Tadej, tomorrow and for the rest of the race? | a recap of Stages 1-9 of the 2024 Giro d’Italia

No plot twists so far. And going by the form of Tadej Pogacar, we may very well never get one.

The opening weekend

This year’s Giro kicked off with a hilly stage and followed that up with the first summit finish. This meant that by the time we hit the working week, Tadej Pogacar already had a 45s advantage over second-placed Geraint Thomas, while familiar names and wannabe contenders such as Romain Bardet, Thymen Arensman and Nairo Quintana were two, four and six minutes back respectively.

So it goes.

Pogacar was third out of the three-man front group he’d created on Stage 1. He put that right on Stage 2. Team-mate Rafal Majka stretched everyone out on the final climb and when he burnt through his last molecule of energy with 4.5km to go, all Pog had to do was be the strongest rider in the race – which of course he is.

He duly crossed the line in successfully lonely fashion.

It’s a faintly odd thing to say about a rider who hasn’t won a Grand Tour for almost three years, but a Pogacar victory is the tension-free derivative tale we’re being presented with here and it’s up to the route, weather and riders to deliver some plot twists.

But the simple fact is that Jonas Vingegaard is the only rider to have shown much capacity to beat Pogacar in a three-week race and he isn’t here. (He is in fact injured and may not even make the Tour de France. What that would do for Pogacar’s chances in that race is a topic we can perhaps return to some other time.)

Ahead of this Giro, Pogacar had undertaken 10 days of racing and he’d crossed the line first on six of those occasions.

That’s what everyone’s up against here.

White gravel roads

One of those victories came in Strade Bianche. After a trio of sprint-ish stages that were largely inconsequential for the general classification, a pared-back version of this is what the riders faced on Stage 6.

Maybe it was too pared-back, or maybe the knowledge that there were still 15 stages to go put him off, but Pogacar for some reason declined the opportunity to ride 81km alone, all the way to the finish, this time around.

It was a different story in the time trial – although you’re kind of obliged to ride those solo.

The time trial

The first time trial of this race was one of those courses where you batter along on the flat for 30-odd kilometres, but then finish with a 6km climb. The big guys try to get a head start. The little guys try to catch up. The medium guys split the difference.

Filippo Ganna is a big guy. He overtook a faintly ludicrous number of riders while setting a time that only Pogacar would beat.

Ganna won the flat part of the stage, but the uphill bit was another matter. Only three riders were within a minute of the race leader, none of whom are credible contenders for the overall.

The nastier mountain stage

While the first nine days of racing climaxed with the longest stage of the race, it was contested over unchallenging terrain. Stage 8, a day earlier, was the bigger challenge: another summit finish, but this time with a greater volume of uphill before it.

Pogacar entered the stage with a 2m36s advantage over Daniel Martinez in second and 2m46s on Geraint Thomas in third. He beat them both again, but only by a margin where you felt he hadn’t really been properly going for it.

The end result was that he entered the first rest day with only those two riders within three minutes of him, 2m40s and 2m58s behind respectively.

What’s next

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Race-wise, we kick off with a long, steady summit finish on Tuesday. Sprint stages then sandwich a slightly bobblier affair on Thursday.

The weekend brings more serious racing: the second time trial – a twisting, flat 30km affair – and then a crushingly huge stage to Livigno in the Alps on Sunday. That one’s 220km with over 5,000m of vertical gain – the most they’ll face in a single day.

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