Giro d’Italia 2020
As the 103rd edition of the Giro d’Italia ventured into the north-eastern region of Italy closest to the Slovenian border, Jan Tratnik added his not insignificant entry into Slovenia’s extraordinary cycling story for 2020 by winning Stage 16 after starring in a large 28-man break.
With Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic finishing first and second in the Tour de France, and Roglic taking a first Monument win for Slovenia in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Tratnik joined the party with his first ever Grand Tour stage win.
Part of a two-pronged Bahrain-McLaren attack in the day’s breakaway, Tratnik rode clear with over 60km of the 229km remaining before withstanding a late fightback from Australia’s Ben O’Connor of NTT-Pro Cycling on the ramped rise into San Daniele di Friuli.
Tratnik’s teammate Enrico Battaglin won the sprint for third place ahead of Poland’s Kamil Malecki (CCC Team) and Britain’s Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers).
It was the best part of 13 minutes before the peloton were led home by the man in pink, Joao Almeida of Deceuninck Quick-Step, who darted clear on the final ramp to take another two seconds on his rivals in the general classification.
The 22-year-old Portuguese debutant now leads Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) by 17 seconds and the Dutchman’s teammate Jai Hindley of Australia by 2’58” going into Wednesday’s key stage to Madonna di Campiglio.
“I was feeling good and sometimes the best defence is to attack,” said Almeida, claiming he was “confident, but ready for the worst” as the race approaches the high mountains.
Today’s Stage 16 featured six lower category climbs and over 4,000 metres of climbing as the maglia rosa battle stood aside for what is proving to be a fierce tangle between Giovanni Visconti and Ruben Guerreiro in the battle for blue.
The Italian veteran and the Portuguese Stage 9 winner were both part of the large move which formed on the first climb of the day, trading blows over four climbs before the break splintered when Tratnik rode clear with Italy’s Manuele Boaro (Astana) on the first of three finishing circuits.
Tratnik dropped Boaro but was caught by O’Connor on the last of three ascents of Monte de Ragogna with 13km remaining. The two extended their lead over the chase group on the descent before Tratnik used his experience and reserves to power clear of 24-year-old O’Connor on the 20 per cent ramp ahead of the finish.
The 2,000th stage in the history of the Giro d’Italia got underway in the town of Udine in north-eastern Italy under bright sunshine.
Serial escapee Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) put in an early attack which came to nothing as the main pack rode as one towards the foot of the first of six leg-sapping ascents.
The Cat.2 Madonnina del Domm provided the launch pad for the simmering blue jersey battle between the former maglia azzurra, Guerreiro, and the current incumbent, Visconti.
It was the Portuguese EF Pro Cycling rider who went over the top ahead of the Italian veteran from Vini Zabu-KTM as Guerreiro cut his deficit on Visconti with a large chase group in pursuit.
The pair sat up over the summit to be swept up by the chasers, with this 28-man move combining well to open up a maximum lead of over 15 minutes during the second longest stage of the race.
The roles were reversed on the Cat.3 Monte Spig as Visconti pipped Guerreiro after a competitive sprint for KOM points. The Italian then consolidated his lead on the Cat.3 Monteaperta after his rival was brought to an unfortunate standstill following a gearing issue, Guerreiro stuck in the big ring and unable to keep turning the pedals as the gradient ramped up near the summit.
Starting the first of three finishing circuits around San Daniele di Friuli, the break still held a healthy lead over the pack as the prospect of two separate races playing out looked likely – one for the stage spoils, the other in the fight for pink.
There was, of course, still the small matter of the battle for blue to sort out. While Visconti was guaranteed at least another day in the jersey he won for Movistar back in 2015, Guerreiro, who conceded the blue jersey to Visconti on Sunday’s Stage 15, wanted to make amends for his earlier gaffe.
Guerreiro rode clear on the first of three ascents of Monte di Ragogna to take maximum points over the top ahead of Visconti – closing the gap again to 30 points in their ongoing tussle.
It was to be the last points either of them would pick up on the day, with Tratnik riding clear of the pursuers with Boaro on the descent to pass both riders and open up a decent gap.
The chasers traded blows as the break fragmented behind, with a six-man group of Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Alessandro Bisolti (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Malecki, Swift, O’Connor and Battaglin forming after the second ascent of Monte di Ragogna. There was no place for local rider Matteo Fabbro of Bora-Hansgrohe after the Italian missed the move when Swift had upped the tempo on the climb with Valerio Conti, who soon faded for UAE Team Emirates.
With Tratnik ahead and Battaglin among the chasers, Bahrain-McLaren held all the cards – and finished with a flush. Tratnik dropped Boaro over the summit of the climb before stretching his lead to 40 seconds as Battaglin acted as a dead-weight in the chase.
O’Connor was forced to take matters into his own hands on the final ascent, the Western Australian – whose career breakthrough came on the Giro in 2018 when he was in 12th place in a superb debut before crashing out days from the finish – riding clear in pursuit of the lone leader.
Tratnik was caught by O’Connor just as the pair reached the summit, the two extending their gap on the narrow, twisting descent ahead of a ramped rise to the finish both riders now knew very well.
Using his experience, Tratnik forced O’Connor to set the tempo on the climb before launching out of his rival’s wheel on the steepest double-digit section – just alongside a fan waving a Slovenian flag.
The elastic snapped and O’Connor, who had buried himself to reel in Tratnik on the previous climb, had no answer. The 24-year-old – still without a contract next season – banged his handlebars in frustration as he crossed the line seven seconds down on the winner, a chance to help NTT Pro Cycling in their desperate pursuit of a new sponsor gone begging.
The remnants of the breakaway came home in dribs and drabs as a late fight for pink eventually materialised behind with a dig by Almeida on the 20 per cent ramp in the final kilometre. His rivals – including Kelderman, Hindley, Stage 15 winner Tao Geoghegan-Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and the double Giro champion Vincenzi Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) – all finished in a group two seconds back.
Two seconds today could be two minutes tomorrow as things get serious for the general classification contenders in tomorrow’s Stage 15 – a 203km mountainous slog that takes in the infamous Monte Bondone and two other climbs ahead of a summit showdown at Madonna di Campiglio, where the late Marco Pantani took the last of his Giro stage wins on the eve of his disqualification while in pink two days from the finish of the 1999 race.