Race Breakdown: The Tour de Romandie was hit by bad weather, but the race held the excitement all the way to the final time trial. Spencer Martin gives us his ‘Breakdown’ on the Swiss race and looks forward to the 2021 Giro d’Italia, starting this Saturday.
Mike Woods – Stage 4 winner, overall leader, but the time trial…
The Tour de Romandie went to Geraint Thomas
The Tour of Romandie wrapped up this weekend, with Geraint Thomas winning the overall by overtaking former race leader Mike Woods in the final time trial to net his first professional victory since winning the 2018 Tour de France. Thomas’ Ineos teammate, Richie Porte, also leaned on his time trial prowess to leap into second place, with Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Fausto Masnada surging three GC positions to get the final podium position.
Masnada looked good in the Romandie TT
While Romandie is at best a tertiary race, it offers a glimpse into what we can expect at the upcoming Giro d’Italia, which starts in only five days and has one of the most muddled GC pictures in recent memory. The defending champion, Tao Geoghegan Hart, won’t be present since he is targeting the Tour de France, and the biggest Italian star and two-time winner of the race, Vincenzo Nibali recently broke his wrist and hasn’t confirmed if he will make it to the start line.
The two up-and-coming stars featuring at the race, Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel, both have questionable health situations and are coming off long layoffs from racing. Bernal won’t have raced in 53-days when he starts the race in Torino on Saturday and the longest a rider in recent years has ‘rested’ before winning a grand tour is Primoz Roglič’s 55-day period without racing before his Vuelta a España win in 2019. Meanwhile, Evenepoel will have a whopping 266-days between his last race and the Giro start. These layoffs, combined with their questionable health (lingering back injury for Bernal and compound leg fracture for Evenepoel), means we will see an underdog take the top podium spot in Milano.
Will we see Nibali in the 2021 Giro? And pink…
Assuming Nibali starts the Giro, there will be only three riders on the start line who have won a grand tour in their careers. These riders are Nibali, Simon Yates, and Bernal. This lack of elder statesmen in leadership roles means we are likely to see an incredibly open and exciting three weeks of racing.
Despite his bizarre crash at the end of stage 4, he looked incredible all week
- By winning the overall classification, Thomas gets his first professional win since 2018
- Ineos’ leadership riddle is seemingly solved. Heading into this race, I wasn’t sure if they’d be backing Thomas or Porte, and more importantly, if Thomas was even a viable Tour leader for the team. But, despite his bizarre crash at the end of stage 4, he looked incredible all week. His time trialing is world-class and for the first time since 2019, he showed that he is climbing the best he has in years, if not quite on the same level as 2018.
- Marc Soler disappointed on Stage 4’s summit finish but had a respectable time trial on Stage 5 and only finished 17-seconds back. If he hadn’t had been dropped by Thomas on Saturday, he could have potentially held off Thomas in the final TT with the 14-second gap he held going into the summit finish.
- Fausto Masnada had a great ride on Saturday on the climb and another great performance in the TT that catapulted him into third place overall.
Soler cracked on stage 4 in yellow
- Romandie should be a reminder of how important and underrated time trial performance is in stage racing. Riders like Woods and Kuss are often talked about as potential winners of races like Romandie, but with their incredibly weak time-trial ability, it makes it very difficult for them to ever win these events. There just isn’t enough places to make up the time they will lose in the time trial. This is supported by the fact that neither Woods nor Kuss have ever won a European professional stage race.
- Additionally, while Woods was likely never going to beat Thomas in a 16km time trial, this blowout shows that there might be a serious issue with the team’s equipment. Their Factor TT bikes are legitimately slow, so slow in fact that TT-ace, Alex Dowsett, uses his own personal bike in World Championship events. With TTs being so important in any type of stage racing, this seems to be a major issue for the team heading forward.
It has been a while
- While Thomas gets the overall win, he still hasn’t won a mass-start road stage for close to three years. This will be a major issue if he wants to compete for a Tour title since Roglic and Pogacar will be able to rack up major time bonus seconds with selective sprints and mountain top stage wins.
- Also, while he performed well in the TT, his hard crash on Saturday could have lingering effects. It also adds to the trend of Thomas finding new ways to crash and makes it clear this habit isn’t going away anytime soon. This realization must make Ineos think twice about betting on him getting through the three-week Tour without hitting the deck.
- Thomas’ crashing trend will mean Ineos will want to head to the Tour with a backup option, and Richie Porte showed this week that he is the perfect candidate. The Australian had a great climbing performance on Saturday and only lost three seconds to Thomas in the TT to jump three spots and get second-place overall. As he showed in 2020, he could be a major beneficiary should the two favorites, Roglic and Pogacar, suffer any misfortune along the way.
- Rohan Dennis appeared to be in position to win the overall before his crash on stage 3. He had a scorching opening time trial and looked unstoppable on the final climb on stage 2, but this strength seemed to evaporate as the week went on and he looked incredibly flat in Sunday’s final time trial, coming in 35-seconds on stage winner Cavagna.
- Sepp Kuss, a climbing specialist, was dropped on the major climb of the race on Saturday and finished over two minutes behind the time trial winner Rémi Cavagna on Sunday. This equates to a shocking 7.6 seconds lost per kilometer in the TT and shows he has made little-to-no improvement in this discipline. What is concerning for Jumbo is that his struggles at Romandie aren’t an outlier in the 2021 season. So far, he has been a shadow of the rider he was in 2020.
- While Ineos was at the front and active, last year’s star team, Jumbo, failed to produce a single memorable performance all week. This shows the gulf that still exists between the two squads despite Jumbo appearing to take the mantle of the world’s stronger team in 2020.
- Chris Froome continued to show any semblance of improvement this week and at this point, his Israel Start-Up Nation team seems to be in an impossible position. He isn’t at a level of fitness where he can even take the start line at the Tour de France, and frankly, he would be at risk of missing a time cut and suffering the indignity of being kicked out of the race if they do send him. On the other hand, they are paying him 5 million euros a year and is by far the biggest star on the team, so it’s possible they can’t afford to leave him at home.
No improvement for Froome
Looking Forward to the Giro:
- I liked Filippo Ganna as an outsider for the Giro overall, but unfortunately, he disappointed all week at Romandie. The time trial World Champion has looked flat since looking off at the time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico and nothing we saw at Romandie would lead me to believe he can correct course before the opening stage at the Giro.
- Judging from what we saw this week, I think Deceuninck – Quick-Step could have a little bit of a leadership battle brewing with the ascent of Masnada. They are sending last year’s breakout star João Almeida, but Masnada, who visibility resisted his role as a domestique at times in last year’s race (see: him yelling at Almeida for being dropped on stage 18) and rode to a 9th place himself, might be looking to come back and challenge for a podium himself in 2021.
- Marc Soler will be leading Movistar’s GC campaign at the Giro. But it is important to remember with both Soler and Masnada, that any Giro GC hopeful racing at Romandie was sent there to cram for the coming exam at the Giro due to their disappointing performances so far this season. A grand tour, especially one as difficult as this looming Giro, will be sure to expose any cracks in a rider’s fitness foundation.
- There will be endless Giro previews rolling out in the next few days with massive lists of riders who could potentially win the race, like Aleksandr Vlasov, Pello Bilbao, Hugh Carthy, and Jai Hindley. But in my humble opinion, they are all red herrings. There is a reason they haven’t won grand tours in the past, and it all comes down to the same thing that doomed Woods at Romandie, extreme weakness in the time trial, combined with inconsistent performances over the course of a grand tour. It takes a very special rider to race consistently for three weeks and minimizes their losses on off days, which is why so few riders have ever won grand tours.
- Instead, I would focus on Simon Yates (2018 Vuelta a España winner) Egan Bernal (2019 Tour de France winner), and Emanuel Buchmann (2019 Tour de France 4th place). These three possess the rare ability to consistently perform on high alpine climbs and limit their losses in the time trial. With 38-kilometers of time trialing and a brutal lineup of mountain stages in the last half of the course, the winner will come from the small list of riders who can handle these disparate disciplines.
Simon Yates – Spencers bet for the Giro
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #