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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia loses some luster with untimely Romain Bardet exit

Giro di Hoody: The French climber seemed poised for more in this Giro d'Italia, and the race will miss his elegant, attacking style in the final week.

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The GC at the Giro d’Italia is still wide open after two weeks of racing, but the corsa rosa lost some of its luster Friday with the untimely exit of Romain Bardet.

The elegant French captain was riding high in the Giro, and emerged as a legitimate contender for overall victory. Bardet fell ill overnight, and was unable to continue in Friday’s short but demanding transition stage.

Citing stomach problems, he was forced to step off the pedals. Grand tour racing can be cruel.

“He started Thursday and after 10km he was already feeling sick. He slept the whole way back in the bus after [Thursday’s] and he couldn’t eat last night,” Team DSM sport director Matt Winston said. “He was awake all night being sick. Romain is a fighter, and he wanted to start the stage, but he already sick in the neutral, and it just wasn’t possible.”

Also read: Romain Bardet abandons the Giro d’Italia

It’s a huge blow for Team DSM and Bardet, who was showing hints of his best form in years, but it’s also an even bigger setback for the Giro.

Each May, Giro organizers try to coax a few “bigs” to come to each edition of the Italian grand tour to spice things up and help build some hype against the Tour de France.

Over the past few years, riders such as Chris Froome, Peter Sagan, and Egan Bernal brought their gold-plated status to the Giro to give the race its shine.

This year didn’t see a five-star marquee name, but a deep serving of top echelon riders traveled to Hungary poised to deliver a scintillating race. Though there wasn’t one superstar in the bunch, the collective mass of favorites helped set the stage for a wide-open race for pink.

This year’s race started with several quality names, but with each passing stage, more and more contenders are falling out of contention. And the race isn’t even into the third week yet.

Like any grand tour, things don’t always go to script.

Tom Dumoulin blew up early, and then Simon Yates succumbed to a knee injury on Blockhaus. Vincenzo Nibali also lost time on Mount Etna and though he still hovering close to the top-10, the aging “Shark from Messina” might not be close enough to really take a bite at the GC.

That left Bardet as one of the top challengers for pink, just 14 seconds back before his brutal abandon Friday.

On Sunday’ knee-busting haul up Blockhaus on Sunday, Bardet emerged as one of the strongest climbers in the bunch, matching Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) on the steepest ramps.

Though a clutch of riders regained contact on the upper reaches of the climb, Bardet just missed the stage win and emerged as a mid-race candidate for overall victory.

Thin line between success and DNF

Bardet waved goodbye to the 2022 Giro. (Photo: LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images)

The climb-heavy final week seemed tailor-made for Bardet.

Yet his sudden health lapse reveals just how thin the line is between maximum performance and devastating illness in a grand tour. Riders come into these three-week races on their peak and at their absolute trimmest, but also on the limit in terms of what their bodies can handle.

Stress, crashes, travel, allergies, and the inevitable spread of illness can zap any rider at any moment when they’re deep into a grand tour.

That’s what appeared to happen to Bardet. Even though teams often bring their own chefs as well as put a big emphasis on cleanliness and sanitation, the razor-thin body weight can often see riders plunge into illness or a viral infection with alarming speed.

This spring saw a virus spread like wildfire through the peloton, with dozens of riders falling ill at such races as Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Volta a Catalunya.

Also read: Why the peloton got so sick this spring

Winston said Bardet fell ill in Thursday’s transition stage, but the team was able to nurse him to the line. Unable to eat and sleep overnight, Bardet’s seemingly magical run in the Giro was over.

“We tried to nurse him through Thursday’s stage with ice and keep him cool,” Winston said. “He’s a fighter and he wanted to start, but we knew early today is just wasn’t going to be possible to continue.”

With Bardet, the GC battle loses one of its marquee contenders and some of its luster.

He is a classy and elegant rider, both on and off the bike. He brought a touch of French allure to the Giro, and was one of the few Tour-podium caliber riders in the race.

Though the Giro and Tour have a bit of a rivalry, French riders have a long tradition at the Giro. Frenchmen have consistently won stages and finished on the final podium, but a French rider hasn’t won the Giro since Laurent Fignon last won in 1989.

As the door closes for Bardet, however, another opens for others still in the Giro.

Also within 30 seconds of the leader’s jersey is Landa, Guillaume Martin, Jai Hindley and João Almeida. Any one of them could be looking pretty in pink before the weekend is out.

Bardet’s exit will mean even more pressure for Carapaz, who is being backed by the ever powerful Ineos Grenadiers. Richie Porte lost more time Friday, so all of Ineos’s formidable strength is now firmly backing the Olympic champion.

Carapaz has consistently shown he can handle the responsibility of a race, and seems poised to grab the pink jersey this weekend after snatching up some mid-stage time bonuses Thursday to move into second overall.

And with Bardet gone, Carapaz and Ineos see perhaps their most dangerous rival out of the race.

With two hard stages this weekend and only a slender 12-second lead on Carapaz, overnight leader Juanpe López’s run in pink seems destined to end sooner than later.

The Giro will miss Bardet’s elegant and aggressive style

It’s too bad for the Giro that Bardet won’t be in the frame.

Bardet, who’s twice been on the final podium in Paris at the Tour, enjoyed the wild and unpredictable racing at the Giro in his debut last year.

The French climber seemed poised for more in this Giro, and the race will miss him in the final week.

Like after any unexpected grand tour exit, Bardet’s future might change.

He wasn’t planning on racing the Tour de France in July, but with his top form and growing confidence, he might be tempted back to the pressure-cooker of the Tour.

That’s just what he was hoping to avoid by targeting the Giro.