and joy but mostly rain.
A wet three weeks of racing in Italy, with a bit of sunny Switzerland, saw the first Grand Tour of the season won by just 14 seconds on the last day of GC racing, with steady Eddie Geraint Thomas just missing out.
It started with Remco Evenepoel smashing the field in the first day time trial. He looked pretty much invincible at that point, it was seen as a head to head between him and Primoz Roglic, who was now already 43 seconds down tough only 6th. Thomas was a little disappointed losing nearly a minute after losing his legs on the final climb. But Tao Geoghegan Hart put in an excellent TT for 4th.
G and Hart would lose a handful of seconds as Evenepoel strengthened his grip on top spot while the Portuguese youngster João Almeida moved up to 2nd, after finishing 3rd with his TT. Roglic was now 3rd. But that all didn’t last, as a breakaway was allowed to get away with enough of a time gap for the first two riders on stage 4 to move up into the top 3. With Norwegian Andreas Leknessund taking the pink jersey.
Things stayed pretty much the same, just Leknessund losing some time, until the second of this year’s three TTs. Evenepoel had lost some time to his rivals on the previous stage, not looking quite so invincible, he’d also been involved in a couple of crashes. The Belgian would win the following day TT but this time only by a second from Thomas and 2 seconds from Hart. Again Roglic was 6th, with Almeida losing over half a minute Thomas was up to 2nd and Hart to 4th.
Two days later and Thomas was wearing pink. It wasn’t those crashes that had done for Evenepoel but the return of Covid pullouts, that saw him leave on the first rest day. There was now 5 seconds separating the top 3.
And so it stayed until stage until stage 11 saw Thomas, Roglic and Hart involved on a downhill crash, which resulted in the Englishman leaving the race with a broken hip. Coming off his overall victory in the Tour of the Alps he was probably looking as good as he had since winning this race in 2020.
Things stayed the same until stage 14, when in some of the worst weather you’ve seen saw a big breakaway get a big gap. Bruno Armirail was in the second group but was so far ahead of the peloton that when it ambled across the line he had the pink jersey by over 1 minute 40 seconds. He would lose time on the next stage and on the day after the second rest day, G was back in pink.
This time though with a greater lead, from 2 seconds to 18 and it was Almeida in second as both he and G left Roglic on the final climb. The Portuguese winning the stage with G finishing second. G was looking comfortable. His main rivals were having up days and down days, he was staying steady always there with the rider on the up.
With just two days to go of GC racing, G increased the gap as Almeida had another down day, on the Welshman’s birthday. Again when Roglic attacked G was there right on his wheel as they crossed the line together. The follow day though G lose for the first time. He went on the final climb and had a gap over Roglic, the only other rider who could match him, but in the final few hundred metres the Slovenian not only clawed his way back but passed G and put time into him. It was only 3 seconds but before that Roglic looked done and it looked like G’s race.
It was down to the last time trial. A hellish climb and 26 seconds in it. G had looked good on the previous two TTs, though had lost a bit on the climb in the first one. While Roglic hadn’t looked like Roglic in them. All the talk of Roglic and the final stage TT in the 2020 Tour de France. All talk of redemption, as if he hadn’t won two of his three Vueltas since then.
From the off Roglic just looked quicker. The style the cadence all the factors different from G but while G just looked slow, Roglic didn’t. Even the bike changeover for the uphill section there was such a visible difference, with G changing his helmet as well it looked markedly slower. Then Roglic his a pothole and his chain bounced out. But with the phlegmatic, calm manner he nearly always shows, he pushed the mechanic with a new bike out of the way and spun his chain back on and was off.
The on course clock was show a big gap between the last two on the course. And when G crossed the line unzipped it was 40 seconds on the day and just 14 seconds overall.
Yes you’re happy for Roglic, who showed what it meant with a visceral shout of joy as the pink jersey crossed the line. But poor G. He had a couple of down moments in a race that’s usually left him on the floor. For all the talk of Roglic and that 2020 TT, Thomas had his daemons to overcome on this race and was doing it so well. As he said himself at least Roglic smashed it and he didn’t lose by a couple of seconds. If he’d lost it by those seconds he lost on stage 19 that would have been worse.
It was a hell of a ride by a rider who many had written off.
There was just one postscript to the tale. The final stage, a procession around Rome with a last chance to pick up a stage victory. Mark Cavendish announced this was going to be his final season of racing, on the second rest day. This was his 7th Giro, he’d won at least one stage in the previous six. 16 stage wins in total. But he hadn’t one here. He’d been close. A third on stage 11 when he was looking good but probably went a bit early and was caught. He slid over the line in 5th – later upgraded to 4th – on stage 5.
But with not long to go on the Roman circuit he was down to one team mate, when an old friend appeared, shouted at Luis Leon Sanchez to get on his wheel. They’ve know each other since they were kids and here was second place Geraint Thomas to help his old mate out for one last hurrah. After G departed Cav latched onto Milan, he looked like the rider to follow. He’s huge and looked the fastest of all at this race, until in true Cav fashion he saw someone else go and shot over to Gaviria’s tail.
Leaving a gap he could fly into, he then flew past the Colombian to finish by a country mile for a sprint finish. There was hugs all round but especially for his mate, G.
It almost overshadowed Roglic winning his first Giro.