Giro d’Italia 2020
The two strongest riders of this year’s Giro d’Italia will be tied at the top going into Sunday’s decisive final time trial in Milan after a glorious second stage win for Tao Geoghegan Hart ahead of Jai Hindley saw the British rider take the four bonus seconds needed to draw level with the Australian in the general classification.
Geoghegan Hart and Hindley had ridden clear of the pink jersey Wilco Kelderman, the latter’s teammate at Sunweb, on the second of three ascents to Sestriere in a drama-filled 190km Stage 20 to the Alpine ski resort.
With dependable Ineos Grenadier teammate Rohan Dennis setting a strong tempo just as he had done so brilliantly days earlier on the Stelvio, Geoghegan Hart always had the psychological and physical edge over Hindley, although fell one second back in the virtual standings after his rival won the intermediate bonus sprint ahead of the final climb.
But Geoghegan Hart was able to pocket four bonus seconds of his own after responding to numerous Hindley attacks on the final ascent then sprinting clear of the Sunweb rider to take his second – and his Ineos Grenadiers team’s sixth – stage win of this Giro, putting both riders neck and neck going into the vital 15km race against the clock on Sunday.
The race jury decided that it will be 24-year-old Hindley who rolls down the ramp in Milan in a pink skinsuit ahead of the time trial hot on the heels of his 25-year-old rival, who himself will be in white as best young rider, in what will be the tightest finish ever in the Giro’s 111-year history.
Dropped with 30km remaining, Hindley’s Dutch teammate Kelderman battled to eighth position in the stage, 1’35” down, to drop to third place in the general classification.
After Dennis took a man-of-the-match third place for Ineos, Portuguese tyro Joao Almeida – the Deceuninck Quick-Step rookie who led his debut Grand Tour for 15 days earlier in the race – secured a fourth place which consolidated his position in the top five.
But in what was a clear changing of the guard – resulting in the two top riders leading both the white and pink jersey classifications simultaneously – Italian veterans Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) both finished outside the top 10, with Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) also well off the pace.
Fuglsang is now in sixth place on GC but more than six and a half minutes down, while Poland’s Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) plummeted out of the top 10 after being dropped early on the second ascent to Sestiere when Ineos Grenadiers put the hammer down.
On a highly entertaining and beautiful final day in the Alps, the French champion and quadruple stage winner Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) was part of a 21-man breakaway and picked up the maximum points in the intermediate sprint to confirm his victory over Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) in the maglia cyclamino standings.
Portugal’s Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling) also emerged from the stage unscathed to secure the maglia azzurra as best climber – although it was always a day where pink put both blue and purple in the shade.
After 20 stages and over 3,300km of riding, nothing splits the top two riders in the general classification with Hindley and Stage 20 winner Geoghegan Hart level on time on the final sun-drenched summit of this absorbing 103rd edition of La Corsa Rosa.
With Thursday’s sensational Stage 18 on the Passo dello Stelvio still fresh in the mind, it was no surprise to see Ineos Grenadiers employ similar tactics in a bid to put their rivals from Team Sunweb under pressure.
A large break of 21 riders went clear around 20km into the 190km stage from Alba, with neither of the top two teams opting to put a man in the mix.
Riding in that move with a maximum lead of just over seven minutes on the pack were Geoffrey Bouchard and Andrea Vendrame (both Ag2R-La Mondiale), Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-McLaren), Filippo Fiorelli (Bardiani-CSF), Kamil Malecki (CCC Team), Elia Viviani (Cofidis), Davide Ballerini, Mikkel Honore and Pieter Serry (all Deceuninck Quick-Step), Tanel Kangert (EF Pro Cycling), Arnaud Demare and Simon Guglielmi (Groupama-FDJ), Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation), Matthew Holmes (Lotto Soudal), Einer Rubio and Davide Villalle (both Movistar), Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier and Matteo Sobrero (both NTT Pro Cycling), Julien Bernard and Nicola Conci (both Trek-Segafredo), and Brandon McNulty (UAE-Team Emirates).
The Astana and Bahrain-McLaren teams of Fuglsang and fourth-place Pello Bilbao relayed on the front of the pack on the long, gradual grind up the lower slopes of the eastern approach to Sestriere from Paesana, only for Ineos Grenadiers to come to the fore with around 50km remaining.
After the first summit, the Italian Ballerini rode clear of the break – one of three Quick-Step riders looking to pave the way for a stage win for their young leader, the impressive Almeida.
With the gap under four minutes ahead of the second ascent – the first of two from the steeper, southern approach to Sestriere, triple stage winner Filippo Ganna tapped out a strong tempo for Ineos on the nose of the thinning pack. But when the decisive move was made, it was the outstanding Dennis who pulled clear with Geoghegan Hart, Sunweb duo Kelderman and Hindley, Bilbao and Pozzovivo.
It was a case of history repeating itself, though, when Kelderman was dropped with 30km remaining as Dennis pulled Geoghegan Hart clear with Hindley to set up a champagne finale for viewers the world over.
Colombian Einer Rubio (Movistar) had passed Ballerini ahead and crossed the summit in pole position before being caught by the chasing trio – and some other stragglers from the break – ahead of the intermediate sprint at Sauze de Cesana with 7km remaining.
Hindley had nipped ahead of Geoghegan Hart to take one more bonus second than his rival – giving him a four-second lead on the road. It clearly emboldened him, for the 24-year-old put in no fewer than five attacks on the final climb.
But in what was a remarkable show of strength from the Ineos duo, both Dennis and Geoghegan Hart were able to claw themselves back on each time, before the big two edged ahead inside the final kilometre as, behind, Almeida skipped clear of the Kelderman chase group to pick up teammates Serry, Ballerini and Honore up the road.
The road levelling out towards the finish gave Geoghegan Hart the upper hand, and he zipped past Hindley to take the win which put them both level on time at the top of the standings.
“It’s been an incredible day, unbelievable scenery, beautiful weather what a stage from everyone,” Geoghegan Hart said. “I’m really happy. I was super comfortable. I knew it wasn’t for me to force it. I was focussed on the stage. I knew we had a lot of time on the riders behind. It was up him to make the difference. I knew that he couldn’t once he made his first attack.”
The Briton’s second win after his victory at Piancavallo in Stage 15 puts him in a strong position to win a race he entered as a climbing lieutenant for compatriot Geraint Thomas, who crashed out of the race early in the opening week.
“There’s still one more day to go. It’s extremely close. We’ll see what happens. This is bike racing, anything can happen.”
For Hindley’s part, the Australian admitted he gave it his all but lost to the stronger rider on the day: “I was trying everything when I was attacking and I just couldn’t get rid of him. I thought I could beat him in the sprint but he was too strong.”
It was a bittersweet moment for the 24-year-old to take over the race lead from his teammate Kelderman, who finished eighth to drop to third in the standings.
“I’m speechless. It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little boy,” Hindley said. “To wear the leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour is an incredible privilege. It’s not ideal to take it off Wilco but it’s nice to keep it in the team. I’m at a loss for words.”
With nothing between them besides a two-minute wait on the ramp in Milan, it’s going to be fascinating to see which of these young riders emerges from the 15km race of truth with the famous maglia rosa on their shoulders.