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Even if GC captain Richard Carapaz didn’t start the stage in the pink jersey, the team rode as if he did.
The squad took control of the first decisive climbing stage after the 2022 Giro’s first significant breakaway formed early in the first stage back on Italian roads toward the Etna summit.
“We wanted to make the race hard today and we saw that some of the rivals were cut off, so it’s a good sign,” Carapaz said. “We came here with the intention of winning and that’s what we’re looking to do over the next three weeks. It’s a good start.”
With the steaming Etna summit on the horizon, Ineos Grenadiers put legs on the front of the bunch.
Ben Swift and Salvatore Puccio set a high pace midway through the stage to help trim down the gap on the breakaway from nearly 11 minutes to about six minutes going into the final 30km.
On the upper reaches of the Etna climb, Jhonatan Narváez and Jonathan Castroviejo set a blistering pace to put pressure on the GC bunch.
Richie Porte took over in the final kilometers, and drove home the wedge to the rivals.
“We did what we had to do. It wasn’t actually the plan to do that today. Richard is obviously in good nick and it’s good to see,” Porte said. “We knew that in the final I think we can confidence and we all did our best. It’s a good sign.
“To be fair, we were a bit unlucky because [Ben] Tulett had a mechanical, and he’s been impressive these last days. He would have been handy to have,” Porte said. “It’s a good day. Carapaz is going really well, and we shook it up a bit. So that’s good to see.”
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It was a striking reminder of the pure power “Fortress Froome” from back in the team’s heyday with Chris Froome at the Tour de France, and it was a clear message of intention at this Giro.
On paper, Richie Porte is the team’s second GC option, but the Tasmanian is racing in his final grand tour, and so far has expressed every intention of working for Carapaz as well.
Having Porte higher up on GC can obviously help Carapaz, and both of the top riders made to the Etna summit defending this GC positions.
Etna delivered up some damage, with riders such as Tom Dumoulin and Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) both losing time under the Ineos pressure.
“Surprise? Tom hasn’t had a straight forward run into it. If he’s dropped he’ll be going for stages and he’s a big champion,” Porte said. “Romain Bardet, I think he’s the dark horse here. He’s looking great.”
Team captain Carapaz moved up to 11th from 15th, and Ineos wanted to set the tone for the decisive first full week on Italy.
“We wanted to have a very elevated rhythm on the climb.” Castroviejo said. “Richard was very comfortable on the final climb, so that’s a good sign for the weeks to come.”
Grand tour rookie Ben Tulett, who rode to an impressive fifth in the Saturday’s time trial, said the entire team is riding to protect Carapaz.
“Being here to support Richard is really exciting for me. To be helping such a champion in my first grand tour, I’m really looking forward to that,” he said.