Though not even halfway, this year’s Tour of Italy already seems beheaded

TORTONA - Wednesday’s 219 kilometre-long stage was this Giro’s longest. Stage 11 would take the riders from Camaiore (Tuscany) to Tortona (Piemonte) along a stretch of the Ligurian coast. It is not the first time that a Giro offers a stage which finishes in the town of Tortona. Tortona is where resident five time Giro winner and one of the greatest cyclists of all times, Fausto Coppi died.

Early in the race, with still 210 kilometres to go, six cyclists broke away. Yet the peloton soon started chasing them. All the sprinters had marked this stage: the Giro soon will enter the mountains where sprinters do not stand a chance.

Barely two days after Remco Evenepoel, another four cyclists of the Belgian SOUDAL-QuickStep team did not start due to a positive COVID-19 test. The team now has only three cyclists left in the competition. When interviewed by Belgian TV, Giro director Mauro Vegni, his mouth mask pulled down, said he worries more about the weather than COVID-19 and that his main concern is to get the Giro to its final destination, Rome.

The Giro unfortunately has become the least popular of the three Grand Tours among the very top cyclists. The reason not only lies in the Giro’s timing, which makes it hardly compatible with the world’s most important cycling event, the “Tour de France”, but also in its toughness and unpredictability.

A collective crash after a turn on wet asphalt about 70 kilometres before the finish involved four cyclists of the INEOS Grenadiers team. An ambulance had to take shadow favourite Tao Geoghegan Hart to the hospital. The INEOS team would later communicate that Hart had sustained a fractured hip and that he needed surgery.

This one crash made the team, which had five cyclists among the first eleven of the general classification, lose two of its frontmen. French naturalized cyclist Pavel Sivakov was involved in the crash. He stayed with Hart and lost 14 minutes. Now, it will be up to veteran rider Geraint Thomas (36) to bring victory to INEOS.

Team Jumbo Visma’s Primož Roglič, second in the general classification at two seconds from Thomas, also was involved in the crash. Despite flesh wounds on his left thigh and ditto shin, Roglič managed to continue the race using the bike of one of his team mates.

When Hart in 2020 won the Giro, he was considered an atypical winner since he had not won any other big race. With favourites Evenepoel, Hart and Vlasov out of the race and Thomas and Hart injured, will the Giro yet again have a surprise winner?

Another crash right before the final split the peloton in two. At the finish line, a photo finish was needed to confirm that German Pascal Ackerman had won the final sprint. Italian Jonathan Milan, who already won a stage this Giro, came a close second.

Despite several hills, wet asphalt and two crashes, the cyclists made the 219 kilometres in less than 5,5 hours which gives an average speed of almost 40 kilometres/hour.

Not even halfway this Giro, 139 of the original 176 participants remain. And the hardest part is yet to come.

General classification (top 10) after stage number 11:

1. Geraint Thomas (GBR) INEOS Grenadiers

2. Primož Roglič (SVN) Team Jumbo-Visma +2”

3. João Almeida(PRT) UAE Team Emirates +22”

4. Andreas Leknessund (NOR) Team DSM +35”

5. Damiano Caruso (ITA) Bahrain-Victorious +1’28”

6. Lennard Kämna (DEU) Bora-Hansgrohe +1’52”

7. Eddie Dunbar (IRL) Team Jayco AlUla +2’32”

8. Thymen Arensman (NLD) INEOS Grenadiers +2’32”

9. Laurens De Plus (BEL) INEOS Grenadiers +2’36”

10. Aurélien Paret-Peintre (FRA) AG2R Citroën Team +2’48”