8 talking points from a thrilling second ‘week’ of the 2017 Giro d’Italia
With 15 stages of the 2017 Giro d’Italia now complete, just six days remain until the race’s overall winner is crowned in Milan. With the riders now enjoying their third and final rest day, we look back at the second ‘week’ of the Giro d’Italia — stages 10 to 15 — and consider the major themes, moments and performances that stood out.
It’s never taken this long for an Italian to win a stage of a Giro
We’re 15 stages into the Giro d’Italia and still we haven’t an Italian stage winner. That’s not just unusual, it’s literally unprecedented. In 100 editions of the Giro d’Italia, it’s never taken this long to find a local stage winner. And it’s not particularly close either — the next-longest drought is a tie between 2012 and 1973 when it took just six stages to find an Italian winner (Paolo Tiralongo and Gianni Motta, respectively).
The Italians have certainly gone close at this year’s race: Roberto Ferrari (UAE Team Emirates) was second on stage 2, Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina) was second on stage 5 and stage 12, and Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) was second on stage 8. But that first win has proved elusive for the 43 Italians that started the race (22% of the field. Spain has the next most with 9%).
So who’s the best chance of ending the record-breaking drought? Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) seems a good chance in the final week, so too does Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale). But perhaps the best chance lies with one of the many riders that could get themselves in a breakaway on one of the five remaining mountain stages.
Of course, its very possible that we reach the end of the Giro without an Italian winner. It would be a remarkable result, but certainly not an ideal one for Italian cycling in what is the 100th edition of the country’s biggest race.
It’s hard not to feel for Tejay Van Garderen
Its easy to make fun of Tejay van Garderen (BMC), a rider who showed so much promise with two fifth-place finishes at the Tour de France but who, for whatever reason, has struggled at Grand Tours since. Van Garderen threw everything at this year’s Giro — he prepared well, he had some promising form coming into the race — but it just hasn’t come together.
Van Garderen was a promising 15th on the first summit finish to Mt Etna, with the same time as the other GC favourites, but it all started unravelling a few days later. The American’s GC dreams ended on stage 9 when he lost nearly four minutes to stage winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar). A day later, in the individual time trial, he finished 43rd, dropping another 90 seconds to Quintana and more than four minutes to Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). And then on stage 11 things got even worse, the 28-year-old losing nearly 20 minutes.
All told, Van Garderen now sits 32nd overall, 34:13 off the pace. It’s hard to know exactly what’s gone wrong for the American and indeed he himself is at a loss to explain it.
“Right now, my body is just kind of failing,” he told VeloNews. “I don’t know why.
“I just want to get my career back on track. I don’t know what I’ll do after the Giro. But any race I go to, see it as an opportunity to do that.”
Fernando Gaviria is the best sprinter in the world at the moment
Coming into the second week of the Giro, Fernando Gaviria (QuickStep Floors) already had two stage wins to his name. It would have been a thoroughly successful race had he quit then and there. But instead the Colombian continued on his merry way.
Gaviria won stage 12 with apparent ease, before backing it up 24 hours later with the best of his four stage wins. The 22-year-old came from a long way back, threading his way through the field before sliding up the right-hand side and dashing to victory. He had a little bit of assistance from a Maximilian Richeze shoulder-bump that kept Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) out of contention (see video below), but still, Gaviria rode the final to perfection.
Gaviria is the first Colombian to win four stages at the Giro d’Italia, and all in what is his debut Grand Tour. He’s also just the second rider to have won four Giro stages by age 22 (the other being Damiano Cuengo in 2004).
Despite all this, Gaviria isn’t done. He’s worn the maglia ciclamino (purple jersey) of points classification leader since stage 5 and currently has a commanding lead in that competition (he’s on 325 points while his closest rival, Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) is on 192). While most of the other sprinters have already headed home, Gaviria seems keen to ride through to Milan, if his ride in the break on stage 15 (for intermediate sprint points) is anything to go by.
If he makes it to Milan he’ll win the points classification. And after four stage wins, that’s just a bonus.
There have been promising signs for some of the second-tier sprinters
While Gaviria has been king of the sprints at this year’s Giro, it’s been heartening to see the development of some of the other sprinters in the race too. Caleb Ewan got the stage win he was after, and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina) have been impressive as well.
Twenty-three-year-old Mareczko has taken bags of victories at lower-level races but is yet to snag a big win at the WorldTour level. But at this year’s Giro — his second — he’s gone close, finishing second behind Gaviria on two occasions, both with well-timed late surges.
Sam Bennett has been frustrated not to take a win, but he too has gone very close. After snagging his first WorldTour win at Paris-Nice earlier this year, Bennett’s results at the Giro include three third places, and a second. His time will come.
At 22, Phil Bauhaus (Sunweb) has been impressive too. He’s got a fourth and fifth in his debut Grand Tour and shows promising signs of future improvement.
Bob Jungels continues to develop as a solid GC prospect
We tend to think of Bob Jungels (QuickStep Floors) as more of a time-trialist, but the Luxembourg national champion has shown in the past 12 months that he could have what it takes as a Grand Tour GC contender in the years to come. He led the Giro for three days last year then improved on that to wear pink for five stages this year. He’s now the proud custodian of the best young rider jersey, and has been for 11 days so far. He might struggle to keep it all the way to Milan — Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) is just 2:25 behind — but it’s the future that’s most exciting for Jungels.
His climbing is getting better, his time trialling is still terrific — he was third on stage 10 — and on stage 15 he showed that he’s a genuine contender on the medium mountain stages. Jungels attacked twice in the final kilometres and still had enough to outsprint the GC favourites to take his first WorldTour victory. (What’s going on with his elbows, though?)
— CyclingHub (@CyclingHubTV) May 21, 2017
It will be fascinating to see how Jungels goes in the high mountains of the third week and whether he can maintain (or even improve on) his eighth overall. Worth noting: Jungels was eighth coming into stage 16 of last year’s Giro too and he ended up sixth.
Either way, at just 24, Bob Jungels still has plenty of time to develop and prove himself as a genuine Grand Tour GC contender.
Omar Fraile’s stage 11 win was one of the rides of the Giro so far
Tough, tenacious bike racing has always been enjoyable to watch. That’s particularly the case in this era of power meters when many riders tend to ride according to their known physiological bounds rather than “feel”. It was for this reason that Omar Fraile’s win on stage 11 stood out so much.
On a lumpy day in central Italy, the Spaniard got in the big breakaway then got clear with just Mikel Landa (Sky) for company. They were eventually caught, but Fraile somehow had enough left in the tank to bridge to an aggressive Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) on the final climb in what would be the winning move. It was a group of four that reached the finish — Fraile, Rolland, Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) and Tanel Kangert (Astana) — and despite being on the attack for most of the day, Fraile found a way to sprint to an impressive victory.
It was one of the most exciting stages of the race. There were attacks in the break, attacks from the GC favourites in the peloton behind, and in the end the four leaders only just managed to hold off the chasers behind. Fraile’s win, his first at WorldTour level, was great reward for a job well done and provided a terrific spectacle for all who saw it.
Tom Dumoulin is the real deal
For a few years now, Tom Dumoulin has been knocking on the door of a Grand Tour victory. He was just a couple days short of winning the 2015 Vuelta a España, he showed very good signs at last year’s Giro, and this year, the Dutchman has taken another big step forward.
He went to altitude to prepare specifically for the Giro — a first for him — and it appears to have paid dividends thus far. He was monstrous in the stage 10 ITT, winning by nearly a minute and moving into the overall lead. In some ways that could have been predicted — he’s always been incredible against the clock — but its with his climbing that the 26-year-old appears to have made the biggest improvement.
He was sixth on the first summit finish (stage 4), third on the second summit finish (stage 9), then won on the uphill finish to stage 14, extending his overall lead (see video above). That stage 14 win was a true masterclass — he was dropped initially by Quintana, but got settled in to time-trial mode, reeled in the Colombian and then, with 300m to go, managed to drop him. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) was the only climber able to stay with Dumoulin to the top, and even then Dumoulin beat him the final sprint.
It’s hard not to see Dumoulin winning a Grand Tour in the next couple years. Indeed, all going well, he shouldn’t have to wait more than a few days …
The race isn’t over
On paper, you’d have to say that Dumoulin is the favourite to win the Giro from here. He’s 2:41 ahead of Quintana, 3:21 ahead of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and 3:40 of Nibali. Crucially, it’s likely that Dumoulin will put big chunks of time into his rivals on the final-stage time trial as well, giving him a sizeable buffer to play with.
But it’s certainly not over yet. As Dumoulin himself admits, stage 14 suited him perfectly and the remaining days won’t be so easy.
“Like I said beforehand, this is a stage normally that really suits me: easy all day and then full gas on the last climb, which is something I can do very well,” Dumoulin said about stage 14. “It will be very different in the third week. Yes, it’s really nice to have a time trial victory. Yes, it’s really nice to have a win in Oropa now. But the third week will be very different.”
That third week is full of big mountain stages where Dumoulin will almost certainly come under heavy fire from his rivals. To win the Giro, Quintana or Nibali will probably need to attack from a long way out on a stage or two, a la Alberto Contador, and try to take lots of time wherever possible. Tuesday’s stage 16, with three big, hard climbs —
the Mortirolo, then the Stelvio from both sides — might be the perfect venue.
It’s worth keeping in mind that with 40km remaining in stage 15, a medium mountain stage, Dumoulin had just two teammates left to support him (Laurens ten Dam and Simon Geschke). If Quintana and Nibali can isolate Dumoulin in the high mountains, he might still prove vulnerable.
There are other factors, too, that mean the race isn’t yet over. Quintana and Nibali both tend to improve in the third week of Grand Tours, while Dumoulin hasn’t shown such resolve. The Dutchman was leading into the final mountain stage of the 2015 Vuelta a España but cracked on the stage and lost four minutes to his rivals, eventually finishing in sixth overall.
“For sure, I learned a lesson there: A Grand Tour is never over until the last day,” Dumoulin said of the 2015 Vuelta. “I just did not have the legs on the last day. I knew that could happen and looking at the third week [of the 2017 Giro], I know it could happen again, especially because we have not even done half of the climbing kilometres.
“The Giro is really just halfway. It will be a big fight in the last week. Quintana and Nibali have proven to be very strong in the third week. I still have to prove that.”
While Dumoulin seems to be climbing better than he ever has, it remains to be seen how he will handle the rigours of the third week. He can afford to lose some time, but will be in bad shape if he loses four minutes on one stage, like he did in 2015.
However it turns out, the next few days will make for exciting viewing. Let’s just hope that we don’t see any big, race-altering crashes like we did with Steven Kruijswijk last year, and on stage 9 of this year’s race …
What will you take away from the second week of the 2017 Giro d’Italia? What are you looking forward to most in the final week?