As the Giro d’Italia takes its first (real) rest day today and gets prepared to leave behind the amuse-bouche of the opening nine stages and enter its second and more serious phase, outside of the elimination of Simon Yates from the GC competition following his stage 9 collapse, we still don’t have a great view of the who will win the overall classification. In fact, the biggest takeaway gleaned so far is just how close the top of the GC is still packed together, and how little we know about which rider will ultimately emerge as the overall winner when the clock stops in Verona on the final stage.
Current GC Top Ten:
1) Juan Pedro López +0
2) João Almeida +12
3) Romain Bardet +14
4) Richard Carapaz +15
5) Jai Hindley +20
6) Guillaume Martin +28
7) Mikel Landa +29
8) Domenico Pozzovivo +54
9) Emanuel Buchmann +1’09
10) Pello Bilbao +1’22
Filtered GC Standings:
João Almeida +0
Romain Bardet +2″
Richard Carapaz +3″
Jai Hindley +8″
Guillaume Martin +16″
Mikel Landa +17″
Domenico Pozzovivo +42″
Emanuel Buchmann +57″
Pello Bilbao +1’10″
Alejandro Valverde +1’11″
Thymen Arensman +1’15″
Vincenzo Nibali +2’52″
Looking at the GC standings, one thing that sticks out to me that I missed after yesterday’s stage is just how fortunate UAE and Almeida are that the pace at the front stalled in the final kilometer enough to allow Juan Pedro López to hold onto the Maglia Rosa for at least another week. Had he fallen out of the race lead, Almeida would have been burdened with controlling the race through what will be a monotonous and draining second week of racing. But now, UAE has Trek acting as a puppet regime to hold the race together until López tumbles down the GC once the race hits the high mountains in the third week.
Where Time Has Been Won/Lost So Far
An exercise I find immensely helpful to break through the media narratives surrounding an ongoing grand tour is to examine where each major contender has taken or lost time relative to one another.
After looking through the four stages where the major contenders have won or lost time, we see that while outside of Carapaz’s savvy riding to make the front end of the time split on the opening stage, the major contenders have been deadlocked outside of the TT and time bonuses. Almeida, due to his prowess in the TT and contesting an intermediate sprint on stage 5, has come into the rest day ahead of the rest of the serious GC contenders.
Where Time Was Won/Lost Relative to Almeida
While we still know shockingly little about how the GC will shake out after nine days of racing (compare this to the Tour de France, where we often know everything), the two major data points we have, the time trial on stage 2 and summit finish on stage 9, tells us that there aren’t significant differences between the fitness level of Carapaz, Bardet, Landa, Almeida, and Hindley.
This means that while there are major mountain stages and a time trial still remaining, carving out time when you can (i.e. time bonuses) will be incredibly important (this is why I was surprised to see Ineos’ domestiques roll through an intermediate sprint point and take the time bonuses for the first two places from their team leader).
In fact, while the Giro has a reputation for being a wide-open race where lost seconds are nothing to worry about because major time swings are possible in the high mountains, the difference between the 1st and 2nd positions in the overall has been incredibly close over the past six editions, with no rider winning the general classification with a gap larger than 90-seconds.
Final GC Time Differences Between 1st & 2nd 2021-2016
This fact, combined with the extremely lockstep racing up to this point, should tell us that the winning margins will be incredibly thin and that if anyone wants to beat Almeida in the overall, they will have to work extremely hard to carve out enough of a time cushion to hold him off in the final 17-kilometer-long stage 21 time trial.
The Path to Victory Is Not Going to Be Straightforward for Carapaz & Ineos
While Carapaz and his Ineos team have looked strong up until this point and the 2019 champion is rightfully the betting markets’ major favorite, his inability to deliver the blow he and his team clearly wanted to on stage 9 should raise doubts about his ability to pry open the gap he needs over Almeida.
There are still five major mountain stages coming in the third week, but with the top riders all looking at around the same level on the climbs, no top favorite should rely on taking massive gains on these stages. Sure, the more open style of racing has allowed either down-and-out or simply overlooked riders like Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, and 2019 Carapaz to get up the road and take minutes in the past, but this is because they were coming from so far back that they were given a long leash that the top five riders won’t give each other for the remainder of the 2022 edition. If Almeida, Bardet, Carapaz, Landa, or Hindley want to take time on the others in the mountains, they will have to do it with a superior watts per kilo performance over multiple climbs, which isn’t an easy task against such stiff competition.
Taking this type of slim-margin racing into account, if Almeida can simply follow moves on the climbs as he did on stage 9, he will be extremely tough to shake. Also, his natural punch at the end of stages could allow him to rack up significant time bonuses on the multiple uphill finishes remaining, which would make it even more difficult for Carapaz to build up his pre-TT buffer.
And this isn’t even accounting for a repeat of his third-week performance in last year’s Giro where he was hands-down the best GC rider over the final five stages (and this was before Almeida started working with Tadej Pogačar’s personal coach Iñigo San Millán at the beginning of this season).
Additionally, the presence of Bardet, Landa, and Hindley will complicate matters and even further help Almeida. As we saw on stage 9, when Bardet, Landa and Carapaz did get a gap, they became locked in a stalemate that allowed Almeida, riding his own pace behind, to catch back on.
It would also be foolish to discard Bardet and Landa as potential overall winners at this stage simply due to the fact that neither has ever won a grand tour. Landa and Bardet, both supremely talented riders, have looked better than they have in years, and the lack of significant TT kilometers will give them a rare opportunity to win an overall grand tour title. And with Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali performing surprisingly well on the stage 9 finish to Blockhaus while also being far enough down that they can’t be marked out of every breakaway, the risk of a third-week mountain raid is high. In fact, we’ve already seen this ‘make the early breakaway to make up for lost time and dare them to chase’ strategy successfully employed by Guillaume Martin when the Cofidis rider was able to gain a net of two minutes over the weekend and ride himself into 6th place overall due to jumping into the breakaway on stage 8.
This all combines to tell us that while Ineos has looked in control so far, they should be far from resting easy after what we’ve seen through the first nine stages.