Key Takeaways: Giro d'Italia Stage 13
Breaking down the heavily altered opening alpine stage & what it means for the rest of this Giro d'Italia
Movistar’s Einer Rubio outsprinted a distraught Thibaut Pinot and fading Jefferson Cepeda at the summit of Switzerland’s Crans-Montana climb, where his two companions in the lead group made a fatal flaw of focusing all of their attention on each other and forgetting about the up-and-coming Colombian climber.
The alpine stage, which was reduced from 200 kilometers to just 75 kilometers to appease a peloton protesting yet another day of racing in cold, wet, and potentially dangerous conditions, failed to produce the anticipated GC battle due to a mixture of the shortened course not allowing the contenders, who are all on an extremely high level, to get away from one another, and a lack of motivation from the top three, who likely don’t feel a need to gain time on one another with a brutal third week remaining, including an absurdly challenging uphill time trial on stage 20. This allowed Geraint Thomas, even with a weakened Ineos team, to somewhat easily defend his GC lead and hold onto the Maglia Rosa for yet another day.
Stage Top Five:
1) Einer Rubio +0
2) Thibaut Pinot +06
3) Jefferson Cepeda +12
4) Derek Gee +1’01
5) Valentin Paret-Peintre +1’29
GC Top Five:
1) Geraint Thomas (Ineos) +00
2) Primož Roglič (Jumbo) +02
3) João Almeida (UAE) +22
4) Andreas Leknessund (DSM) +42
5) Damiano Caruso +1’28
Stage 13 Notebook
65.6km: Constant attacking to get into the breakaway begins as soon as the race starts at the base of the extremely difficult Croix de Coeur climb. A few kilometers in, a breakaway has forged clear, with strong climbers like Einer Rubio, Jefferson Cepeda, and Thibaut Pinot. Derek Gee, the powerful Canadian who was an unknown before this race, is also surprisingly in here with his Israel-PT teammate Matthew Riccitello.
61.9km: Ineos is on the front back in the GC group. After losing the majority of their team in the fast opening few kms, and not wanting to expose themselves to potential attacks from the others, they slow things down in order to allow their dropped teammates to catch back on.
28.2km: In the valley between the day’s two climbs, EF’s Cepeda is refusing to work on the front, while Pinot is yelling at him to do his fair share. Notice Movistar’s Rubio sitting unnoticed at the back.
12.1km: Almost as soon as the climb begins, Pinot attacks. While it could make sense to test the legs of his competitors and see if a solo win is possible, once an attack like this is launched, you have to be ready to deal with the consequences of ‘breaking the peace’ in the breakaway.
8.5km: After being reeled in by Cepeda, Pinot becomes visibly agitated and continues attacking over and over again after Cepeda smartly declines to get on the front, knowing Pinot will just attack him after he exhausts himself by taking a pull. As the two riders waste energy arguing over this at the front, Einer Rubio is conserving energy by riding his own pace behind.
5.5km: Back in the GC group, Ineos is setting just a hard enough pace to keep Pinot, who is just under five minutes back in the GC standings, from overtaking their lead. Hugh Carthy, realizing he can attack off this steady pace to pull some time back in the GC, attacks. With the top contenders only focused on one another, he is completely unmarked.
5.2km: Up front, Cepeda decides to turn the tables and attacks. Behind, Rubio sits on Pinot’s wheel as the Frenchman works to reel in Cepeda.
1.9km: Pinot, who has continued to attack, reels in another Cepeda move and the two riders continue to exchange words. Meanwhile, Rubio continues to get a free ride behind as the two do all the work to reel each other in.
500m: Cepeda opens up his sprint from an incredibly long way out. He is immediately marked by Pinot, with Rubio still sitting in third.
350m: As they come around the final corner, Rubio finally emerges from his third-place position as he comes around a fading Pinot and rides up Cepeda’s slipstream.
300m: After getting into Cepeda’s slipstream, Rubio comes around and surges into the lead.
Finish: Rubio, relatively fresh due to the restraint he showed up the climb, quickly builds up a winning margin and coasts over the finish line for a massive stage win. Behind, Hugh Carthy’s attack nets him just six seconds as he comes in just a few meters ahead of the main GC group, led by Geraint Thomas.
1) Einer Rubio used bike racing 101 tactics to get the biggest win of his career
The Colombian climber might be young, but he clearly understands the old-school tactical reality that the rider who does the least amount of work throughout the stage has the greatest chance of winning.
The 25-year-old played his cards perfectly by getting into the early move and then promptly hiding in the wheels for the rest of the stage until he got into the final few hundred meters.
He knew that even with Pinot and Cepeda surging clear at times, a steady tempo would get him to the finish line with the leaders while also preserving his fast-twitch muscle fibers, allowing him to easily outsprint the others.
Since Rubio surged clear of a group that included Remco Evenepoel to win atop the brutal Jebel Jais climb at the UAE Tour back in February, one has to wonder why Cepeda and Pinot didn’t pay more attention to him, especially when we consider that winning atop the Jebel Jais climb has been a great predictor of pure climbing talent in the past.
2) Thibaut Pinot’s hubris cost him the stage
The vast majority of fans will be in mourning this evening for the veteran Frenchman, who collapsed in tears after missing out on a Giro stage win in his final season after lighting up the race.
However, although those images may pull at the heartstrings, Pinot only has his own hubris to blame for this loss.
After his initial ‘test’ attack didn’t stick and Rubio/Cepeda proved they could hang with him, his constant frustration-based attacking was not only pointless, since the other two could just ride tempo behind, but it actively hurt him since he was exhausting his body’s ability to make potentially race-winning accelerations, which meant he arrived at the finish line without a punch.
The absurdity of his attacking and frustration with Cepeda is that he was the fastest finisher in the group and would probably have won the stage out of a reduced sprint if he had simply ridden a steady tempo and marked attacks from the others.
Something to keep in mind is that Pinot’s relentless attacking is a throwback riding style where climbs were ridden at start-stop paces and it was considered important for the others to go incredibly deep to stay with the leader.
But, in modern cycling, riders have discovered that it is much easier to simply ride their own steady pace and that it is somewhat irrelevant if they are marking someone or letting them ride clear. And, not only have Pinot’s attacks to ‘break free’ of the others become out-of-date, but they are actively counterproductive since they sap extremely limited anaerobic capacity that can be used in the sprint finish.
The use of power meters, which tells riders exactly how hard they are going, makes this much easier.
3) Derek Gee is the breakout star so far at this Giro d’Italia
The previously unknown Canadian, who is still in his first full pro season at the WorldTour with Israel-Premier Tech, continued to build a resume as a top-level talent by getting into his third serious breakaway of this Giro and racking up his third top-four stage finish.
While he already had two second places so far at this Giro, today was Gee’s most impressive performance of this race when we consider the big, powerful former track rider got up and over some of the hardest climbs of the race with pure climbers like Pinot, Cepeda, and Rubio.
The much lighter Pinot was estimated to have produced around 410 watts for the roughly 45 minute first climb of the day, meaning the much heavier Gee would have had to produce in the range of 450-470 watts for the same duration.
This tells us that not only is he a potential stage-hunting star in the making, but that he could have a Bradley Wiggins/Geraint Thomas (both former track pursuiters)-esque GC transition in his future.
The fact that Israel-PT found such a major talent, who has been one of the most impressive riders at this Giro, displays some very impressive talent-finding.
4) Ineos wants to keep the race as easy as possible to avoid exposing their weakened team
Many would have been disappointed to see a complete lack of GC battle over two massive alpine climbs, but, with the benefit of hindsight, this makes perfect sense.
For example, if given a choice between riding a challenging, but steady pace to defend their race lead and preserve energy for much harder stages to come, versus setting an infernal pace that would have left Geraint Thomas far more vulnerable to attacks, why would they choose to do anything but the bare minimum to defend their lead?
The potential upside in this scenario on a short stage like today is taking a maximum of 4 seconds on Roglič via a stage-winning time bonus (since Roglič is so quick he would almost certainly finish second), while the downside is setting Roglič up for an attack to take a 10-second time gain via the stage-winning time bonuses (considering Thomas isn’t as quick as some of the other riders in that group) while also significantly depleting their team.
With this in mind, expect Ineos and Thomas to default to the easiest-possible option at every turn unless an opportunity to take time on Roglič presents itself.
5) Jumbo-Visma and Primož Roglič are happy to keep Geraint Thomas and Ineos in the race lead
An oddity of this Giro is that the team in second place overall and the main challenger of the race leader, Jumbo-Visma and Primož Roglič, are perfectly happy with Ineos and Thomas having the race lead and would like them to stay there until as late in the race as possible.
And judging by what we saw today, it is very possible that Roglič and Jumbo join Ineos in riding incredibly conservatively through these difficult mountain stages unless an opportunity to take time on Thomas (i.e. Thomas is obviously struggling and dropped) presents itself.
It might be incredibly disappointing to fans, but the fact that the incentives of the top two teams in this race are currently aligned means we will likely continue to see highly defensive racing.
6) The looming brutal stage 20 time trial could be neutralizing this race
Outside of the aligned incentives of Jumbo and Ineos, a major culprit of this defensive racing is that, just like last year’s extremely brutal stage 20, the presence of a brutal and decisive climb on the second-to-last day of racing is incentivizing the GC contenders to save every last drop of energy.
The stage 20 time trial, which features a final eight kilometers at a near mind-bending steepness of an over 11% average gradient, is lurking like a bogeyman since minutes gained before then could be surrendered in the course of just a few kilometers of the brutal climb.
The problem is that Roglic or Almeida’s ability to take time into Thomas is directly correlated to how much energy they save through these stages.
Sure, they, or Thomas, could attempt to attack to build a time buffer before the final TT, but if it leaves them depleted on stage 20, it will ultimately result in a negative time flow (gaining 45-second via a mountain stage attack but losing 1.5 minutes due to being fatigued in the TT).
This means that for the second straight Giro, GC contenders will be on the lookout for the ‘cheapest’ time they can gain on one another (time bonuses), while likely eschewing the most ‘expensive’ (attacking with multiple climbs remaining on a mountain stage).
Stage 14 Preview
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