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Have you recovered from the scintillating stage over the Stelvio at the Giro d’Italia on Thursday?
We have just gotten our breath back after an action-packed battle in the mountains that saw João Almeida fall out of pink jersey contention as Team Sunweb moved its two leaders into the top slots of the GC. However, the race is far from over, with an on-form and very motivated Tao Geoghegan Hart threatening the Sunweb duo, now just 15 seconds back.
The race is perfectly poised going into the final weekend with the top-3 on GC all so close – time for some takes on the Giro’s final punch-up for pink!
Who will win the pink jersey, and how will they do it?
Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): I think the race will be decided Saturday at Sestriere. Sunweb is in a tough situation because Wilco Kelderman is a better time trialist than Jai Hindley, so do they force Hindley to wait for him if Kelderman can match the pace set by TGH? Or do they let Hindley use his superior legs in a direct battle with Ineos Grenadiers? It’s an interesting quandary because whoever has the legs Saturday should be able to take enough time to give them a real advantage going into Sunday’s time trial. If it’s all still knotted up, Kelderman should have the best odds in Milano. Bilbao is still right there in a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the podium, so don’t forget about him. And a Hail Mary from Nibali? Don’t bet on it.
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): I somehow can’t see Kelderman doing it. He didn’t look convincing on the Stelvio, and though he did well to limit his losses, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him falter again on the final mountain stage Saturday. Hindley and Geoghegan Hart are 1:1 when looking back at the two-time trials so far this race, though the Brit arguably has the better pedigree against the clock. After seeing how motivated Ineos Grenadiers were on the Stelvio stage, I could see them getting their first grand tour win of the year from the most unlikely of sources. I say Kelderman cracks again Saturday, Tao moves into the lead there and then fends off a challenge from Hindley in the time trial.
James Startt: Good question…Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) is perfectly positioned just over a minute behind in fourth. If he has the legs to blow it open on the final climbing day to Sestriere he could easily catch Ineos and Sunweb looking at each other. But I don’t think he has the legs after riding the Tour and the Giro. I was underwhelmed by Kelderman’s performance yesterday and certainly am not convinced that he has the legs or the head to support the pressure of the pink jersey. So I would say Tao Geoghegan Hart. He is having the race of his life, already winning one stage and taking the race to Sunweb. Jai Lindley is probably climbing better but Tao did all of the work yesterday. I am certainly not convinced that if the roles were flipped, Hindley could really drop Tao…and Geoghegan Hart is definitely a better time trial rider.
Fred Dreier (@freddreier): I’m all in for Tao Geoghegan Hart to win this race now. He’s the best or second-best climber in the race, and he’s a better ITT rider than Jai Hindley. If we’re to use the stage 13 ITT as an imperfect measuring stick, Geoghegan Hart put 1:15 into Hindley on a lumpy 34km course. The route for Sunday is 15km and pan flat, which tips the scales into Tao’s favor. I would say that Hindley needs a 45-second gap on Geoghegan Hart heading into the ITT to hold on for the win, and that’s not going to happen.
Break down Sunweb’s strategy on the Stelvio: Should they have played it differently?
Jim: I think they made the only logical choice. They could have dropped Hindley back to Kelderman, but what if Kelderman cracked completely and they both lost time to Geoghegan Hart? Alternatively, Hindley could have attacked Geoghegan Hart and tried to take the pink jersey himself – but then completely blow Wilco out of the race. Sunweb’s advantage on the GC is slim, but they had to hedge their bets.
James: They were in a difficult spot and while they did what they needed to do to dominate the day, winning both the stage and the pink jersey, I don’t know if they did what was needed to win the race. If Hindley had waited they risked losing everything. But the truth is that the Dutchman got dropped with a long way to go and there was no telling whatsoever that he would be able to cut his losses. The alternative was for Hindley to collaborate with Ineos or go on the attack. In that case, there is no way Kelderman would have had the pink jersey at the finish. But there is no guarantee that Hindley would have won the stage or gotten pink if he was actually in a mano-a-mano with Geoghegan Hart. So they did the best they could do in a complicated situation and at the end of the day everything came up roses for them. But will it in Milan?
Andrew: I think they played it smart by hedging their bets. I don’t think you let the race ride away to try to help Kelderman. Had he already been in the pink jersey, I would say, yes, you sacrifice to defend. But he didn’t have it yet, and with the way Geoghegan Hart was climbing, you couldn’t risk just giving away the stage and possibly the entire Giro. Sunweb won the stage and claimed the pink jersey — that’s the perfect tactical play on the day. Whether the team can manage to win the Giro remains to be seen.
Fred: There are two X-factors that made the decision so difficult: Kelderman getting dropped with so much of the climb remaining, and then Rohan Dennis. With Dennis riding so strong, the safe bet was to keep Hindley on his wheel, since you could assume that Dennis was going to pull Geoghegan Hart to a huge advantage by the race’s end. And, had Kelderman held on just a bit longer on the climb, then it would have made sense to drop Hindley back to him to pace him up and over the summit and then down on the descent. So, while in retrospect I do think it would have been smart to hold Hindley back to pace Kelderman to the finish, I just think it was an impossible choice to make in the moment, and thus, I can’t fault the Sunweb DS.
Has this Giro been a slow-burn, tension-riddled drama, or a snoozer rescued by a stunning Stelvio stage?
Andrew: It’s been pretty good. Not great, but not too bad, either. Losing Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers’ Geraint Thomas took a lot of juice out of the race. Seeing Almeida defend pink for so long and the rise of Geoghegan Hart and Hindley has been entertaining storylines in this atypical Giro. And having Sagan zip around for three weeks in Italy gave this Giro a bit more sparkle. Simply finishing the Giro this year is a victory for everyone, so I say let’s celebrate the race in what could have been a much bleaker reality.
Jim: The GC race has been a bit of a stalemate other than the Piancavallo stage and Friday’s Stelvio stunner – but I’ve found the tension quite gripping as the pressure built and built, releasing big time on Thursday. The Giro hasn’t had the daily drama that highlighted the Tour or the red hot start of the Vuelta, but heck, with 15-seconds between the top-three going into the final stages, the race couldn’t be more perfectly poised for a weekend sat on the sofa.
James: Let’s wait and see. There are still two stages including a mountain stage and a TT. The final mountain stage with three climbs to Sestriere could be brutal. On paper, the modified course is not as hard, but the riders make the race, and with four riders within 1:20 of each other, well, Sestriere could simply be brutal. The penultimate stage is just up, down, up, down, and finally back up, with no time to recover. But Kelderman is the best time trialist and has a 12 second gap on Hindley and a 15-second gap on Geoghegan Hart, and 1:19 on Bilbao. Anybody hoping to win this year’s Giro will not only have to drop him but drop him handily.
Fred: This Giro has been kind of a bust, but I blame that more on losing Geraint Thomas, Simon Yates, and Steven Kruijswijk before the mountains.