Roglič primed to win Giro d’Italia after stage 20 time trial triumph

Giro d’Italia 2023

Stage 20

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is on course for overall victory in the Giro d’Italia after not even a late mechanical could stop the Slovenian from winning the crucial final time trial by 40 seconds over previous leader Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).

Roglič was already ahead of Thomas on the punishing upper slopes of the Monte Lussari time trial when a mechanical in the closing kilometres forced him to change bikes.

But despite the setback, Roglič was able to fight back, claim the victory over Thomas and win the stage by 40 seconds over the Welshman, with João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) in third at 42 seconds.

The Jumbo-Visma leader will ride into Rome with a 14-second advantage overall over Thomas on GC, with Almeida in third.

The winner of three Vuelta a Españas in 2019, 2020 and 2021, this is set to be Roglič’s fourth Grand Tour win and first in the Giro d’Italia.

However, Roglič came perilously close to disaster when his chain dropped in the closing kilometres, evoking memories of how he lost the 2020 Tour de France in the final time trial.

Rather than history repeating itself, he then dug deep to bring home a victory that has so often eluded him in the past.

“Amazing, eh? It’s not at the end about the win itself, it’s about the people, the energy was incredible, these moments to live and to remember,” Roglič said afterwards.

“I mean, I had the legs, the people gave me extra Watts, so we’re just trying, we’re enjoying this.”

As for the final stage, perhaps understandably given his rollercoaster track record in Grand Tours, Roglič was cautiously optimistic.

Roglič surges towards the line to claim the Maglia Rosa.

“One more day to go, one more focus, because I think the lap is quite technical. So it’s not over til it’s finished. But yeah, it looks good.”

Thomas described himself as “devastated” after coming so close to victory, but he admitted that with 1,500 metres left on one of the toughest uphill TTs in recent Grand Tour history, he could feel his legs going definitively.

“To be honest, Primož deserved it. He had a mechanical, but he put 40 seconds into me, so chapeau to him,” Thomas told Eurosport. “I guess it’s nice to lose by that much, it would have been worse to lose by a second or two. At least he smashed me.”

Roglič’s fourth Giro time trial victory of his career was certainly categorical, given his setback on the climb, and it sets him up for a Grand Tour victory that looked anything but certain in the opening days of the race.

Multiple teammates suffering COVID or crashing out even before the race had started and a lowkey opening time trial against Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) left Roglič looking vulnerable, first against the Belgian and then after Evenepoel quit, ill, against a more consistent Thomas. But at the last possible moment, and within a stone’s throw of his native Slovenia, Roglič has turned things around for good.

In a stage split into three tranches of riders because of its logistical challenges, Thibault Guernalec (Arkea-Samsic) became the first rider to go under 50 minutes for the 18.6-kilometre course, clocking a time of 48:35 and setting a benchmark for the remainder of the day.

After a lengthy spell of over two hours in the hot seat, compatriot Thomas Champion (Cofidis) briefly took over with a 19-second gain. However, young American pro, Matthew Riccitello (Israel-Premier Tech) subsequently crushed his time by a stunning 1:57.

Yet another long wait unfolded before the next time changes at the top of the day’s ranking came in quick succession. First, Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) knocked three seconds off Riccitello, but just minutes later, his teammate Brandon McNulty marked what looked like a potential stage-winning time of 45:30.

However, that result was almost instantly overturned by the narrowest of margins by Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), as McNulty’s compatriot finished two seconds ahead. Any hope that Kuss would complete his Grand Tour ‘set’ of victories with his first-ever Giro d’Italia stage win was quickly dashed when a monumental time trial performance by Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) saw the Frenchman finish six seconds ahead.

The surprises and changes kept on coming in breathtaking succession, first when Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) then bested Pinot’s time, only for João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) to briefly look as if he would claim his second stage in less than a week by beating Caruso by a 13-second margin. Almeida’s podium position on GC was safe, as a result, but the biggest duel of them all was unfolding just a few minutes behind him on the Lussari.

Roglič and Thomas share a moment before heading in to battle.

Thomas’ initial disadvantage to Roglič of two seconds at the first time check made it seem his hopes of holding onto the maglia rosa, which he held by 26 seconds, almost intact. Both riders had straightforward, scheduled bike changes prior to the crunch climb, although Thomas lost a further five seconds or so by changing his helmet as well.

Egged on by thousands of Slovenian fans, and riding a bike with especially low gearing, Roglič’s reconnaissance of the course earlier in the day – he was reportedly the sole rider to do so – looked to be paying off. But although his advantage on Thomas slowly opened to around 15 seconds by halfway up the ultra-steep seven-kilometre climb, the Welshman was clearly planning on either holding onto the lead or, at worst, going down with all guns blazing.

Then suddenly, as Roglič’s bike juddered to a halt after it hit a rut, it looked as if Thomas might just hang on to pink thanks to the Jumbo-Visma’s rider’s umpteenth encounter with misfortune in a Grand Tour. Instead of panicking, though, the Slovenian calmly kept his head and as soon as he’d started back on again, reports began filtering that Thomas was cracking and the margin, rather than narrowing, was widening even further.

After Roglič pounded across the line to push Almeida off the top spot by a massive 44 seconds, had he not taken the pink, his stage victory might still yet felt like a defeat. Instead, Thomas’ was starting to flail badly, and as the seconds ticked remorselessly past and it became clear that he was unable to make up for lost time, finally, Roglič could claim the lead, barring total disaster on Sunday, for good.

The final stage of the Giro d’Italia is a circuit race in Rome. The route consists of an out-and-back trip to the coast and five virtually flat lapses of 17.6 kilometers in front of roaring tifosi in the Eternal City.

The riders leave the city for an outing to one of the beaches of Rome, Lido di Castel Fusano. It’s 16 kilometers one way and another 16 kilometers back before the Giro enters its finishing circuit.

The circuit is a copy of the Rome stage of the 2018 Giro with the extension of a northerly lap, which mostly runs along the Tiber and also dips its toe into the Villa Borghese park. The other part goes through the old city, via Circus Maximus to the Colosseum, while the finish is situated on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, halfway the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia.

The race is a perfect chance for fast men to award themselves after having endured the enormous amount of high altitude torture in the course the Giro. In fact, the total altitude gain was 51,300 meters.

None of this on the final day of action. The winner succeeds Sam Bennett. The Irishman outgunned Elia Viviani and Jean-Pierre Drucker in Rome, while Chris Froome also crossed the line celebrating.

Stage 20 result:

1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 44:23

2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers at 40s

3. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates at 42s

4. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious at 55s

5. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ) at 59s

6. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma at 1:05

7. Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates at 1:07

8. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers at 1:18

9. Andreas Leknessund (Ned) DSM at 1:49

10. Jay Vine (Aus) UAE Team Emirates at 1:53

General Classification:

1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 82:40:36

2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers at 14s

3. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates at 1:15

4. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious at 4:40

5. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ) at 5:43

6. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers at 6:05

7. Eddie Dunbar (Irl) Jayco-AlUla at 7:30

8. Andreas Leknessund (Ned) DSM at 7:31

9. Lennard Kämna (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 7:46

10. Laurens De Plus (Bel) Ineos Grenadiers at 9:08

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