Jai ho! | a recap of Stages 16-21 of the 2022 Giro d’Italia

Foto Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse

To do a recap before we get into the recap, the middle week of the 2022 Giro d’Italia had seen five contenders become four after Romain Bardet vomited his way out of the race. They were Richard Carapaz in pink, Jai Hindley 7s behind him, Joao Almeida at 30s and Mikel Landa at 59s. Other riders weren’t totally out of it, but this very much felt like our main cast.

The Queen Stage

Foto Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse

Stage 16 was 202km long with over 5,000m of vertical gain. A large proportion of it seemed to take place on the kinds of gradients that bring even pro riders down to walking pace.

It was won by the appropriately-named Jan Hirt from a break that also featured Alejandro Valverde and Hugh Carthy – two men who’d have hoped to have still been vying for a podium position. While it felt throughout the stage like anything could happen with the riders who actually were still in overall contention, ultimately Carapaz, Hindley and Landa finished together – albeit Hindley secured a whopping 4s of time bonuses to narrow the narrow gap between the top two further.

Almeida finished 14s later, which is exactly how it always seems to go for the Portuguese rider on big mountain days. An attack comes, he gets distanced, he gradually inches back, another attack comes, he finishes 14s adrift.

And then there were three

A day later, it was a slightly different story though as Almeida ceded a full minute to the other three. Probably not coincidentally, he then tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of Stage 18 and abandoned.

Simon Yates chucked it in as well and in so doing created a bizarre performance sandwich. He lost minutes in the first week because of a knee injury, abandoned in the third week because of the same knee injury and yet won a mountain stage in the middle week.

Stage 18 was the final opportunity for the sprinters and the first since Stage 13. It must therefore have been a little bit irritating for them that they failed to engineer a sprint finish.

LaPresse

Imagine that: over 800km of riding over any number of mountain passes so that you can be there for one 10-second effort – and then four breakaway riders finish 14s ahead of you and make the whole undertaking a complete waste of time. Dries de Bondt was the fastest spoilsport.

“At some point we started to ride slow to be able to accelerate towards the end,” he revealed about the tactics employed by himself and his three temporary team-mates from rival teams. “Our guess on the reactions of the peloton was right. We conserved as much energy as possible and approached the finale with the gap we wanted to go full to the line.

“I have a lot of respect for my three breakaway companions because none of us missed a turn today. Nobody gambled and I was the fastest.”

The final mountain

Stage 19 again saw Carapaz, Hindley and Landa finish on the same time, meaning that as the final mountain stage of the race got underway, the Ecuadorian had just a three second advantage over the Australian. (I wrongly labelled Carapaz Colombian last week. This is apparently a mistake I now make annually because I have memories of correcting it last year as well.)

Stage 20 was more clear cut. With around 4km to go to the finish line at the summit, Hindley accelerated and prised himself and Carapaz free from Landa and a couple of other hangers-on. The two favourites then caught up with Hindley’s German team-mate, Lennard Kamna, who’d been out in the break. As Kamna led the way, the gap between Hindley’s rear wheel and Carapaz’s front wheel started looking a few inches too large.

It was one of those perfectly calibrated moments; the exact speed at which the 2022 Giro d’Italia would switch from ‘nothing happening’ to ‘decided’. Carapaz was writhing on his bike and visibly giving his all, but no matter how tiny that gap was, it simply wouldn’t disappear. The implication was clear. Just a single watt more through Hindley’s pedals and it would start to grow.

Hindley put another watt through his pedals. And then a bunch more for good measure.

By the finish, he had 1m28s on Carapaz and the final day time trial was really just a formality. Jai ho!

What’s next?

The Tour de France really. It starts in Denmark on July 1.

Two week-long stage races in the middle of June will give us a bit of a sighter ahead of that – the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse. I won’t do anything on them specifically, but they’ll inform my race preview. Sign up here to get that (and all the recaps) by email.