The Final Giro Rant: A very exciting Giro d’Italia finished on Sunday in Milano with a decisive time trial, although the Italian Grand Tour was probably won in the mountains on the previous days with battles between eventual winner, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Jai Hindley and Wilco Kelderman. But there was much more to the final week. Ed Hood takes up the story.
A well worked for Giro win
I was looking at a close up picture of Tratnik’s victory salute and couldn’t help but notice the amount of cabling under the front of his jersey. Perhaps, he, Roglič and Pogačar are the creation of a ‘Skynet’ type organisation – the intelligent machines which built The Terminator – deep inside a Slovenian mountain, with the goal of world cycling domination? They’re making a damn good job of it I must say.
Radio controlled Tratnik?
Tratnik in the Giro and Roglič in the Vuelta adding to the little nation’s burgeoning list of World Tour successes. Roglič is ranked number one in the world with 4,820 points, Pogačar is second on 3,970 with Wout Van Aert a distant third on 2,700 points. Whilst Slovenia tops the national rankings on 10,437 points from France on 9,261.
It was always going to be a ‘breakaway’ day – too hard for the sprinters and ‘The Bigs’ minds were on Stage 17 and that Madonna di Campiglio final – coming as it does after two first and third Cat. climbs. Last week we said that Almeida ‘going all the way,’ would mean passing four tests, tomorrow being the second – he achieved a narrow ‘pass’ at the first, that was Piancavallo stage before the rest day – but the questions are harder tomorrow.
A cheeky little attack form Almeida at the end of stage 16
However the young Conquistador showed yet again his grinta and panache with a late attack to steal some seconds from his adversaries. As Dave says; ‘if he goes down, it won’t be without a fight.’ His successes contribute to Deceuninck – Quick-Step ranking number one in the world on 8,692 points from UAE Team Emirates on 8,086 and Jumbo-Visma on 7992 points. That’s enough stats for one stage and I have a Vuelta stage to pontificate about now, a domani.
Stage 16 highlights
No disrespect to young Aussie, Ben O’Connor and his much needed morale boosting stage win for NTT – and which sealed the deal for him in 2021 with a contract with AG2R Citroen – but the story of the day is what’s NOT going to happen on Stage 20. As Giro supremo Mauro Vegni explained; ‘The French authorities have withdrawn the permission for the race to go on their roads due to the new anti-COVID-19 crowd rules. So we can’t climb the Colle dell’Agnello, the Izoard and the climb of Montgenèvre.’
Almeida came through the snow of stage 17
Almeida passed his second exam today and whilst the substituted percorso of three times up Sestriere is no picnic it’s not the Agnello. With the final exam looking like one Young Almeida can pass its all down most likely to tomorrow and his third exam on the mighty Stelvio, Stage 18.
The Stelvio was the end of many dreams
But if there’s a saving grace to the Stelvio it’s the long descent off it before the final ascent to Laghi di Cancano; a coming together is well possible off the summit. Stage 19 is flat, Sestriere on Stage 20; then the final Stage 21 chrono into Milano where, if Almeida needs to make a little time to get into pink again, it’s possible.
A bit of pink amongst the Sunweb
‘All down to the final chrono,’ an organisers dream. Almeida’s lead is slender but he is such a determined young man – and his team will lay down die for him. If he survives tomorrow and/or the deficit is small then he can give Portugal her first Giro win. The battle for the third spot on the virtual podium is also tight, less than one minute covers the gap between third placed Hindley – another young Aussie, at 24 years of age – and 37 year-old Dominico Pozzovivo in eighth spot.
Pozzovivo – Still here
This Giro has been an unusual but entertaining edition, roll on the last four stages. But what of O’Connor – whilst not a ‘Big’ he’s quality, a result I remember was third in the tough u23 ‘shop window’ Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc behind a certain Enric Mas and Tao Geoghegan Hart. That was a key result in his start with NTT for whom he’s ridden since 2017 – with best results of stage wins in the Tours of Austria, and The Alps.
With the NTT team’s, ‘jacket on a slack nail’ as they say in the building trade, his win comes at a very opportune time in his career and he hops aboard the AG2R Citroen bus for next year. Always good to see a young man, ‘do the biz.’
Stage 17 highlights
The dream is over, the mighty Stelvio saw to that, as our hero failed that vital third exam.
The man himself was pragmatic; “Today was very hard. Others were stronger, I’m not yet at their level yet and there wasn’t too much I could do about it. I was pretty much on the limit halfway up the climb, so the only thing I could do was ride at my own pace. On the other hand, being in pink on the Stelvio was really special, despite losing first place on the GC. It was also every emotional, as my family and a couple of Portuguese fans were at the top cheering for me. I am a bit sad not having this iconic jersey anymore after more than two weeks, but at the same time happy of what I achieved and proud that I had such a great team by my side, which helped me live the pink dream. I don’t know what this race still holds for me until Milan, but I’m ready to do my best.”
The last throw of the dice for Almeida
The events on the Stelvio today tee things up for a very exciting finalé. Tomorrow’s marathon is for Démare. But Saturday sees three ascents to Sestriere where Kelderman, Hart and Hindley will surely clash again with just 15 seconds covering the three protagonisti. And it could all come down to the last chrono – just what an organiser dreams of. I wish I was there. . .
The ‘New Wave’ – Geoghegan Hart and Hindley
The ‘New Wave’ march on with Hindley just 24 years-old and Hart 25 years-old whilst Kelderman is hardly pensionable at 29 years-of age. But it was another bad day for the ‘old guard’ with Pozzovivo (37) and Majka (31 and a pro for a decade) both dropping four places on GC and ‘The Shark’ (35 – but are Elasmobranch years the same as human years?) dropping one spot on a stage where in the past, he would have excelled. Father Time is a merciless old chap, as I have discovered, to my cost.
Stage 18 highlights
Respect to Mr.Josef Černý stage winner, who had this to say after his win from the breakaway; “I still cannot believe it but it is a really nice feeling. I didn’t believe it until I was about 500 meters to go. I still had about 25-30 seconds in the last ten kilometres but it was a full headwind. I thought I could I could do it and I was pushing hard and now I’m here after crossing first in the finish line. It’s unbelievable. I cannot describe it, it was just incredible. I try so much and today, I have achieved my dream. I am really happy for my team, my family, and my girlfriend.” Chapeau sir!
A big win for Josef Černý, but too late for CCC
Sadly, the report is shortened due to this journo’s refusal to report on club runs.
The words of Canadian super-sprinter, Mr. Gord. Fraser hit the nail on the head for me; “I’ve been wondering where I’d offer my .02 (whatever that’s worth). I’m happy for the riders. That they came to a somewhat of a unified stance. My only reservation is picking the battle most important to wage and that’s not reducing a long monotonous dumb flat stage at the end of a hard stage race. We can debate when such action would be suitable. IMO, striking at the largest race of them all to get a slice of the enormous TV revenue and better team’s longevity and working conditions comes to mind. Again, happy the riders see they can promote change but… make it for something bigger!”
It’s all down to the last time test, a race to the end, not some procession with a sprint at the end. Mano-a-mano, ‘New Wave’ riders with the favourites either back home or well off the pace. I thought I’d take a look back at our preview and see how we shaped up – I know, ‘badly’ is the answer. But here goes:
AG2R-La Mondiale were aggressive but. . .
Androni, the same story but on a much lower wage bill.
Tratnik saved Bahrain-McLaren’s Giro with his stage win – another of those Slovenians.
Tratnik was Bahrain-McLaren’s high point
Astana, ‘Superman’ Lopez didn’t finish the first stage, Fuglsang flopped and Vlasoz vanished but has popped up in the Vuelta.
Bardiani made the breaks but it’s tough for a team at their level against the big bucks teams.
BORA-hansgrohe’s race was saved by Sagan’s epic, but Majka’s GC challenge was a damp squib.
CCC were saved by big Josef Cerny’s win in the ‘club run’ stage.
Joāo Almeida was one of the revelations on the 2020 Giro
Deceuninck – Quick-Step had Almeida in pink for a remarkable 15 days with a certain top five finish now confirmed for the young Portuguese and despite their huge workload for the maglia rosa, Fausto Masnada and James Knox are in ninth and fourteenth positions.
EF’s Giro was a success, two stage wins courtesy Jonathan Caicedo and Ruben Gurreiro, not to mention the climber’s jersey for the latter.
FDJ had a great Giro too, courtesy Demare, his four stage wins and the points jersey.
Alex Dowsett made it a good Giro for Israel with a brilliantly taken solo win.
First stage win for Israel Start-Up Nation
Lotto Soudal saw De Gendt aggressive as ever but no cigars.
Mitchelton-Scott were ‘all for Simon’ but sadly the English joint race favourite with Thomas tested positive for Covid and had to leave the race before it really started.
NTT were rescued by young Aussie Ben O’Connor’s stage win.
Team INEOS-Grenadiers had the proverbial, ‘falling in the canal but emerging smelling of roses’ race. Race favourite Geraint Thomas fell foul of an errant bidon and had to leave the race before it really got into gear. Freed of service to their ‘man’ the team expressed themselves with six stage wins – and counting. Whilst Ganna’s wins against the clock were to be expected Narvaez stage win and Geoghegan Harts two would probably never have happened had Thomas still been in the race. And if Geoghegan Hart rides the right time test he’ll be on the top step in Milano tomorrow – remarkable.
How many stage wins for Ganna?
Jumbo-Visma’s hopes lay with big diesel, Steven Kruijswijk he was another falling foul of the virus.
Sunweb lost puncheur Michael Matthews to a false positive test for the virus but their young Australian, Jai Hindley has been the race revelation with a stage win and he wears the pink jersey going into the final time trial. Wilko Kelderman was back to his best for them too but the high peaks have proved just that little bit too much for him. But two days in pink isn’t so bad.
Kelderman and Hindley wore pink
Trek-Segafredo’s race was all about Vincenzo Nibali but it was a Giro too far for the Sicilian; he’ll never win another Grand Tour.
UAE Team Emirates go home happy, courtesy Ulissi’s two stage wins.
Two wins for Ulissi
Vini Zabù – see Androni and Bardiani.
In summary we had Thomas to win from Yates and Nibali. Oh dear.
Stage 20 highlights
The TT that Geoghegan Hart wasn’t going to loose
There’s only one story in town – we thought you may like to hear what the man in pink had to say to us some seven years ago:
He has a name that’s hard to miss, Tao Geoghegan Hart; with 2013 results to match – two of Europe’s premier junior stage races and a podium in the junior Paris-Roubaix. And for 2014 the 18 year-old from London is off to follow the path trodden by his mentor, Movistar’s Essex chronoman, Alex Dowsett; heading for the USA under the tutelage of Axel Merckx at Bissell – formerly Trek/Bontrager. Merckx has an excellent track record of bringing young talent through – as well as Dowsett there’s Sky’s Joe Dombrowski and Ian Boswell, not to mention BMC’s Taylor Phinney. We caught up with Tao just prior to Xmas…
PEZ: Tell us about your name please; it’s unusual – and how should we pronounce it?
Tao and Geoghegan are Irish, Tao meaning Tom in Irish Gaelic, my dad’s name. It’s pronounced Tayo Gaygan! It’s often spelt in all manner of ways, much to my amusement.
PEZ: How did you get into the bike?
I have always ridden around London for transport and been involved in sport; first football then swimming. I swam an English Channel relay when I was 13 and after that pool swimming started to seem less and less interesting. I guess that’s when a little red women’s racing bike caught my eye. I just got stuck in and explored really. I was very lucky, CC Hackney were starting up around the same time and running some grass track events to get youngsters in to it. Looking back it all just fell into place.
PEZ: Your rise has been rapid – 2011 saw national results; 2012 European results then this year you’ve won at Nations Cup level.
When I started cycling I always felt very behind. I didn’t come from a cycling family like a lot of people and especially on the track; I just didn’t have the experience. But I worked hard and most importantly was lucky enough to go through the British Cycling set up, working with two amazing coaches; Stuart Blunt on the talent team (u16) and then Matthew Winston for two years on the Olympic Development Programme. I couldn’t have asked for anymore in my time with them. I will use what I learned on the BC Programmes for the rest of my life. The actual results themselves just came from progression and starting to ride longer, harder and hillier races that suited me. I turned top 20 Nations cup results in 2012 into wins with experience and my approach as much as with physical improvements. We had a good team too, after Roubaix and Istria the ball really started to roll, everyone’s roles clicked in, and we performed almost every race day, flat or hilly.
Pink and white for Tao Geoghegan Hart
PEZ: Silver in the European Junior Team Pursuit Championships in 2012 – did you consider going down the TP avenue?
Most definitely; I love the team pursuit and fourth in the home Junior Worlds in Glasgow this year was gravely disappointing, even if a great learning experience. The TP is a fascinating event and I really buy in to the team element of it, not to mention the training and ultra-focused feedback that comes from searching for milliseconds per lap on race day. However I didn’t see myself as a rider who could really give to a senior team pursuit team at the pro level. I might be wrong but I simply don’t think I am fast enough. You have to have an incredible turn of speed, and in my current build I don’t think I have that to perform at a world class level, I might be wrong but I guess for now I won’t find out! My heart is on the road, which is why I chose not to pursue the track.
PEZ: Third in the junior Paris-Roubaix, this year – any ‘what ifs?’
Without doubt, I didn’t have much confidence and probably would have thrown it even harder to the wall now than I did on the day. That said, I attacked and attacked but Mads (Dane Mads Pedersen who went on to finish second in the Junior Worlds in Florence, ed.) was simply too strong. I have often thought about that day and what I would do again, so if I can get in a similar scenario you will hopefully see a different outcome! It was a great day though and the regrets are definitely overshadowed by the way in which it got the momentum going for the rest of the season…
PEZ: Tell us about your win in the Tour of Istria – that’s Nations Cup, isn’t it?
Yeah although it’s funny, everything in the Nations cup series is over shadowed by Roubaix! But that makes sense and makes the day on the cobbles all the more special – being ‘attached’ to the pro race in that way. I always say Roubaix and Worlds stand in a class of their own. Croatia was brilliant, I had the form and although the terrain wasn’t mountainous, it was hard enough to split it. The second day is a right corker; finishing up a 500m super steep cobbled climb, I loved that stage in 2012 and came back really looking forward to getting stuck in! It was essentially a bunch sprint so the time gaps weren’t huge, making for interesting racing on the last stage and some sprinting for time bonuses, which luckily I managed to do it.
PEZ: The Giro della Luigiana – tell us about that win.
My first race in Italy, I loved it and the parcours were really great to match. I had just come straight from a solo two week training camp in Nice, forgoing a big race in the UK, as beforehand we had been on the track for eight or nine weeks. I really didn’t know my form and hadn’t raced on the road in months. I went it to it like any other race, looking to perform, but really it was build up for the Worlds. I was very lucky to have joint leadership of the team with another rider going in to the race and I would like to think I showed it was the right call. It was a cool race though; I would really love to race out in Italy again sometime.
PEZ: A broken chain at the Worlds, that must have been sore?
Indeed, not much to learn from that one – but these things happen in racing. I love the unpredictability of it as a fan of the sport so have to accept this kind of thing. It was bitterly disappointing though; the legs were pretty on it.
Tao with the Giro trophy
PEZ: How did the Bissell ride come about?
Axel and I spoke a little through the season and as soon as he said he was interested it was a done deal. I always wanted to join this team and work with Axel, so to get the opportunity is amazing.
PEZ: Were there any other options on the table?
Yes, there were. I always knew I wanted to join Bissell though so it was more a case of seeing if that would work out…
PEZ: You must be looking forward to riding for Axel Merckx?
Very much so, and our other DS Omar Kem, who has a wealth of experience of racing in the States. But yes, working with Axel is an amazing opportunity that I hope to make the most of; he has produced some amazing riders over the last few years and had a huge career himself. You don’t find many better DS’s than that, right? Well, I don’t think so – and I am super excited to get stuck in!
The Best of stage 21
PEZ: Alex Dowsett is your mentor – tell us about how the relationship works.
Alex is a good friend; he’s perfectly placed for me to ask for advice but also simply to just be a mate. I am sure he would love me to say he dishes out the fashion advice and tells me how to be a Spanish mountain goat from his experiences with Movistar – but we just chat about stuff, anything and everything really. I always try to speak to as many guys as possible that I meet on the road though, riders or otherwise. It’s so interesting to meet new people. That said Alex was great about me joining Axel, he had done it himself after all.
PEZ: Your training – SRM and watts or ‘old school’?
Watts but I’m a sucker for a little old school too.
Congratulations from Hannah Barnes, girlfriend of Tao Geoghegan Hart
PEZ: Tell us about your connections with Rapha and Condor.
I worked in Condor when I was 14 years-old for a year or so, however as I started properly racing Saturday mornings became dedicated to that. Grant Young from Condor gave me a bike the next season and it just snowballed over the years into an amazing amount of support this season. Similarly I have been working with Rapha for over three years now, after we made contact at the London Nocturne support race when I was a first year under 16 rider. It has been great to represent two brands from London; they are amazing companies and great people and I’ve loved working with them. I feel an immense sense of loyalty to both Rapha and Condor.
PEZ: Have you received your bike and clothing for 2014, yet?
I have been riding my Madone for a few months already! I love it.
PEZ: Has your programme been discussed, yet?
It’s all in the works at the moment. A big new experience for me coming up from the junior ranks, it’s not something you have to do as such. Where will ‘home’ be for 2014? All over the place – Gerona this winter, California and some other bits and pieces in the season. I really enjoy floating around though – it’s an amazing opportunity to see the world.
Tao suits pink
PEZ: How much slack will you cut yourself over Xmas?
A little, I do a fair bit of riding over Christmas, although this year it’s a bit different coming back to London and seeing everyone, all about balancing it all out this time of year I think.
PEZ: What would you like to have achieved by the end of season 2014?
To step up and ride some big races. Ultimately I would love to be seen as a well-respected and hardworking member of the team, someone who can be relied on to deliver. I will work hard and try to grasp as many opportunities, whether in a support role or indeed personally, to see what happens. It’s all learning but I don’t see that as an excuse not to perform.
Final Giro celebrations
# I believe it’s fair to say that Tao has indeed ‘performed?’ ‘Chapeau!’ from all at PEZ. #