The Giro comes alive!
After two weeks of uninspiring but completely expected GC stalemate, this year’s battle for the pink jersey finally erupted on the rain-soaked slopes of Monte Bondone today, as Geraint Thomas and João Almeida kicked off the Giro’s decisive week in the mountains by landing a strong, if not killer, blow on pre-race favourite Primož Roglič.
After a dominant showing from his UAE Team Emirates on the long, tough slog to the finish – including, conspiracy theorists will note, from the reportedly disgruntled stage hunter-turned-gregario Jay Vine – Almeida pushed on the pace himself before launching a concerted dig with six kilometres to go.
Deemed a follower, a steady if unspectacular figure near the front of grand tours since his breakthrough at the 2020 Giro, the 24-year-old Portuguese pretender suddenly turned courageous attacker, bending the race to his will and putting his rivals for the pink jersey – Thomas, Roglič, and now, the sensationally dogged Eddie Dunbar – under serious pressure.
As Almeida’s refurbished diesel engine found another gear up ahead, Thomas, two days shy of his 37th birthday and with years of Giro near misses under his belt, sensed the danger, bridging up to the UAE Team Emirates rider and heading straight to the front, playing like a thoroughly convincing 2018 tribute act.
As the two leaders – so similar in their rouleur-climber builds – forged ahead, Sep Kuss did his best to limit the losses for Roglič, who seemed to lack his characteristic zip in the rain. The Slovenian would nip past Dunbar, putting in a breakthrough ride at the head of a grad tour, for the bonus seconds at the finish, but the important seconds were already up the road.
Almeida would take the stage, Thomas the pink jersey, Bruno Armirail’s brave stint in the race lead finally over. Both, meanwhile, would most importantly put a decent chunk of time into Roglič, who now sits in third, 29 seconds behind the Ineos leader and 11 behind the white jersey Almeida.
The Slovenian may be reeling from the first heavy blow of this Giro, over two weeks in, but the experienced Thomas – now shorn of one of his key domestiques, Pavel Sivakov, who abandoned earlier in the day after seeming to have inherited his leader’s penchant for bad luck in Italy – knows all too well that haymakers can come thick and fast in the race’s final week.
But, as far as opening jabs go, this wasn’t a bad one.