Back breaks, British breaks and bathos | A recap of stages 1-9 of the 2020 Giro d’Italia

Foto Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse

The 2020 Giro d’Italia began with a much weaker field than usual, but two of Britain’s finest riders – Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates – all set for a serious tilt at victory.

It doesn’t pay to get your hopes up about these things.

The British challenge

The opening time trial represented a magnificent start for Geraint Thomas. Fourth on the day, he put serious time into all his most obvious rivals.

And there British interest in the 2020 Giro d’Italia pretty much ended.

On Stage 3, in the neutral zone, the peloton went over a bumpy road surface at speed, someone’s water bottle popped out of a cage and Thomas hit it. He landed heavily and awkwardly. While he rode on, the damage became apparent on the long climb to Mount Etna and by the end of the day he’d lost 12 minutes.

It turned out he’d broken his pelvis.

Back in 2013, Thomas rode as many as 21 stages out of a 21-stage Grand Tour with a broken pelvis after crashing on day one of the Tour de France. Presumably this experience taught him that there isn’t much to be gained from riding Grand Tours with a broken pelvis.

It was Thomas’s second freakish departure from the Giro. In 2017, a police motorbike rider thought he’d pull over and stand about for a minute as the peloton passed by. The unexpectedly narrowed road saw pretty much the entire Sky team taken out with Thomas the most badly hurt.

Stage 3 of this year’s race didn’t go too well for Simon Yates either.

At the time it seemed like a plain old bad day where he simply wasn’t fast enough and lost three minutes.

Foto Gian Mattia D’Alberto – LaPresse

But then later in the week, after Stage 7, Yates started to suffer mild Covid-19 symptoms. The test came back positive and he was duly withdrawn from the race.

Maybe this wasn’t related to his earlier poor form. But maybe it was. (His team were all tested too, incidentally – Yates was the only positive.)

Mount Etna was rather kinder to young Portuguese rider, Joao Almeida. He managed to avoid these sorts of things (and also that old bike racing classic ‘dog in the road’.)

Almeida finished second in the opening time trial so when he finished within seconds of the favourites, he took the race lead.

Almeida’s still in the pink jersey now, but while there are still two further time trials to come, the final week also features rather a lot of mountains. On the evidence of Week 1, he can’t quite match the best on this terrain, so it would be a surprise if he held on for the win.

Get to the chopper

Stage four was most notable for another freak accident.

In the final straight, the helicopter flew too low and blew one of the barriers into the road. Two riders hit it with Italian Luca Wackermann suffering a broken back and nose.

Arnaud Demare won the sprint by about a millimetre from Peter Sagan.

Margins of victory can be incredibly small at this level, which is why it was something of a surprise that the Frenchman should then win Stage 6 by about 10 bike lengths after being 20 riders back going into the final few hundred metres.

Demare won Stage 7 as well for good measure.

Demare seems a popular rider within his team. Speaking after that second victory, team-mate Ignatus Konovalovus (I’ve been struggling to read that surname without hearing the “Mr Lover Lover” bit in Boombastic by Shaggy) said that the FDJ riders are all happy to ride for him (Demare, not Shaggy) whether he’s in form or not.

You don’t always get that kind of loyalty in pro cycling. I think it might be because Demare’s always so gleefully and inclusively happy when he wins.

For example, this is him shouting over the top of all the photographers to a team-mate after Stage 6, the one he won by a country mile.

The Brits are back!

It wasn’t a bad week for every British rider, however.

Alex Dowsett is a likeable sort. Sharp and self-deprecating, he is chiefly known for three things.

  1. Being a haemophiliac
  2. Briefly holding the Hour record
  3. Winning Bradley Wiggins’ time trial in the 2013 Giro

Dowsett is not what you’d call a regular winner, having not won a road stage in nine years.

On Stage 8, he got in the break, stayed away from the peloton and then binned his rivals with 18km to go, riding alone to the finish.

He also had to ride around a dog in the closing metres.

It’s turning into a big Giro for dogs in the road.

It was a timely victory for Dowsett given he has a baby on the way and no contract for next year.

A quiet week racing-wise

For the majority of the week, the top ten had been largely shaped by the time trial and the British implosion on Mount Etna on Stage 3. This seemed set to change with Stage 9 and a summit finish.

But it didn’t really.

The favourites (and ‘favourites’ in this race is quite a nebulous thing which still hasn’t really been properly defined) finally split apart with all of 400m to go.

The fastest three were occasional-Grand-Tour-top-tenner Wilco Kelderman; an Aussie bloke called Jai Hindley who I don’t really know; and Tour of Lombardy winner, Jakob Fuglsang, who is beginning to look like he might be the man to beat.

Three seconds behind them were the Bora-Hansgrohe pair of Rafal Majka and Patrick Konrad; then our old friend Domenico Pozzovivo, who will surely be time-trialled into irrelevance as this race wears on; and then Vincenzo Nibali, the only participant to have previously won this race.

The gaps were small, but may hint at what’s to come.

Here are the standings on the first rest day anyway. Note that Pello Bilbao also rode the Tour de France and so must surely collapse in a heap at some point soon.

So what IS to come?

The middle week of the Giro is actually quite… hmm, easy isn’t quite the word. The middle week of the Giro is not especially mountainous.

There are some steep bits during the week – and you never really know how they’re going to race these hilly stages – but the obvious challenges come at the weekend with another time trial on Saturday and a big mountain stage with a summit finish on Sunday.

The final week is then pretty much relentless general classification action. Even the ‘off’ day for the overall contenders is 253km long. It’s largely mountains but they finish with a time trial on the Sunday.

I’m not going to do a Giro recap next week. I’ll just do the whole of the second half of the race the week after.

I will however try and get something up on the site about the big one-day races that have been taking place over the last month or so. The Tour of Flanders will be the last of those this coming Sunday (if it happens).

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