The fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia came to a close with a scrappy bunch sprint in Villafranca Tirrena on the Sicilian coast Tuesday.
While Arnaud Démare won a hard-fought fight for the line, one of the key tales of the stage came before the peloton had even rolled out of Catania this morning. Having crashed hard in the neutral zone at the start of Monday’s stage, Ineos Grenadiers confirmed that their leader Geraint Thomas abandoned the race due to a fractured hip.
The Giro now heads to the mainland of Italy and makes its way up the eastern coast for the rest of the week, taking in a mixture of sprint stages and tough hilly days.
In today’s roundtable, we mull over the next phase of racing, the organized chaos that embodies the race, and the action plan for Ineos Grenadiers.
Time for some takes!
From neutral zone crashes to dogs on the racecourse and scrappy bunch sprints, why is the Giro always so chaotic?
Fred Dreier (@freddreier): The traditional answer here was that the Giro is held in May, when the weather in Italy is often inclement, so the mixture of rain (or snow) on the narrow Italian roads creates sketchy and unpredictable situations. I think you can also point to Italian urban road infrastructure, plus RCS Sport’s desire to send the race through lots of small villages, as perhaps a reason. But honestly, I think that bike racing in general is chaotic. The opening week of the Tour is chaotic. The sprint to the Arenberg Trench is chaotic. The descent off the Poggio is chaotic. There are just specific times and places in cycling that create chaos, and a Giro d’Italia sprint is one of them.
Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): A combination of factors. First off, Italian roads simply are not what they are in France, Spain, or other parts of Europe. They tend to be narrower, rougher, and littered with more hazards. Having said that, Giro organizers also sometimes seem to put the “show” ahead of everything else. Why have a stage into a UNESCO World Heritage site if it ends in a parking lot on the outskirts of town? If you want to end a race in the center of Siena, similar to where Strade Bianche concludes, there are going to roadways that were designed more as cart paths than for 21st-century bike racing. The Giro is a looser, and sometimes more dangerous race. Everyone who’s raced it will tell you that.
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): It seems to be a mixture of so many things. The obvious one is the weather, but the terrible roads in the south of Italy and cluttered, chaotic little towns that the Giro so often visits also have a role. And when you compare the Giro to the well-oiled machine that is the Tour de France, which had a far bigger budget and larger organization behind it, the Italian race can seem a little improvised and unpredictable. But that’s why the fans, media, and riders all love it so much.
Which stage before the first rest day are you most stoked for?
Fred: I have my eyes on stage 9, the mountain stage from San Salvo to Roccaraso. This is one of the new stages that organizers created after they were forced to abandon the Giro’s opening in Hungary. It’s a brutal day with two cat 1 and two cat 2 climbs. And I think that we’ll see some fireworks in the last 50km.
Jim: Got to be stage 9. It’s long, it’s lumpy, and the peloton will be on its last legs ahead of the first rest day. The back half of the relentless race into Roccaraso points toward the potential for chaos, from breakaway gambles to GC ambushes. I’ve got the popcorn ready and booked out a space on my sofa.
Andrew: I think stage 5 is going to be pretty interesting, or at least it could be. It’s very long — 225km — with a long grinder first-category climb before a fast descent. It could be a chance for the GC riders to attack if there’s blood in the water. Having said that, it’s ideal for a breakaway unless Deceuninck-Quick-Step wants to defend Almeida’s jersey. Roccarosa next Sunday should deliver some fireworks, and the stage into Matera should see Sagan get his first win.
You’re Dave Brailsford, boss of Ineos Grenadiers. What’s your Vuelta plan to turn around the season?
Jim: If I was calling the shots on the Ineos team bus, I’d bin Froome from the roster for Spain – taking him just seems too much of a risk right now given he’s still so unproven and struggling for shape. Instead, I’d stack my Vuelta squad with young talents and stage-hunters like Pavel Sivakov and Ivan Sosa, and just let them run riot from day one. Even though Richard Carapaz was riding well at the Tour, I would lean toward focusing on stages rather than the GC if he gets sent to Spain, purely because another GC disappointment of any sort would be crushing for the squad.
Fred: Winning the Vuelta won’t turn the season around.
Andrew: Send Bernal, Carapaz, Froome, and whoever else has legs. Throw the kitchen sink at the Vuelta, and see who can survive. The wheels have come off the Ineos cart, and no one really knows why. Fate and the law of averages catching up? Age and injury finally getting the better of Thomas and Froome? Superior rivals have finally figured out the “Sky Way”? Missing Nico Portal? All of the above. Pride-saving stage wins won’t cut at it at the Vuelta.