Everyone expected the Giro d’Italia to deliver some bombshells, but this soon?
The way Geraint Thomas smashed the opening time trial, I thought this Giro was all set up for another Ineos Grenadiers victory lap. Queue that sound of a record-player going backwards — brrrrzip — wrong!
Thomas has had bad luck at the Giro before — remember he got hit by a motorcycle a few years ago? — but falling in the neutral zone, apparently slipping on a loose water bottle, well, that’s worse than bad luck.
It was good to see the pack soft-pedal early in the stage to allow the 2018 Tour de France champ get back on, and no one seemed to think it was too serious. It was soon obvious it was, however, when Thomas drifted off the back even before hitting the lower slopes of Mount Etna.
The 2020 season is turning into a cruel one for Ineos Grenadiers. Remember at the beginning of the new-look schedule that there was noise that the team could sweep all three grand tours? After Egan Bernal flamed out at the Tour, and now Thomas at the Giro, the team’s grand tour hopes now rest on Chris Froome‘s slender shoulders at the Vuelta a España.
Things are not looking good on that front, either. Cases of COVID-19 are skyrocketing in Spain, and parts of Madrid are already back in lockdown, while much of the rest of the nation is facing possible restrictions before the month is out. And Froome? His DNF at Liège–Bastogne–Liège does not inspire much confidence with the Vuelta starting in less than two weeks.
Let’s see if Thomas can bounce back. His GC chances are almost shot, but much like the team did at the Tour, Thomas will proudly fight on if he can. It’s hard to say exactly how much he’s physically suffering, because he certainly is in top form based on his recent performances.
Seeing Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) also struggle so early is another surprise. He had such a great time trial Saturday that even he couldn’t believe it. Unfortunately, he was pedaling squares on Mount Etna, the same summit that saw him rocket into the pink jersey in this 2018 Giro performance that came up two mountain stages short of spectacular.
Yates didn’t nearly cede as much time as Thomas, but the prospects of seeing a British winner of the Giro this year took a huge blow Saturday. No one saw that coming.
And speaking of surprises, what about EF Pro Cycling’s wacky skateboard-inspired jersey? Personally, I think it’s great. It’s way outside cycling’s old-school box, and it’s encouraging to see so much support for the team on social media channels. And what did the UCI do? Fine them, of course. Even though it appears the team didn’t follow the letter of the rulebook, it was a bad look for the UCI to hand down $8,000 in fines. I get it, rules are rules, but cycling’s governing body could step down off their pedestal a bit, especially in these times of crisis. A little levity (and maybe behind-the-scenes wrist-slapping) could go a long way.
We’re three days into the Giro, and I fully expect the surprises to keep piling on.
Thankfully, almost no one is talking about COVID-19. Let’s hope it stays that way. The Giro is taking a softer hand on its application of health regulations. The Tour de France had its strict “two-strikes-and-you’re-out,” but sources were telling us that was coming down from on high, as in the highest reaches of the French government. The Giro will send home anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, but not the entire team. That seems perfectly reasonable, especially considering how much teams and riders have dedicated toward protecting themselves and respecting their bubbles.
The last week of this Giro is so brutal, I can imagine there is a lot of scared riders in the bunch. Who knows what the weather will be like in two weeks when the route hits the Alps? We can only hope the snow holds back, and we can contest the final mountain stages. With today’s enhanced appreciation for rider safety, it’s hard to imagine a stage unfolding today like what happened in 1988 over the Passo di Gavia raced in blizzard conditions. The Twitter mob would lose their collective minds if the Giro sent the peloton over the Stelvio on snowbound roads. And perhaps rightly so. No one from that 1988 Giro looks too fondly on that day over the Gavia, except perhaps Andy Hampsten.
The best surprise of Monday? João Almeida in pink. Based on the way he’s blasted through 2020, I had a feeling he might be slotting into the maglia rosa by day’s end. I still expect one of the more experienced veterans to win this Giro, but it’s great to see “Generation Z” continuing to make its presence felt in just about every race on the calendar.
It’s only Day 3 of this Giro. Uoof, it’s going to be a great few weeks.