The first full week of the Giro d’Italia was looking like the easiest week in a grand tour’s history. Mathieu van der Poel had an average heart rate of 102bpm during stage 3 – that is not a typo. On a flat day when just two riders went into the breakaway and averaged 38kph, Van der Poel heart rate dropped to 47bpm at one point, while coasting in the peloton.
But things changed as soon as the Giro peloton entered the beautiful roads of Napoli, where cycling fans were treated to more of a one-day Italian classic than a typical grand tour stage. In the end, Thomas De Gendt prevailed, winning his first grand tour stage since stage 8 of the 2019 Tour de France.
The first big GC test came on stage 9 with a summit finish atop Blockhaus. Simon Yates and Wilco Kelderman fell out of overall contention, while not a single rider asserted themselves atop the leaderboard. I’d say we are in for a nail-biting final two weeks of racing.
This is what it took for Thomas De Gendt to outrun Mathieu van der Poel, for Emmanuel Buchmann to nearly win on Blockhaus at just 5.6w/kg, and for Jai Hindley to score the victory at the Giro’s first serious summit finish.
Stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia didn’t look too menacing on paper, but with 2,231m of elevation gain in 154km, it was going to be much harder than expected. On top of that, the race headed to the tight and twisting roads of Naples and Bacoli for the majority of the stage.
As expected, the fight for the breakaway began from the off, just after many riders finished warming up on turbo trainers. Van der Poel was one of the early aggressors, attacking on a climb just 4km into the stage. The Dutchman was holding nearly 600w bridging across to the early leaders, and it wasn’t long before he set off alone with 145km to go.
Van der Poel – first 15km of Stage 8
Average Power: 401w (5.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 435w (5.8w/kg)
Attack on first climb: 619w (8.3w/kg) for 1:46
Solo breakaway: 397w (5.3w/kg) for 9:17
Once the breakaway was established, the large group of 20-some riders worked together for the following few hours. The gap to the peloton was big enough that the break would win the stage, but Van der Poel wasn’t content with the size of the lead group. With 46.5km to go, Van der Poel attacked on one of the steepest climbs of the circuit, hitting nearly 1,300w and throwing down a massive 20-second effort.
Van der Poel – attack with 46.5km to go
Average Power: 643w (8.6w/kg)
Peak 20-second power: 1,062w (14.2w/kg)
Only three riders were initially able to close the gap to Van der Poel, but the group had thinned out significantly. One of the strongest teams remaining was Lotto-Soudal, who had three riders in the breakaway including Thomas De Gendt. Just 3km after Van der Poel’s attack, De Gendt countered alongside teammate Harm Vanhoucke, as well as Davide Gabburo and Jorge Arcas.
The foursome immediately gained a 30-second gap, and they continued to work cohesively as the chase group did the opposite. De Gendt rode one of his strongest races ever – based on his power data – averaging 350w for the final hour of the race. And not only that, but De Gendt also helped increase the gap to Van der Poel and the rest of the chasers. After swapping 400w pulls for over an hour, De Gendt still had a 1,300w sprint left in his legs to take a huge stage victory out of the breakaway.
De Gendt – final 46km of Stage 8
Average Power: 348w (5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 382w (5.5w/kg)
Final sprint: 1,185w (16.9w/kg) for 10 seconds
Peak Power: 1,304w (18.7w/kg)
The next day, the Giro headed to the first serious GC test of the race, a summit finish atop the mighty Blockhaus. At 13.7km with an average of 8.5 percent, Blockhaus was one of the most feared climbs of the Giro – yet few would expect a sprint finish.
On a hard mountain stage such as this, it is easy to forget just how much work these riders do before they hit the foot of the final climb. With over five hours of racing to go, the peloton exploded on one of the first climbs of the day, just 12km into the stage.
Emmanuel Buchmann was in no way trying to attack into the breakaway, but we can see from his power numbers just how ridiculous the pace was in the peloton. The German pushed nearly 6w/kg for 14 minutes and in excess of 6.5w/kg for five minutes on the steepest section of the climb. That’s an effort that most amateur riders would struggle to do in an uphill time trial – and these riders still had 180km (and two weeks) of racing to go.
Buchmann – first hard climb of Stage 9
Average Power: 349w (5.6w/kg)
First 2km of the climb: 409w (6.6w/kg) for 4:24
The pace eventually settled down as the day’s breakaway formed, which included the American Joe Dombrowski, who went on as the break’s lone survivor near the end of the stage. Ineos started reeling in the breakaway with less than half the stage, yet the pace in the peloton was still relatively tame. Buchmann averaged 4-5w/kg up the climbs preceding Blockhaus, which is much “easier” than we will see in the third week of the Giro.
Despite the modest pace, Simon Yates was on his last legs at the bottom of Blockhaus, and one of the pre-race favorites dropped on the early slopes of the final climb. Pavel Sivakov did the lion’s share of the work, pacing for Richie Porte who would then set up Richard Carapaz for a race-winning attack.
From the numbers, we can see that the pace on Blockhaus was far from thermonuclear. In fact, I’m confident saying that Tadej Pogačar or Primoz Roglic would have destroyed this field and won by a minute, at least in peak form. We’ve seen the Slovenians push 6-6.5w/kg for 30-45 minutes, often in the third week of a Grand Tour.
On Blockhaus, Sivakov and Porte kept the pace around 5.9-6w/kg, and it might have been a little bit easier in the draft. Thymen Arensman and Buchmann both pushed 5.8w/kg for the first 25 minutes on Blockhaus, with both being distanced following Carapaz’s inevitable attack with 4.6km to go.
Buchmann – Blockhaus
Average Power: 352w (5.7w/kg)
First half of Blockhaus: 358w (5.8w/kg)
Second half of Blockhaus: 345w (5.6w/kg)
The pace in the front group stalled in the final 2km, when the leading group of six all came back together. Attacks ensued, but no one could gain a significant gap. Thus, the group slowed, and more riders caught back on. Though Buchmann lost 13w average on the second half of Blockhaus, he nearly caught the lead group with a few hundred meters to go, so slow was the pace of the leaders as they readied for the sprint.
In the end, Jai Hindley triumphed atop Blockhaus, proving that the 2020 Giro was no fluke. However, Buchmann lost only 16 seconds while pushing 5.6w/kg on the second half of the climb, and without the benefit of any draft or wheel to follow.
The 2022 Giro is by no means “slow” — at most a speed similar to the Vuelta a España — but it is far from the level that we see at the Tour de France. The GC fight is tighter than ever with the top seven riders separated by just 29 seconds after nine stages of racing, but that could all change in the weeks to come.
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava
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