After a total of 85 hours of racing spanning 3,500 kilometers, the Giro d’Italia will be decided in a flat-out 15.7 kilometer time trial into the center of Milano on Sunday.
After a tension-riddled final phase of Saturday’s Sestriere stage, Jai Hindley and Tao Geoghegan Hart sit dead-level on time, with only milliseconds placing 24-year-old Australian Hindley into the pink jersey.
The conclusion of this year’s race makes for the most unlikely of endings to one of the most topsy-turvy grand tours in memory.
Two riders who have never cracked the top-20 of a grand tour and entered the Giro in support of marquee team leaders will be battling for the Trofeo Senza Fine on Sunday after enduring three weeks of COVID crises, rerouted or shortened stages, and the loss of pre-race favorites Geraint Thomas, Simon Yates, and Steven Kruijswijk.
With the 15.7km blast through the city streets likely to take well under 20-minutes, Wilco Kelderman‘s time trial chops are likely not impressive enough to claw back 1:32 to regain the lead, meaning it’s all down to the two youngsters in what will amount to a sprint on a time trial bike.
On paper, it’s a dead tie between Geoghegan Hart and Hindley both on classification time and time trial bragging rights in the race so far.
Hindley put 49-seconds into Geoghegan Hart in the Palermo time trial while the Londoner was faster by 1:15 in the race against the clock through the vineyards of Valdobbiadene. Geoghegan Hart’s palmarès reveal he is the more consistent time trialist, perhaps leaving the wacky, windswept test through Palermo as an unfair yardstick.
“I think I showed my TT legs in the last TT,” Geoghegan Hart said atop Sestriere. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow, we’ll give everything and what will be will be.”
Hindley will go down the ramp last on Sunday, wearing his first-ever pink jersey in what is his third grand tour.
Hindley went on the offense through the final climb to Sestriere on Saturday in the knowledge that he had to take every second possible going into the final time trial. The Perth native snatched vital seconds away from Geoghegan Hart in the intermediate sprint at the base of the final climb before accelerating again and again in the final kilometers, only to be plagued by sharpest of thorns in his side, Rohan Dennis, who neutralized attacks for his Ineos teammate.
Sure enough, Geoghegan Hart outsprinted Hindley in the final, scooping the bonus seconds available at the finish line. It was only Hindley’s canny acceleration at the bonus sprint eight kilometers early that drew him level and landed him in the pink jersey.
“I was thinking I was going to get rid of him [Geoghegan Hart] and try to take time on him, but I didn’t have it in my legs,” Hindley said after the stage. “I was trying everything when I was attacking and I just couldn’t get rid of him. I thought I could beat him in the sprint but he was too strong.”
Despite having some advantage in knowing exactly what time he needs to beat in order to defend the pink jersey in Milano, Hindley’s attitude was perhaps pessimistic Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about the time trial. “Tao’s shown that he can time trial well, but it’s the end of a three-week race. You never know how the legs are going to feel tomorrow morning, that’s the beauty of the Giro d’Italia, it’s such a hard race.”
Just when you thought you’d collected your breath after seeing Tadej Pogačar tip the Tour de France upside down in the dramatic time trial to La Planches des Belles Filles, it’s time to strap in and brace for even more time trial tension on the roads of Milano on Sunday.