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PESARO, Italy (VN) — The “apperativi” are finished. After a tense week of long stages, rain, and crashes, the Giro d’Italia moves into the next phase. Sunday’s time trial into San Marino should signal the start of the real fight for the maglia rosa.
“Now the GC battle can begin,” said Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels, hovering about one minute behind the leading favorites. “The time trial is very important for me.”
And for everyone else. If Jungels is still holding out hope for the final podium in Verona, Sunday’s 34.8km time trial from Italy’s Adriatic coast into the micro-state of San Marino is the next important hurdle for the fight for pink.
So far, the only real differences among the overall contenders came on the first day in the short 8km time trial at Bologna. Since then, it’s been a week-long tussle to conserve energy, endure a string of long stages more than 200km, and avoid trouble to remain in the fight.
The expectations are that Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) could hit the repeat button, and widen his lead to everyone else.
“It’s a very important stage for the evolution of the race,” said Antonio Nibali, brother of Vincenzo on Bahrain-Merida. “Vincenzo has had a good week. I think he will go well. We know it’s important not to lose more time to Roglic.”
Much was made about the fact that this year’s Giro included three time trial stages. So much so that Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) put it ahead of the Tour de France as his top early season goal. Dumoulin’s gone, however, due to his crash Tuesday, meaning that the big winner Sunday could be Roglic.
The Slovenian ripped to victory last weekend to open the Giro in a flourish, and his Jumbo-Visma team are quietly confident he can deliver the goods again.
“It’s a beautiful TT course that suits Primoz perfectly,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “It’s flat in the first half and then has a pretty hard climb. You cannot just say because we took 19 seconds in 8km in Bologna that we can make the same calculation for Sunday. It’s a different kind of effort.”
If Bologna gave Roglic a comfortable margin, San Marino could see even bigger differences emerge among the GC favorites. And because Roglic is so well-rounded and can climb with the best, the favorites don’t want to give him an even bigger start before dipping into the Alps next weekend.
At 34.8km, the course is split into two sectors. The opening 22km are mostly flat before it climbs into San Marino in what’s this year’s Giro only excursion beyond Italian roads. The final third of the course climbs nearly 500 vertical meters, tipping the balance away from the pure specialists toward a climber who can time trial well.
With Dumoulin licking his wounds, it’s Roglic who is expected to gain the upper hand. The Slovenian will start as the big favorite to win another stage.
“I am looking forward to the time trial,” Roglic said. “I think it’s a decisive day for all the GC guys. I will try to do our best. The main opponent for me will be myself tomorrow, because I will be alone, and I will be fighting against myself to do as good as possible.”
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who was second to Roglic in Bologna, also knows it’s a chance to take time on his rivals and limit his losses to Roglic.
In Bologna, Yates decided to risk racing on wet roads and chose to start late. On Sunday, it will be Roglic racing behind all of his GC rivals. Time splits help, but Yates is optimistic that the differences won’t be so big that it transforms the Giro before the race turns into the mountains.
“It’s a course that suits me pretty well,” Yates said. “I think I showed [in Bologna] that I’ve improved in time trials. I think it’s a good stage for me. We’ll see if this first week has made for some tired legs. I saw the course. It’s difficult but I don’t think it will decide the race.”
Astana’s Miguel Ángel López, who rode well against stage-winner Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) last week, hopes for a similarly good performance to keep him within range of the overall victory.
“Of course, it’s an important stage,” López said. “The second half favors me. I hope to have good legs like I showed in Bologna and let’s see what happens.”
The second half of the stage means that riders like López, who typically could lose quite a bit of time against the clock, should be able to limit their losses.
With the hardest part of this Giro packed into the final, perhaps it’s Jungels — who surprisingly gave up 1:02 to Roglic in Bologna — who needs to have a strong ride to stay in the hunt for pink.
“Sunday is important for me, but as I said before, it’s a very hard climb at the end, which suits climbers also very well,” Jungels said. “But it won’t be 50-50, it will be a 70-30 game. I hope for the best. Normally on a time trial bike, I am not climbing that bad.”
Of course, there are a bunch of riders ahead of the overall favorites who’ve upturned the GC thanks to the big breakaway that stayed clear Thursday to L’Aquila. Overnight leader Valerio Conti (UAE-Emirates) safely defended pink Saturday and will start with a lead of 1:32 to J.J. Rojas (Movistar), and should be able to defend his jersey.
Among the top riders who’ve moved up in L’Aquila, there are a half-dozen names looking to conserve that advantage with hopes of playing a bigger role in the GC. Top among them are Pello Bilbao, who could emerge as option No. 2 at Astana and Fausto Masnada (Androni-Sidermec), among a few others.
All eyes will be on the favorites, however. Everyone knows they cannot let Roglic take even more time and risk that the pink jersey rides away before the Giro even turns into the mountains.