the elite GC group midway up the Colle San Carlo in the Italian Alps. As Nibali and Roglic continued their simmering civil war, the Movistar climber bolted clear.
Nibali looked at Roglic, and Roglic looked at Nibali. There was never a fully committed chase, and with Movistar’s Mikel Landa shadowing the GC group, Carapaz held a 35-second gap over the top.
Nibali’s superb descending skills were no match against Carapaz, riding alone down the serpentine descent. By the time the chasing group hit the bottom of the long downhill, Carapaz had more than a minute gap, and was threatening to take pink.
Once again bereft of teammates, Roglic was hesitant to take up the chase alone. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who is showing signs of life after unexpected early losses, regained contact and bolted clear in the final run to the line.
Roglic didn’t chase and the pink jersey passed from Jan Polanc (UAE-Emirates), a rival that no one truly feared, to Carapaz, a dangerous climber on a very strong team.
“Right now we have an advantage, and we are going to play with this,” Carapaz said. “As long as we have the jersey, we can try to defend it until Verona.”
The always-effective Movistar lost world champion Alejandro Valverde to injury before the Giro even started, but brought Landa and Carapaz as co-leaders. Both lost time early, but both were showing signs of life. Carapaz took a win in the first week while Landa was on the attack in the opening two days in the mountains to claw himself back into contention.
On Saturday, it was Carapaz’s turn. He hovered on GC, starting Saturday in Saint-Vincent less than two minutes behind Roglic. The Slovenian seemed distracted with Nibali, who had criticized Roglic overnight for racing too conservatively Friday. Movistar saw an opening and attacked. Carapaz’s move came after some heavy digs by Nibali and Bahrain-Merida teammate Damiano Caruso.
When Carapaz jumped, no one had the legs to immediately respond.
“We have two cards to play. Today the card we played was me, and it turned out just perfectly,” Carapaz said. “We can use that [rivalry] to our advantage, and we got some time yesterday. And today it was even better for us, and we could take the jersey. We are going to work to try to defend the jersey as far as we can take it.”
How far can Carapaz go? That will be a simmering question as the Giro heads into its challenging final week.
Sunday’s rollercoaster stage covers the finishing climbs of the Giro di Lombardia route, so there could be more surprises in store. After Monday’s rest day, there are still three hard stages to go across the Alps and Dolomites.
Everyone knows the final-day time trial in Verona will be a disadvantage to the Ecuadorian, so Carapaz will be looking to attack Roglic and the others again.
With Movistar’s depth and experience, Carapaz said he’s in it to win it.
“Right now we have the best team, and we can use it to defend the jersey and try to keep it until the TT in Verona,” he said. “We’ll keep defending the jersey right now and we’ll try to defend it as long as we can.”
Last year, he became the first Ecuadorian to win a Giro stage. This year, he’s become the first Ecuadorian to wear the pink jersey. If his rivals let their guard down again, he could become the first Ecuadorian to win the Giro d’Italia.