Giro d'Italia

Hard racing and hard questions at the Giro d’Italia

Optimism at the Giro remains high — in spite of teams' withdrawals — while racing every stage as if it were the last.

The climate is changing quickly at this year’s Giro. And it is not just the weather that is turning for the worse as the race hits increasing rain as it moves north. No, the climate here, is also clouded by increasing apprehension and pessimism, as numerous riders and staff tested positive for COVID on the race’s first rest day testing.

In addition, many of the positive cases came from big riders on big teams. Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo Visma withdrew entirely. Four staff members tested positive on the Australian-based team, while Dutch contender Steven Kruijswijk, on Jumbo-Visma, also came up positive. Meanwhile, Sunweb’s Michael Matthews also withdrew as a result of his positive finding, although his team remained in the race.

Sudden the fate of this year’s Giro is more tenuous than ever.

Sure, news of the positive case of Simon Yates — a British hopeful who rides for Mitchelton-Scott — last week came as a shock. But it was an isolated case. At the time, few people were seriously having a conversation about the race continuing. But that conversation is happening very much today.

“It was a shock. We’ve taken every precaution. We’ve done everything we can. It’s alarming to think that you can do everything and still have a positive,” said American Chad Haga after the race.

Just days ago, Haga finished on the climb to Roccaraso with his teammate Matthews. They chatted easily despite the wind and rain, preferring to save their energy for a day better suited to them, a day like today’s punchy stage to Tortoreto which could have been perfect for Matthews. But instead, the Australian is out of the race.

“Losing Michael is a big blow,” he added. “I’ve been in the sport long enough that I am used to guys suddenly having to leave the race if they get injured or sick. But to lose somebody this way is new. I don’t know really how to feel or what to think about it. I’m in shock.”

Another American, Brandon McNulty, was also in shock after the finish. But his emotions were more mixed. After all, he had just finished second behind Peter Sagan on stage 10 — a tremendous performance for the 22-year old, who is making his first grand tour appearance.

“To be honest, at 30km I thought my race was done. I got a flat on one of those steep climbs. The cars were not close so I had to stop for a while. And then I was descending [between] the cars in the rain. Every climb I thought was my last one, until the final one,” he said after the finish. “But once I got back on, I knew it was a flat run-in and there were no teams. I knew that if I could get a jump on them, I could probably hold them off. Second place on the stage is incredible.”

McNulty a Cinderella story

McNulty could well be one of the race’s Cinderella stories. He is sitting in 13th place overall and with two-time trials — which are McNulty’s specialty — still remaining, he could well hope to move up. But the race has to continue.

“The news was a bit of a shocker,” he said of the positive tests. “And now it is possible that every day is the last day. It’s just all in every day. It was obvious that everyone felt that because it was a hard day. It’s definitely a possibility that we might not make it to Milan. It’s unfortunate, but safety is the most important thing for the riders and all of Italy. We’ll see!”

“Today’s news is bigger than last week, with Yates,” Movistar sports director Maximilian Sciandri said.

VeloNews already spoke with Sciandri at the finish of stage eight after Yates left the race. But he understood that the news was even more disturbing now.

“We actually had two of the teams in our hotel last night. We’ve had three days in the same hotel with Jumbo and Sunweb. First of all that is a bit messed up, having three teams together. But I have to say that both Jumbo and Sunweb had very strict rules when it comes to hygiene. I saw the soigneurs carrying suitcases with gloves,” he said. “You can’t blame anyone. Everyone wants to be here. The teams want to race the race. But that’s what’s happening and we can’t control it. The starts and finishes are good. The mixed zone [where the press takes rider interviews] is good. The only thing that could be better is the hotel.”

But while Sciandri is cautious, he refuses to be fatalistic. “As I have said before. It’s still a day by day thing. What can you plan? The weather, we don’t know. COVID, we don’t know. And you could see today that the race doesn’t have a clear leader. You could see that today. Everybody was like, “Let’s do something. There could be no tomorrow.” We just have to take it day by day and cross our fingers.”

“There is definitely the feeling now that every day could be the last day,” Haga added in agreement. “The confidence has taken in a big blow. We didn’t have much chance to talk early in the stage because the racing was so hard. But we had a chance to talk once we were in the gruppetto. And we are wondering who makes the decision and what is the decision-making paradigm. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re along for the ride.”