Giro Stage 16: The Queen Stage is Overthrown
A disappointing last-minute re-routing of the race blunts the Giro's Queen Stage
Despite being billed as the Queen Stage, the Giro’s 16th stage resembled something more like a Duchess, or even Lady, stage. The original course was extremely shortened due to the potential for snow on the day’s high mountain passes. In the end, the race organizers decided to shorten the stage directly before the riders took off and cut out the two major mid-stage passes, keeping only the first and last climbs.
This had the effect of turning the stage into a highly predictable procession where the breakaway escaped, was chased through a long valley by Egan Bernal’s Ineos team, before Bernal launched an attack on the final climb and bagged an impressive solo victory in the beautiful and charming mountain town of Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Romain Bardet and Damiano Curaso put in a hugely impressive chase on the very technical final descent and came in 2nd and 3rd 27-seconds behind Bernal. Curaso’s performance put him firmly into second place overall, while Hugh Carthy rose into third overall after his EF team blew the race up at the base of the Passo Giau. Pretenders like Simon Yates and Aleksandr Vlasov were found out after being dropped on the final climb and losing over two minutes by the finish.
But at the end of the day, Bernal extended his overall lead and appears firmly ensconced, and completely unshakeable in the Maglia Rosa. However, with Curaso lurking in 2nd, and a confident Carthy in 3rd, anything is still possible in the race’s final week, if they are allowed to race over the planned climbs.
Stage 16 Notebook:
80km: Day has been cut short due to snowy conditions in the highest Dolomites passes, which is obviously a massive shame. This shows why sitting and waiting for the mountains at the Giro is a risky move. They are never guaranteed to happen. Take time when you can and don’t wait for the high mountains.
As I expected, Vincenzo Nibali, Dan Martin and Joao Almeida are up the road. Joao is 6 minutes off the front and has taken back almost all of the losses he has racked up so far this Giro. Davide Formolo is also up there. This would be a very interesting day if it was the original route, but they won’t be able to hold off the chasers through this long valley.
73km: A 15 rider group chasing a lead group of six who dropped them on the descent off the first climb. Almeida has overtaken Remco in the virtual GC, at what point does DQS start to chase him down (I’m kidding, kind of)?
On a day like today, I would much prefer to be up in the lead group of six. It is just so much easier mentally to push through when you feel like you have a direct mission, and physically, it is warmer.
72.5km: Back in the peloton, Ineos clearly has things under control. Unfortunately, for a mountain stage to get really crazy, there need to be multiple mountain passes squeezed together, and we may not get that at this year’s Giro.
65.5km: Breakaway: Izagirre, Almeida, Pedrero, Nibali, Gebreighzabier and Formolo. 3'24'' for rest of the breakaway. 5'30'' for peloton.
57km: The chasing breakaway is now only a minute ahead of the peloton. These guys are really running out of steam. Ultimately, this would have really only gotten crazy is if this was the race situation with the original passes left to race. As things stand, Ineos can just ride tempo through the valley to the Giau and let Bernal climb as fast as he can and not worry about isolated on the other side.
43km: EF now taking it up in the peloton. Why? This is Ineos's responsibility and it’s crazy to me that other teams keep coming forward to bail them out. If you want to beat them, you have to let them ride themselves into the ground first.
Are they doing this because Carthy’s fifth place is in danger due to Almeida? If Carthy gets dropped on the Giau this will be a really bad move.
32km: EF is drilling it on the front of the peloton while Remco has been dropped and is almost two minutes behind. He will probably leave the race tonight, but what a mess, they’ve held Joao back on two key stages for him and could be in the GC without those hold-ups.
26.3km: Giau starts and the three who remain (Formolo, Nibali, and Pedrero) are 1’44 in front. Vlasov has a mechanical and this could be really devastating for him. This is a brutally steep, and long, climb.
26km: Formolo immediately drops the other two. Nibali just doesn’t have the strength he used to have. Formolo is still in the big ring on 14% slopes, wow.
25km: GC group has gotten away from the peloton. EF has ripped it off the front and Bernal only has Martinez with him. Yates is struggling on the back already and Vlasov is off the back.
How did the TV cameras miss this move? The entire peloton has been dropped except for a few GC contenders.
24.8km: Pedrero is coming back and closing on Formolo and Almeida has gotten himself back as well.
24.2km: Yates is riding a few lengths off the back of the group, not a good sign at all.
24km: Yates is dropped. The troubling sign here is that this isn’t even the big contenders putting him under pressure, but Simon Carr, the WorldTour rookie on EF. Caruso is still here and is tucked so closely behind Bardet that we can barely see him in any images. The guy is unshakeable and is becoming a serious problem for the bigger-name podium hopefuls and appears to be the only rider who can even attempt to stay close to Bernal.
23-ish km: It wasn’t shown on live TV, but a recording shows Bernal going to the front and putting everyone in this elite group under immense pressure. He distances everyone but Carthy almost immediately. Carthy looks under serious pressure trying to hold on. I wonder if he’d be better served just riding his own pace.
21.1km: Bernal just keeps the pace on and at some point in the last few kms, has dropped everyone in his group. He crests the top of the Passo Giau alone and is literally sprinting towards the top. The guy is absolutely flying.
14km: The live images are totally unavailable, so we may never really know what happened here. We only have GPS time gaps, but it looks like Bernal is leading Caruso by 46-seconds, Bardet by 1’13, and Yates by 2’40. This is a big day for Bardet and he could take even more time on the descent. Caruso is also fantastic, proving his first two weeks weren’t a fluke.
Some Point on the Descent: The small bit of available footage shows Bernal slightly cautiously/clumsily descending the Giau to the finish in Cortina. He rightly seems shaken by the wet roads and poor visibility. And the ever-closening time gaps back to the chasers Caruso and Bardet reflect this. It is also worth noting that the chasers on are disc brakes while Bernal is on rim brakes, which are far inferior in these conditions.
Where is Carthy? He might ride himself onto the podium but his EF set up that Bernal attack and Caruso will go into a comfortable second place because of it.
4.5km: Bernal is losing time to Bardet, has lost almost a minute on this descent. The rim breaks can’t be helping.
.7km: Bernal is only 30-seconds in front of Caruso and Bardet. They are really pegging him back.
Finish: Bernal makes one of the more insane decisions I’ve ever seen with this much on the line in a bike race. To show off his Maglia Rosa, he makes the strange decision to take off his jacket on the uphill finishing straight. WHY? The chasers are really closing in on him and he could easily bumble this, especially with the extremely tight sleeves on the Castelli jackets. This is highly bizarre and I wonder if it was an order from the team car.
Bernal wins solo in the beautiful mountain town of Cortina. Bardet and Caruso come into the finishing straight in downtown Cortina a few seconds later. They nearly pegged back Bernal on this descent and finish only 27-seconds back. Wow, they really drilled that descent. It would have been amazing if they would have caught Bernal while he was taking his jacket off.
Ciccone, Carthy, and Almeida finish around a minute back. Almeida got screwed by his team.
Vlasov loses over two minutes
Current GC Standings:
Bernal gets a very impressive stage win and further extends his overall lead. Oddly, this is only his second ever grand tour stage win. The first was Stage 11 earlier this Giro.
He is clearly the strongest rider in the race and it seems like this would have happened even if the stage was the original length. If anything, the shortened stage hurt him since he didn’t have enough climbing meters to totally bury riders like Vlasov, Carthy, Yates.
Bardet really impressed today. I had written him off as a GC contender since he failed to drop a bonked Froome at the 2017 Tour, but today was hugely impressive. He doesn’t have the raw power to climb with the best, but that descent was pure class. To pull back over a minute and get within shouting distance of winning the stage shows his highly unique descending talent. He is just a straight-up great bike racer. Not the best at any one discipline, but just a great all-round rider.
Another massively impressive performance was from Damiano Caruso. The 33-year-old Italian’s best-ever grand tour result is 8th overall at the 2015 Giro, but he is on the ride of his life so far. In my mind, today was his biggest test, but he passed with flying colors. He is just as good, if not better, at climbing as the non-Bernal GC contenders, and has a slightly better TT in his back pocket. Not to mention that he has superior bike-handling skills. It is difficult to imagine him being knocked off the podium at this point.
It is crazy to me that serious GC riders would ride anything but disc brakes. They are slightly heavier, and they add a bit of weight, but the rims brakes were clearly was an issue for Bernal on that final descent and a huge advantage for Bardet and Caruso.
Carthy rides onto the podium and in retrospect, the decision to set pace worked due to Vlasov getting a jacket caught in his wheel. You could argue they lucked out, but perhaps EF’s hard pace caused him to make the mistake. Hard to imagine him leapfrogging both Bernal and Caruso, but a podium would be big for him.
Simon Carr on EF was the last man standing for Carthy and is a huge young talent. What is amazing is that he was brought over from Delko in the offseason after their sponsor, Nippo, switched to sponsor EF. What a diamond in the rough.
Simon Yates is the big winner of the shortened stage. The guy never looked good and could have lost 10 minutes if we did the full stage.
Remco loses 28-minutes, which makes complete sense. He will almost certainly drop out of the race during tomorrow’s rest day.
This makes complete sense and should have been the plan from day one. But, the question remains of why DQS went all-in for a 21-year-old who has never raced a grand tour before and is recovering from a broken pelvis?
DQS likely won’t be able to get a stage win at this point and Joao Almeida has given up close to 4-minutes if we count his losses on stages 11 & 14 due to waiting for Evenepoel. All in all, it seems like an extremely odd and uncharacteristic decision for a team who prides themselves on never putting all of their eggs in a single basket and has achieved amazing results due to this ethos.
Speaking of which, Almeida looked great today and could be battling for a podium position if he was given the freedom to ride for himself. And if he wouldn’t have had the bad day back on stage 4, he would have a legit shot at the overall win due to the long time trial on the final stage.
Tobias Foss won’t win the overall, but the 23-year-old Norwegian is still in 9th place and really impressed me today. We already know he packs a world-class time trial, but I wasn’t sure about his climbing. But by finishing with riders like Davide Formolo and ahead of Simon Yates, we can see that he has massive potential as a future grand tour contender. Jumbo-Visma could very well have secured their post-Roglic GC future.
Bernal might have 1st place locked up, but 2nd-7th places are separated by only 2’38. Keep in mind that there we have three mountain top finishes and a 30km TT remaining. It is going to be a fight for the final podium, and if the summit finishes are able to run as planned, Bernal’s lead, at least in theory, can’t be taken for granted.
Notes on the Bizzare Lack of Images & Abrupt Route Shortening
Despite the GC gaps that were created, it was hard not to be incredibly disappointed with the stage. It was billed as the ‘Queen Stage’ of the race, but the majority of the planned passes were cut short right before the start due to still unknown reasons. Additionally, they failed to deliver live images during the most important parts of the race in places that I’ve personally gotten fantastic 4G cell coverage. In my mind, this is completely unacceptable.
An interesting theory from serious cycling twitter users is that the race organizer Mauro Vengi used the rain as a chance to shorten the stage to thwart the breakaway, which has been dominating the race so far. The shorter stage almost guaranteed the stage would be contested by the GC contenders.
As someone else pointed out to me on Twitter, there was likely a fear among the race organizers that snow would hit the high mountains mid-stage and cause the complete cancellation of the race. By cutting out the mid-stage climbs, they hedged their bets so that if snow did hit, they could have finished the stage atop Passo Giau.
This is a fair point, but it reeks of absolute incompetence. After 100+ years of racing the Giro, everyone involved should know that there is a risk of rain and snow anytime you enter the mountains in May. This is a constant in the race’s history, and being seemingly caught off guard by the threat of bad weather seems insane.
In the end, the weather ended up being rainy, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary. If this was the Tour of Romandie or Swiss, nobody would have thought twice about it.
And this speaks to the most disappointing part of the race, the complete lack of TV coverage at the most important points. The host broadcaster, RAI, has struggled this entire race to deliver live pictures anytime rain materializes. I’m not sure what could potentially be causing this, but this issue doesn’t seem to happen in any other race with different host broadcasters. At this pace, we will be lucky to see a single important moment before the race reaches Milan.
There will be no stage preview since tomorrow is the race’s second and final rest day. I will be sending out a brief post with some rest-day analysis and a stage 17 preview…