Geraint Thomas takes big step towards Giro d’Italia title with emphatic performance
Geraint Thomas said it was “nice to be back in pink” as he took a big step towards winning this year’s Giro d’Italia with an emphatic performance on stage 16, the first serious mountain stage of the race.
The 2018 Tour de France champion dropped rival Primoz Roglic in thrilling fashion on the final climb to Monte Bondone, crossing the finish line in second place and reclaiming the maglia rosa, the leader’s pink jersey, in the process.
Where one threat recedes, however, another grows. Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) may have shown vulnerability on the final climb to the Trentino ski station, but Portuguese rider Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), who had been sitting third on general classification, showed excellent form of his own to split the lead group with around 6km remaining of the 21km climb.
Almeida, who is only 24 but already has three top 10s at grand tours, then hung on to Thomas’s wheel after the Ineos Grenadiers rider, in Almeida’s words, “came like a rocket” up to him. Together the pair rode to the finish, with Almeida coming around Thomas in the final 100 metres to win the sprint to the line.
Almeida’s victory not only deprived Thomas of a first-ever stage win at the Giro d’Italia, it also meant the Portuguese took 10 bonus seconds on the line, to Thomas’s six, lifting him into second on general classification, 18 seconds behind Thomas in what is turning into a fascinating battle.
Thomas, though, will be delighted to be back in pink, thrilled to have put time into Roglic – who just about managed to beat Ireland’s Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-Aiula) to third on the stage but dropped from two seconds to 29 seconds behind the Welshman on general classification and most of all pleased with his form at the start of what promises to be a brutal final week in this most brutal of races.
The Welshman suggested he had perhaps cost himself the stage win by pressing on after bridging to Almeida but argued it was worth it. “Yeah it would have been nice to win the stage, but it was one of them where I had to keep riding,” Thomas said. “I didn't want to play cat and mouse with Joao with Roglic behind, so we worked well together, and I led it out. He had the jump on me and unfortunately he won the sprint. But it's nice to be back in pink and to gain some time.”
The general classification contenders have a ‘day off’ on Wednesday with a flat run to Caorle made for the peloton’s sprinters, including Mark Cavendish. But in what is a heavily backloaded race, they have further big summit finishes on Thursday – Thomas’s 37th birthday – to Val di Zoldo, and again on Friday to Tre Cime di Laveredo. The fight for the maglia rosa will conclude with a short-but-nasty-looking uphill time trial on Saturday.
Thomas: ‘It’s not great to lose team-mate Sivakov’
Thomas did have one notable setback on Tuesday, with key domestique Pavel Sivakov abandoning, still suffering from the after-effects of a heavy crash earlier in the race. The Welshman, though, sounded calm about being down to just four team-mates, adding he was not surprised by Almeida’s show of strength.
“Obviously it’s not great to lose a team-mate,” he said. “He (Almeida) was always one of the biggest rivals coming here. He’s often shown how strong he is, his team as well, so no surprise.”
Former rider Sean Kelly, speaking on Eurosport, said it was now a three-man race, with Roglic potentially only having an ‘off day’.
“Roglic is very much still a danger man,” Kelly said. “If he had an off day, he will be confident that he can take time back. However, Thomas and Almeida will take a lot of confidence as they’ve seen Roglic is breaking on these mountain finishes and there are a lot of them to come. It’s going to be a fight between these three (Roglic, Thomas, Almeida).
“Almeida is the one showing so much promise and this could be a changing point, really putting pressure on the other favourites. He will be on fire in the next few days and could be a different rider after this victory.”