The Inner Ring | The Moment The Giro Was Won

    Was there a winning moment? Often this can mean a breakthrough, a coup. Not this time. Tadej Pogačar was never in trouble even if Jhonathan Narváez and Max Schachmann got the better of him on the opening stage.

    The next day to Oropa would define the three weeks. Pogačar crashed at the foot of the climb, recovered and rode past the field. Once Rafał Majka pulled over Pogačar launched and he was away. Anyone who tried to follow paid, in this case Ben O’Connor got his wings burnt while Daniel Martinez and Geraint Thomas came in second and third half a minute down.

    The chart shows the general classification of the final six riders relative to Pogačar. He was never in trouble, the lines of all his rivals bend away, notably on Stage 7’s Perugia time trial, Stage 15 to Livigno and Stage 20 over Monte Grappa. For all the domination by Pogačar and the biggest winning margin in a grand tour this century, his was the story of addition rather than audacity. He never needed a Cuneo-Pinerolo or a Pau-Mourenx because he just kept building his lead.

    Ideally there would have been a revolt among the beaten but who wanted to turn the tables, and who could? While Pogačar’s pink passeggiata continued the lack of movement between the other contenders, their lines above are almost parallel. Just a small crossing between Thomas and Martinez after the Lake Garda TT. You can also see just how the opening weekend left Tiberi and Arensman adrift.

    At times it was like reading two books on the go. One a colourful manga where Pink Pogi does as he pleases, tufts poking out of his helmet like a Slovenian Sakamuchi. The other an allegory of Dante’s Inferno where characters are confronted with forces more powerful than themselves and struggle on. The side steps of the podium are hardly the first circle of hell but to reach them was often a tale of stoicism.

    Pogačar was never in trouble, at one point the greatest threat to his spell in pink were the commissaires and the brief unexplained storm-in-an-espresso-cup confusion over the colour of his shorts. He also seemed bored in the early post-stage interviews but with time, when these things normally get more boring, the cherubic charm returned.

    The sprints ended as a duopoly thanks to Tim Merlier’s win in Rome, he and Jonathan Milan each finished with three stages. The contest was lively thanks to the variety of finishes, particular in the opening week where late climbs added spice. Just as many cobbled classics are merging into one type of event, there’s a hypothesis the grand tours are coalescing around the same model too, a Vuelta-fication where we see fewer sprints and if they have to happen then the local topography is exploited as best can be.

    Milan took the ciclamino points competition for the second year in a row but as a changed rider and now hot property. Milan looks like one of the most exciting sprinters with his beefy style and ability to go long. Merlier clears the Alps in a grand tour for the first time so satisfaction for both but neither are due to ride the Tour de France so a sprint royale is a while away. Just as the GC battle had absentees so did the sprints with Olav Kooij, Biniam Girmay and Fabio Jakobsen among the exits, with Kooij a winner before leaving.

    Six stages for Pogačar, three each for Milan and Merlier meant little left for all the rest. Several times we saw the breakaway in with a chance only to come up short, notably when teams that had missed the move rode it down only to be unable to win once they’d brought things back. It wasn’t just Movistar and DSM Firmenich mid-race. Benjamin Thomas’s crafty win in Lucca happened thanks to Alpecin-Deceuninck rinsing the sprint trains, and themselves, in the Cinque Terre hills to give the break a better chance.

    The other breakaway wins often ended a good day’s sport. Andrea Vendrame and Julian Alaphilippe both found winning ways again, but as a different version of themselves by going long-range. Pelayo Sanchez, Valentin Paret-Peintre and Georg Steinhauser all took breakthrough wins, and Sanchez getting the better of Alaphilippe in Rapolano takes on a new light after the Spaniard’s other placings in the third week.

    Filippo Ganna’s stage win was a big moment for him, a homecoming for someone often ejected from the hot seat. In the mix for other stages too he was useful for Ineos who were arguably the strongest team in the race but Arensman’s opening weekend quickly left them with a one-pronged attack. They still seem like a team happier with defence than offence.

    Another home success came with Antionio Tiberi, he’s become “a man of three weeks” as team manager Enrico Gasparotto said. Crucially he’s written new headlines to displace the old ones and he’s cut a confident figure on TV with his baritone voice. Economically Italian cycling is in the doldrums without a major team but on the road things are looking up, there’s Milan for the sprints and Tiberi will be watching over his shoulder as Giulio Pellizzari is coming up fast.

    The Stelvio could not be raced and the Umbrail replacement did not happen either. After Aosta last year, Livigno witnessed an unspoken rider strike, literally as riders sat in team cars while the mayor of Livigno stood in the rain and nobody can forward to explain. It left onlookers trying to piece together what happened. The incident is already part-forgotten but probably should not be because it will happen again if the extreme weather meetings are not an exchange but a dialogue among the deaf.

    However this year’s weather was a vast improvement on the morose conditions last year, the sun shone for plenty of the race making it often joyful and bright.

    The Verdict
    There are differing views on how entertaining it all is to see the pre-race pick saunter off with the win, and that’s fine as enjoyment isn’t a matter of compulsion or prescription. Pogačar certainly put on a show. He did not have his team ride down rivals so he could snipe wins, he made moves from far out and UAE were valiant but not intimidating. The sprint stages and breakaways provided plenty of sport.

    Legendary bike races often feature a contest that boils down to a duel but Pogačar was unrivalled. Alone in front, never troubled by others in the race, he was getting compared to Coppi, Merckx and Hinault rather than his peers. He is out to write his own story.

    If we lament the lack of a contest during the last three weeks the solution is a little patience. In a month’s time we’ll be back in Italy for the Tour de France. Winning the Giro gives Pogačar a psychological head start but also a physiological challenge. If things go well he will line up with Jonas Vingegaard, Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel and others and aiming to do the double while they all have their ambitions too. We’ll see if he has bitten off more than he can chew.

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