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The Zoncolan – with three kilometers at an average of 13 percent and a maximum of 20 percent — is considered to be one of the hardest climbs in pro cycling. Those were the gradients of the final few kilometers. But before that, the stage 14 route included 10km of climbing over 190km. And before that, there were 13 days of racing!
The peloton did not arrive fresh to the bottom of the Zoncolan, not even close. In fact, stage 14 was one of the hardest of this year’s Giro d’Italia, even before the final climb. There was a big fight for the breakaway, but once the selection was made a number of teams took turns pacing – hard – at the front of the peloton. Ineos Grenadiers, Astana Premier-Tech, and Bahrain-Victorious continued to press on, even with the breakaway’s gap at over seven minutes.
Contained in the breakaway were a number of big names and stage win hopefuls, including George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), Jan Tratnik (Bahrain Victorious), Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa), Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar Team), and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), among others. With a long and flat run-in to the first climb of the day, Astana Premier-Tech took the lead at the front of the peloton, hoping that their team leader and second in GC at the start of the day, Aleksandr Vlasov, could win atop the feared final climb.
There was a huge difference in the effort levels of the breakaway and the peloton over the first 130km of the stage. That was how long it took for them to reach the first major climb of the day, the Forcella di Monte Rest. Tratnik helped drive the breakaway, while his teammate, Damiano Caruso, who was third on the GC stayed out of the wind in the peloton.
Tratnik – First 130km in the Breakaway:
Average Power: 293w (4.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 314w (4.6w/kg)
Peak 20-min Normalized Power: 386w (5.7w/kg)
Caruso – First 130km in the Peloton:
Average Power: 225w (3.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 265w (4w/kg)
Peak 20-min Normalized Power: 287w (4.3w/kg)
In the first half of the stage, we can see the massive energy savings earned in the peloton versus the breakaway. Three hours into the stage, Mollema pushed the pace over the Forcella di Monte Rest while the breakaway’s gap fell slightly, from eight minutes to six. The pace in both the breakaway and peloton was higher than on the flat – both in terms of power and speed – but 5-5.5w/kg is really just a steady tempo for riders of this caliber.
In these images from the Bahrain-Victorious riders’ power files, we can see how steady the breakaway’s effort was compared to the punchiness in the peloton.
Tratnik – Forcella di Monte Rest:
Average Power: 340w (5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 350w (5.2w/kg)
Peak 20-min Power: 351w (5.2w/kg)
Caruso – Forcella di Monte Rest:
Average Power: 347w (5.2w/kg)
Normalized Power: 362w (5.5w/kg)
Peak 20-min Power: 378w (5.6w/kg)
Normally, the descent is the place to recover; no pedaling, just coasting, taking in the views, and smelling the flowers. But not on this day.
Astana Premier-Tech went ripping down the Forcella di Monte Rest switchbacks, and quickly caused a split in the peloton, and catching out every single GC rider other than Vlasov and the maglia rosa Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers). Caruso missed the move and was forced to chase along with Team BikeExchange and Deceuninck-Quick-Step, who closed the gap on a short climb near the bottom of the descent (note Caruso’s maximum speed).
Caruso – Forcella di Monte Rest descent and chase:
Average Power: 329w (4.9w/kg)
Normalized Power: 366w (5.5w/kg)
7-minute chase: 416w (6.2w/kg)
The pace wasn’t only heating up in the peloton, but also in the breakaway. In the valley between the Forcella di Monte Rest and the Zoncolan, the live broadcast flashed a few numbers across the bottom of the screen. “Edoardo Affini – average power on stage 14, first four hours”, it read. “360w.” That’s some big wattage.
Affini – Stage 14: first four hours:
Average Power: 360w (4.4w/kg)
We already knew the Italian was strong when he finished second in the Giro’s stage 1 time trial behind world champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers). Affini became a household name – at least in Italy during the Giro d’Italia – and he nearly surprised the sprinters in stage 13, taking off in pursuit of the finish line at over 1,200w, and only being caught by Giacomo Nizzolo in the final few meters. After Nizzolo had finished runner-up in so many stages before, Affini might have been the only one upset that Nizzolo won.
On stage 14, Affini infiltrated the breakaway with his Jumbo-Visma teammate and Kiwi national champion, George Bennett. There is never any shortage of drama at the Giro, and it was only a few days before that Bennett had finished 3rd (originally 4th) after a breakaway spat with Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo).
Bennett was going for the stage win on Monte Zoncolan, but with the peloton closing in with 25km to go, nothing was guaranteed.
Tratnik attacked first from the breakaway, with no one following initially. A chase group formed with Bennett, Mollema, and Fortunato, whose diminutive figure looked purpose-built for the double-digit gradients. Astana Premier-Tech led the peloton a few minutes behind, but soon, Ineos Grenadiers took control with Gianna Moscon.
Two different races began to unfold on the slopes of the Monte Zoncolan: one for the stage, and one for the GC. Up front, Fortunato bridged across to Tratnik while every other rider fell behind. Ineos continued to drive the pace at the front of the peloton until they had just Dani Martínez left in front of Bernal. Fortunato distanced Tratnik with just under 3km to go, where the gradients were the steepest of any mountain in the Giro. The Slovenian swerved across the road on the 20 percent grade, while his teammate Caruso climbed up into the clouds in the GC group.
Simon Yates (Team Bike-Exchange) was the first to attack out the GC players, and when he went, only Bernal could follow. Caruso – as he has done for nearly the entire Giro – rode his own pace, and kept the pair within touching distance. As Fortunato took his first-ever professional win at the top of the Zoncolan, Bernal countered Yates and sprinted up the dying gradients like he was on the gravel of stage 9.
Bernal crossed the line in fourth place on the stage, setting a new record on the relatively easier (and rarely used) side of the Zoncolan in a time of 40:02. Caruso finished 10th on the stage, but only ceded 41 seconds to Bernal, and quietly kept his podium place in what could be the best GC result of his career. Tratnik finished second on the stage after yet another epic day in the breakaway.
Bernal – Zoncolan:
Average Power (estimated): 365w (6.2w/kg)
Caruso – Zoncolan:
Average Power: 402w (6w/kg)
Tratnik – Zoncolan:
Average Power: 402w (6w/kg)
Of course, 6w/kg for any length of time over five minutes is mightily impressive, but what stands out most from this Giro d’Italia stage is how hard the race was as a whole. From Kilometer 0, the breakaway was fighting for every second, and the peloton chased for probably 180 of the 190km in hopes of nabbing the stage win. Astana Premier-Tech launched a surprise attack on the downhill, forcing the others to chase and waste precious energy far before the Zoncolan. On the final climb, there was no shortage of spice as both the breakaway and peloton ground up the 10 percent slopes. In the end, there looked to be the two most deserving riders coming out on top: Lorenzo Fortunato with his first-ever Grand Tour stage and professional win, and the maglia rosa Egan Bernal, once again, showing everyone who’s boss.
Caruso – Giro d’Italia stage 14 (without neutral zone):
Average Power: 269w (4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 314w (4.6w/kg)
Kilojoules Burned: 5096 kJs
Tratnik – Giro d’Italia stage 14 (without neutral zone):
Average Power: 310w (4.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 329w (4.8w/kg)
Kilojoules Burned: 5845 kJs
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava
Strava sauce extension