Imperious Pogačar hunts down Quintana to win stage 15 – Giro d’Italia

Giro d’Italia 2024

Stage 15

As if Tadej Pogačar’s domination of the 2024 Giro d’Italia wasn’t already clear enough, the maglia rosa put in yet another stunning display on the queen stage 15 to Livigno, racking up a fourth stage win with a 14km solo ride.

The Slovenian jumped away from the select GC group on the penultimate first-category climb of the Passo di Foscagno, leaving his rivals in the dust and putting three minutes into them as he passed the remains of the breakaway – including sole leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who he raced past 2km from the line.

He’d have no equal during the Giro’s first high-mountain Alpine foray, eventually crossing the line alone for his 11th win of the season, 29 seconds ahead of Quintana in second place. Another breakaway man, Georg Steinhauser (EF Education-EasyPost), rounded out the podium in third at 2:32 down on Pogačar.

Meanwhile, a full 2:50 would pass before the rest of the top GC men came to the finish, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe) leading the way, while Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) trailed home another eight seconds back.

“Today was one of the best days– I would not say that it was the best day of my career but it was a really nice stage, really good route, nice climbs. The team did a super good job. We had this stage in mind since December or whatever,” Pogačar said after the stage.

“I’m super happy that we kept it under control. It was a really strong breakaway, but I gave it my all in the 10 or 15km. I’m super happy that I can win a queen stage in Livigno, one of my favourite places in Italy.

“We had to be smart all day – we couldn’t let the break go too much and then we spoke on the last climb with the guys. Rafa did a super good job after the switchback with a tailwind, so everyone suffered on the wheel. I just tried to keep continuing, and I hoped for the gap, and then I opened the gap and continued to the top,” Pogačar added before paying tribute to the rides of Quintana and Steinhauser from the day’s early breakaway.

Pogačar’s big ride on the Giro d’Italia’s queen stage leaves him with a massive 6:41 advantage over second-placed Thomas, a full three minutes more than he enjoyed in the morning. Martínez, who fell into third after the stage 14 time trial, stays in place at 6:56 own, while O’Connor is now a touch further from the podium at 7:43 down.

Antonio Tiberi (Bahrain Victorious) and Thymen Arensman (Ineos Grenadiers) remain in fifth and sixth overall, the only other riders within 10 minutes of Pogačat at 9:27 and 9:45 down, respectively.

Following a sizeable GC shakeup on the stage 14 time trial of the Giro d’Italia into Desenzano del Garda, there would be no let up for the top contenders on stage 15, with the day delivering 222km, three first-category climbs, and 5,400 metres of elevation.

The riders head into the mountains for a challenging stage.

All that would be packed on the road from Manerba del Garda to Livigno, with the fearsome Passo del Mortirolo taking pride of place on the Giro’s queen stage.

With so many mountain points on offer as well as a chance to stay away to the finish and take a massive stage win, it was no surprise to see major moves made from the off as an endless stream of riders sought to make the break of the day.

Mountain jersey wearer Simon Geschke (Cofidis) in particular was keen to make the move, lying second place in the blue jersey competition, albeit 45 points down on Tadej Pogačar.

He would miss the first move, however, as a group of 13 made it away inside the opening 10km with another mountain classification threat – Lilian Calmejane (Intermarché-Wanty) – among their number, which curiously included several sprinters like Caleb Ewan (Jayco-AlUla) and Davide Ballerini (Astana Qazaqstan).

In response, Cofidis took to the head of the peloton riding for Geschke, even if they already lay at three minutes down.

Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) led the break over the first climb of the day, the third-category Lodrino (7.6km at 4.4%). Back down the road, meanwhile, Geschke and Cofidis were leading a counter-break of almost 40 riders which had split from the peloton.

Following a sustained chase on the road to the next climb, the groups would merge on the second-category Colle di San Zeno (13.9km at 6.6%) after just over 60km of racing, bringing the huge breakaway to a total of 50 men.

Geschke, of course, was in there. He’d be joined in the move by a host of other notable names, including Tobias Foss (Ineos Grenadiers), Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Juan Pedro López (Lidl-Trek), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), stage 12 winner Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep), Attila Valter (Visma-Lease A Bike), and Luke Plapp (Jayco-AlUla), among others.

Over the top of the Zeno, Geschke wouldn’t add the maximum of 18 points to his KOM total, instead settling for eight in second place as Cristian Scaroni (Astana Qazaqstan) led the way for the big break.

The road down the other side of the mountain brought another change in the race situation as six men – Ballerini, Scaroni, Harrison Wood (Cofidis), Tobias Bayer (Alpecin-Deceuninck), and VF Group-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè pair Giulio Pellizzarri and Alessandro Tonelli – split off the front.

The sextet quickly built a lead reaching over a minute as they hit the long valley road heading to the Mortirolo, while the peloton – which held all the top GC contenders – raced along at just over five minutes down on the leaders.

Pogačar and the peloton tackle the gradient.

Just over 60km of slogging through the valley from Pisogne to Edolo lay between the riders and the base of the first-category Mortirolo (12.6km at 7.6%), with the climb the first staging post of the brutal first-category trio to end the stage.

There’d be bad luck for Alaphilippe in the second group, the Frenchman puncturing out of the move as he took a neutral service wheel before chasing back on with three other dropped riders. The quartet made it back in good time and with plenty of the valley remaining, ready to help the main break limit or cut the gap to the smaller group out front.

After the remainder of the frankly uneventful run-in to the foot of the Mortirolo, the race situation remained largely unchanged, though the time gaps were smaller. 45 seconds lay between the two breakaway groups, while the UAE Team Emirates-led peloton rolled along at 4:30 down on the leading group.

The early slopes of the climb saw riders drop away from all three major groups on the road as Ballerini, Wood, and Bayer were quickly shed by the leaders and sprinters fell away from the peloton on the harsh slopes.

Towards the top of the climb, as the chase group closed to under 30 seconds on the leaders, Scaroni and Pellizzarri were all that remained of the six-man lead move. The duo pushed on towards the top and added to their advantage, though further back the attacks began to fly from the chase group.

Nicola Conci (Alpecin-Deceuninck) led the moves, bridging across to his two countrymen 500 metres from the top before Scaroni led the way over the summit for 40 points, which, when added to his 18 from earlier and six before the stage, vaulted him right into blue jersey contention.

The trio led the race at the summit some 20 seconds up on the fractured remains of the large second group – which included Geschke, Quintana, Valter, and Michael Storer (Tudor) – and 4:40 up on the peloton.

By the time the riders came to the end of the 14km descent off the mountain, Storer and Quintana had bridged the gap to the leaders with the remainder of the breakaway chasers not far behind to make it one large – albeit now slimmed to 17 men – group up front.

López and Geschke were also in there, as were previous stage winners Alaphilippe, Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers), and Pelayo Sánchez (Movistar), plus Alaphilippe’s teammate Mauri Vansevenant.

The group headed out on the 28km uphill drag to the final two first-category climbs with 4:20 on the greatly reduced peloton, which was still led by UAE Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers.

The teams combined to bring down the break’s advantage to 3:50 at the 40km to go marker, a gap which slimmed down to 3:20 as the riders hit 30km just ahead of the day’s final two intermediate sprints and then the final climbs.

The breakaway would ultimately be caught and swallowed by the unrelenting Pogačar.

Valter led the leaders – now down to 10 men with Scaroni, López, Vansevenant, and Pellizzarri among those dropped – over the sprint point at Le Motte. Davide Piganzoli (Polti-Kometa) led the way at the Intergiro at Isolaccia-Valdidentro, 24km out, before the break started the Passo di Foscagno (15km at 6.4%) at 3:20 up.

With 22km to go, Georg Steinhauser (EF Education-EasyPost) struck the first blow from the break, jumping away to quickly build a 20-second lead. Narváez and Alaphilippe went backwards as a result, while Valter went solo in the chase behind the German attacker.

As Storer and Quintana moved across to Valter in the chase 10km from the top of the mountain and 19km from the line, Steinhauser could count a growing gap to those hunting him down.

He’d build his advantage to almost a minute over those he’d left behind, with Quintana eventually setting off alone as the remainder of the chase coalesced behind.

It wasn’t long before the big moves came from the GC favourites group as race leader Pogačar, running out of teammates on the front, blasted off 14km from the finish and 5km from the top of the climb.

There’d be no answer from his rivals at the top of the standings, while up ahead Quintana would soon catch and pass Steinhauser for the lead.

Such is Pogačar’s dominance that he raced off to a minute’s lead in no time at all, flying past the break and hunting down Quintana and Steinhauser into the final 10km. Behind him, the likes of Thomas, Martínez, and O’Connor hung together in the chase, though Pogačar was making time metre by metre.

He’d crest the top of the climb in second place, 40 seconds down on Quintana having already dispatched Steinhauser. Thomas and co, meanwhile, were over three minutes down on the Colombian and already ceding minutes to the maglia rosa.

After a short descent, the 4.7km 7.7% race to the finish at Livigno got underway, with Quintana attempting to hold off the flying Pogačar, even if he was staving off the inevitable.

With 3km to go, the Slovenian was within 20 seconds of the sole leader, with the GC group still at a further three minutes back and no big moves yet coming.

Pogačar goes solo to take his fourth stage win of the 2024 Giro.

That 20-second advantage would only hold up for one more kilometre, as Quintana’s hopes of adding a fourth career Giro stage win to his palmarès bit the dust. Pogačar swept past with ease and would remain untroubled on his race up the steep final incline to the finish.

The likes of Thomas, Martínez, O’Connor and the remainder of the GC men wouldn’t trade blows as such, but rather the group would come apart under high pressure as Ineos Grenadiers set the pace with Thymen Arensman.

In the end, it was Martínez and Thomas who ended up inseparable at the line, coming home at 2:51 down in fifth and sixth on the day, while O’Connor was best of the rest alongside Einer Rubio (Movistar) at eight seconds further back.

However, the day – and likely the Giro as a whole now – was Pogačar’s, with his GC lead now massively extended in just 14km of work.

A well earned rest after the travails of today comes tomorrow. However the final week of the Giro d’Italia opens on Tuesday with an equally testing stage of 206 kilometres with an elevation gain of 4,350 metres. The finish is situated atop the Monte Pana, the last 2 kilometres of which ascend at over 10%.

Two minor climbs (both roughly 4 kilometres at 5.5%) and a descent are the prelude to the Umbrail Pass. The riders enter the colossus after 33 kilometres of action.

The Umbrail Pass is a 16.7 kilometres toil with an average gradient of 7.1% to an elevation of 2,498 metres, which makes it the Cima Coppi on this year’s Giro. Originally, the route would have gone 3 kilometres higher up the mountain to 2.758 metres, but the Stelvio Pass has been taken out of the equation due to a heightened risk of avalanches.

The riders crest the Umbrail Pass, fly down into Switzerland, and follow the Adige valley for tens of kilometres. Shortly after Bolzano, with 35 kilometres left to race, the route returns to climbing. The Passo Pinei totals 23.4 kilometres, with an average gradient of 4.7%. However, the first part and the last part are harder than that statistic suggests.

The Passo Pinei peaks out with 12 kilometres remaining. The first part is on descent before the roads begin to slope again. At first at moderate gradients, then 1.5 kilometres at 6.8%, false flat again, and then the brutal finale kicks in. The last 2 kilometres of Monte Pana rise at 11.8% to the line.

The second and third intermediate sprint come with 3, 2 and 1 seconds, while the first three riders on the line gain 10, 6 and 4 seconds.

Stage 15 result:

1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 6:11:43
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, +29s
3. Georg Steinhauser (Ger) EF Education-EasyPost, +2:32
4. Romain Bardet (Fra) dsm-firmenich PostNL, +2:47
5. Dani Martínez (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe, +2:50
6. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time
7. Einer Rubio (Col) Movistar, +2:58
8. Ben O’Connor (Aus) Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale, at same time
9. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers, +3:05
10. Jan Hirt (Cze) Soudal Quick-Step, +3:20

General Classification:

1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 56:11:46
2. Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Ineos Grenadiers, +6:41
3. Daniel Martinez (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe, +6:56
4. Ben O’Connor (Aus) Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale, +7:43
5. Antonio Tiberi (Ita) bahrain Victorious, +9:27
6. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers, +9:45
7. Romain Bardet (Fra) dsm-firmenich PostNL, +10:49
8. Filippo Zana (Ita) Jayco-AIUla, +11:11
9. Einer Rubio (Col) Movistar, +12:13
10. Jan Hirt (Cze) Soudal Quick-Step, +13:11

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