Giro d’Italia 2023
Ireland’s Ben Healy (EF Education Easypost) took an inspirational solo victory on stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia into Fossombrone, attacking from a breakaway of 12 within the last 50km to ride solo to take the win by a startling 1:49 – the biggest margin at the race since 2018.
As the 22-year-old Ben Healy celebrated his career-best win, behind him the remnants of the breakaway sprinted for the remaining places, with Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) taking second place ahead of Filippo Zana (Jayco-AlUla) in third – Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samic) finished just off the podium in fourth place.
Healy was part of an initial four-man attack which grew into the day’s main 12-man break, containing Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech), Valentin Paret-Peintre (AG2R Citroën), Carlos Verona (Movistar), Filippo Zana (Jayco-AlUla), Alessandro Iacchi (Corratec-Selle Italia), Samele Battistella (Atana Qazaqstan), François Bidard (Cofidis), Mattia Bais (Eolo-Kometa) and Alessandro Tonelli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè) and Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo).
After the stage, Healy spoke confidently about his win. “I mean I had good legs today, and just have it a good go,” he said. “On the first little dig, I could see that I went solo and just pushed onto the finish from there.
“I was pretty comfortable the first time up and wanted to test the legs on the first steep kicker to the top of the climb, and no one came with me, so I knew I can time trial to the finish pretty well and I was confident in myself to do that and I just paced myself to the finish and it worked out alright.”
Speaking of the legacy of Irish riders who had won Giro stages ahead of him, Healy said, “I mean for sure it’s a super nice list of names to join, and hopefully I can live up to some of their results in the future too.”
Warren Barguil gave an admirable review of Healy’s performance, “When he attacked no one could follow him, we had to ride for second.”
Second-placed Gee similarly stood in awe of the Irishman’s form. “It feels like a win,” he said after the finish. “I mean kudos to Ben. When he went on that first climb, he just disappeared. I was just hoping to get on that podium so I’m over the moon.
“Coming into it this Giro I thought – no chance – you know just trying to survive it, just trying to survive it, just trying to get experience.
“The four of us got away really early on the first climb then we were just dangling there forever. I thought so many times we were just ‘day done’, 30km in. So to bring it all the way to the line is really nice.”
In the main group, the major favourites’ teams oversaw a day of tight control in the peloton, eventually fractured by a vicious attack from Primož Roglič in the final climb, which threatened to disrupt the overall standings.
Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) found himself isolated as the Ineos duo of Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart joined Roglič to stretch out a margin of 14 seconds over the Belgian by the end of the stage.
A deflated Evenepoel, who conspicuously dropped off the pace of Roglič’s chasers on the final descent, saw his margin to the maglia rosa shrink despite losing some time on Roglič and Thomas. His time across the line saw him move to only 8 seconds off Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM), who trailed the Belgian on the stage finish.
“He attacked and I knew I had to go as fast as I can to the top,” Leknessund said after the stage. “In the end, I kept the jersey and I’m really happy and proud of how we rode as a team and also that I got the chance to really fight for it like I had to today.
“We can expect that I will lose the jersey tomorrow so it’s super nice to finish with a proper fight like I had today.”
Evenepoel may not celebrate the proximity to pink, though, having had a spotlight shone on his potential vulnerability in the coming weeks.
After a week with several stages of disruptive rain, the Giro d’Italia peloton no doubt signed with relief as they rolled out from start in Terni below a mild grey cloud on dry roads.
Despite stage 7 promising a challenge in the general classification, an effective truce among the major favourites rendered the stage fare more placed than most had hoped.
The greater drama came off the road, with Filippo Ganna returning a positive test for COVID-19 and departing the race – denting Ineos Grenadiers’ race ambitions, both in terms of Ganna’s stage win potential and his support for team leaders Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
As the peloton rolled into the 207km stage, attacks came quickly as riders hoped to place themselves in a breakaway on a stage which offered ample opportunity for a win from the break. Among the attackers were Mads Würtz Schmidt (Israel-Premier Tech) and Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) – neither of whom managed to break the elastic with a defensive peloton.
As the first unclassified climb came, four riders managed to reach the top with a viable gap, creating an initial group which contained Ben Healy (EF Education Easypost), Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech), Valentin Paret-Peintre (AG2R Citroën) and Carlos Verona (Movistar).
Jayco-AlUla and Astana were initially directing a chase for the escaping quartet, with Jayco-AlUla perhaps hoping for a chance for Michael Matthews, but the chase never managed to bring the group back.
The impetus taken out of the peloton, Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo) managed to bridge across to the break, before a larger chase group emerged containing Filippo Zana (Jayco-AlUla), Alessandro Iacchi (Team Corratec – Selle Italia), Samele Battistella (Atana Qazaqstan), François Bidard (Cofidis), Mattia Bais (EOLO-Kometa) and Alessandro Tonelli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè).
With 127km to go in the race, the chase group had bridged to the leading five and established a breakaway of twelve riders.
The group worked cohesively over the next 80km, splitting the intermediate points between them. Mattia Bais, whose brother Davide won stage 7, took the intermediate sprint bonus seconds at Sigillo, ahead of Alessandro Tonelli and Alessandro Iacchi.
It wasn’t until just under 50km to go that Ben Healy made his decisive attack against the group. Given his choice of attire – what appeared to be a full-time trial spec skinsuit with no pockets – it’s clear that the Irish cyclist meant business from the outset of the stage.
With 40km to go, Ben Healy was out solo and had built a gap of 1:20, and seemed to smoothly cruise out to 1:45 with 35km remaining, climbing and descending with enough vigour to pull out time on the peloton, led by a mixture of Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma.
Healy descended from Monte della Cesane with a skilled but controlled display that saw him hit the 20km mark with a gap of 1:40, and only two minor climbs ahead of him.
In the main peloton, Roglič used the final kilometres to make his decisive attack on Evenepoel, distancing the Belgian rider and race favourite. Joined by the Ineos duo of Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart, the three riders carved away a gap on a struggling Evenepoel on the final descent – eventually gaining 14 seconds on the Belgian
Up front, it was a foregone conclusion that Healy would win solo, stretching his winning margin to over 1:49, and establishing the 22-year-old Irishman as a breakaway star to watch.
The Giro presents the second of three ITTs on the ninth day of action tomorrow. At 35 kilometres, the riders storm from Savignano sul Rubicone to Cesena on straight and flat roads.
Stage 9 is the longest and the flattest of the three time trials the route favours pure specialists who can push a big gear.
There are three intermediate time checks – at kilometre 13.0, at kilometre 23.1 and at kilometre 29.0.
The total amount of time trial kilometres of this Giro adds up to more than 73 kilometres, which is unheard of in recent Grand Tours. World Champion Remco Evenepoel will look to add to his opening stage time trial victory however other stellar time trialists such as Olympic Champion Primoz Roglic and two time World Champions Filippo Ganna will also fancy their chances tomorrow.
Stage 8 result:
1. Ben Healy (Ire), EF Education EasyPost, in 4:44:24
2. Derek Gee (Can), Israel-Premier Teck, at 1:49
3. Filippo Zana (Ita), Jayco AlUla, at same time
4. Warren Barguil (Fra), Arkéa Samsic, at same time
5. Carlos Verona (Esp), Movistar, at 2:12
6. Mattia Bais (Ita), EOLO-Kometa, at 2:37
7. Tom Skujins (Lat), Trek-Segafredo, at 3:51
8. Alessandro Tonelli (Ita), Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè, at 3:56
9. Oscar Riesebeek (Ned), Alpecin-Deceuninck, at 4:00
10. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr), Ineos Grenadiers, at 4:34
Andreas Leknessund (Nor) DSM, in 33:52:10
Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Soudal-Quick Step, at 00:08
Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 00:38
João Almeida (Por) UAE-Team Emirates, at 00:40
Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 00:52
Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 00:56
Aurelien Paret-Peintre (Fra) AG2R Citroen, at 00:58
Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Bora-hansgrohe, at 1:26
Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1:39
Lennard Kämna (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1:54