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What We Have Learnt So Far at The Giro d'Italia 2024

What We Have Learnt So Far at The Giro d'Italia 2024

As we nestled in to watch stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia 2024 (this article was written prior to the result of said stage – Ed), a 207km sprinters day along the coast from Foiano di Valfortore to Francavilla al Mare, we realised that the riders have reached the half-way point of this year’s Giro. So we figured it would be the perfect time to look back on the first half of the race, and think about a few things we’ve learned so far.

 

 

 

Pogačar Dominates

Tadej Pogačar has surprised absolutely nobody by being the best overall rider so far. The Slovenian two-time Tour de France winner is currently almost 3 minutes ahead of Dani Martinez (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Geraint Thomas (INEOS Grenadiers) in second and third respectively and has already picked up three stage wins (stages 2, 7 and 8) bringing his season total to 10 wins from 18 days of racing. Furthermore, aside from stage 7’s individual time trial where a rider can do nothing but go their absolute hardest if they have hopes of glory, these victories have been won with almost consummate ease, hardly having to get out of the saddle to distance his rivals.

It was stages 2 and 7 which truly showed his strength compared to his rivals. When Pogačar launched his winning attack late on the second day, it was little shock to see Thomas and Ben O’Connor (Decathalon - AG2R - La Mondiale), both pre-race GC favourites, go with him. Yet neither Brit nor Aussie could stay with Pogi for long, O’Connor faded quickly, and although Thomas held on a little longer, its clear that neither has the power to match Pogačar man-for-man on those slopes which suit him best. Stage 7’s time trial further proved his superiority, besting the normally superb time trial specialist Thomas on a day which did feature a nasty 6km hill towards the finish. Thomas struggled on this final climb, being 1m 27s down on 5-time Giro time trial winner and teammate Filippo Ganna (INEOS Grenadiers) at the foot of the slope and finishing a further 16s down on Ganna’s time of 52:01. In a startling demonstration of their differing strengths, Pogačar made up the 47s he lagged by at the foot of the climb, finishing 17 seconds ahead – massively extending his GC lead. Though the climb won’t have suited Thomas, and we expect him to perform far better on the second TT stage which is considerably flatter, it was a blow to his, O’Connor’s, and Martinez’s GC hopes to see Pogačar take the victory.

Pogačar’s strength though, may well be his undoing. It’s a well-known phenomenon that the Slovenian simply loves to race bikes, and often launches into unnecessary attacks to break up the ennui of 3-week stage racing. This impetuous streak has been on display already this Giro, trying to sneak a win from beneath the sprinters with a late attack on stage 3, and driving himself hard as a lead out man for teammate Juan Sebastián Molano to attempt a sprint victory on stage 9. These efforts, whilst entertaining, are a far cry from the conservative style of traditional GC racing, and given that, at times, his team has not looked the strongest – leaving Pogačar, briefly isolated and forced to chase down attacks by rival teams on stage 10, there may still be a chance to usurp his dominance.

 

 

Thomas and Martinez Patient to a Fault

Whilst Pogačar has already shown his strength, Thomas and Martinez have played a cagier game. Stages 2 and 7 proved that the Slovenian can’t be beaten head on, though that has never been chief rival Thomas’ style.

INEOS’ leader in particular, has yet to truly attempt to beat Pogačar, he has tried to match the Slovenian’s efforts, and gave the TT his all, but hasn’t yet had a stage which suits him better than Pog to such a degree that he can emerge victorious. Instead, Thomas has adopted that oldest of footballing adages: ‘stay in the game’ – seeking to limit losses and keep the gap to a manageable level until the terrain and race situation suits him. Even on the stage 10 climb to Bocca della Selva, when Pogačar was isolated with only Rafał Majka for company, neither Bora nor INEOS attacked him, when even a handful of seconds can make a difference, this approach only makes sense if these two teams are waiting for Pogačar to tire himself out with his relentless desire to win races.

This is the Giro, and anything can happen, and with the Dolomites looming large in the third week it seems that his GC rivals are hoping that Pogačar will fade, wear himself out and then be vulnerable at just the right time, when one off day for the Slovenian, can be ruthlessly exploited. Martinez was one of the best climbing domestiques not so long ago, and with Filippo Ganna and Magnus Sheffield in the engine room; Thymen Arensman and Tobias Foss as climbing domestiques, and Jhonatan Narváez, who has already taken a stage win and looked capable of a few more, the INEOS team is arguably the strongest at the Giro. This is a risky game to play, as any football fan who’s seen their team wait for the 70-minute mark to attack knows, as it would equally only take a moment of brilliance for Pogačar to make his lead unassailable, but if the gap remains at anything less than 5 minutes in the final week, both Thomas and Martinez will unleash the hounds, and hope.

 

Sprinters Share the Load

In terms of sprinting, it’s been an interesting Giro. We started the race 12 days ago with one of the most elite sprinting fields in recent memory, yet no one rider has emerged as better than the rest, the spoils instead divvyed up between them. Tim Merlier (Soudal—Quick-Step) took the sprint on stage 3, Olav Kooij (Team Visma-Lease a bike) won stage 9 (though has since abandoned the race due to illness) whilst Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek) dominated stage 4 and is sitting pretty in the Maglia Ciclamino. Of these stage winners, it is Milan who looks the strongest, his large frame and explosive power as well as some astute work from the rest of the Lidl-Trek team ensuring that he has consistently finished well, running the bunch sprints close even when he doesn’t win them and picking up 174 points in the battle for the purple jersey. Although without a stage win, 2nd on stage 4 his best result, Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) sits in second in that classification with 122 points and seems focused on fighting for that victory through less conventional means – fiercely contesting intermediate sprints to remain in contention. Though, he will have his work cut out to beat the Italian without a win to his name, especially given the strength of Lidl-Trek’s lead out of Stuyven, Theuns and Consonni who managed to close down a rampaging Filippo Ganna on stage 4 and drag Milan back into contention and to eventual victory. The likes of Philip Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious), Danny Van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Molano (UAE Team Emirates) have also yet to truly make their mark on the race, though admittedly for the latter two their teams are focused on the GC battle so they may have to settle for attempting to sneak a victory rather than battle through a bunch sprint.

The sprinters also haven’t had it all their own way, with a couple of days thought to be nailed on bunch-sprints taken by breakaways and even Thomas and Pogačar trying to pip them to the post during the chaotic finish on stage 3. Fabio Jakobsen (DSM-Firmenich PostNL) was hoping for a better Giro than he has managed so far, seemingly shooting out the back of the peloton on the climbs which the organisers have seen fit to liberally spread throughout the flatter stages, and we doubt he will survive all the way to Rome. Furthermore, injuries and illness have sadly thinned the field with Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) falling victim to the former, and Olav Kooij the latter after taking his debut Grand Tour victory. We think Jonathan Milan will continue to perform well, and back him to take another win and remain in the Maglia Ciclamino on the streets of Rome.

(Jonathan Milan took a second stage win of the race on stage 11, furthering his defence of the purple jersey – Ed.)

 

 

Victory Unlooked For

There have been a couple of beautiful breakaway wins already during this Giro, and whenever there’s been a chance at sneaking a win from the GC riders or the sprinters – someone has had a go. Whether that’s Pogačar on Stage 3, or Benjamin Thomas’ wonderful victory after a well-fought breakaway on Stage 5. Stage 10 also saw a fairy-tale victory from an unexpected quarter, on what, with 3000m of climbing, should have been a big GC day. With 37km to go, the break had nearly 4 ½ minutes on the peloton as UAE finally decided to race conservatively and conserve some energy for later in the race. Jan Tratnik, one of the few men left standing for Team Visma-Lease a bike launched a solo attack from the breakaway in an attempt to enter the long (18km) final climb with a significant gap. He was ridden down and passed with with 2.7km to go by Paret-Peintre (Decathalon-AG2R La Mondiale) who went on to win the stage taking his first pro-win a year after his brother, Aurélien had at the Giro. A great day for their families, and a one which no competitor will begrudge them given it’s pleasing symmetry.

 

 

What else has caught your eye so far this Giro? Let us know over on social media and don’t forget about our Giro d’Italia offer!

Use the code GIRO24 at checkout to pick up two, FREE sets of The Road Book Postcards, featuring illustrations from the first five volumes of The Road Book.

 

Written by Henrik Bassett

Images courtesy of Russ Ellis.

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