Rest Day Analysis: Ineos' Aggressive Strategy & TT-Weighted Final GC Projections
Breaking down why every GC contender not named Remco needs to attack nearly every day in the next 10 road stages
Rest Day BTP Podcast: I sit down with Team BikeExchange performance coach Marco Pinotti to discuss the two best riders at the Giro so far, Remco Evenpoel and Egan Bernal, and how their racing schedules could impact grand tour preparation for the entire peloton.
With 10 days of racing in the rearview mirror, the Giro d’Italia is about to enter its second half, where the GC favorites will face much more difficult challenges than they did in the first ten days. As Marco Pinotti touched on in our chat on the podcast, while we are close to halfway through the Giro in terms of stages, as far as energy spent is concerned, we have yet barely scratched the surface.
If we look at the list of stages remaining, it becomes clear that we are entering an absolutely brutal final 11 stages. I’ve bolded stages I’ve somewhat subjectively pegged as ‘difficult’ or likely to have an impact on the GC standings.
Stage 11: Perugia – Montalcino 162km hills
Stage 12: Siena – Bagno di Romagna 212km hills
Stage 13: Ravenna – Verona 198km flat
Stage 14: Citadella – Monte Zoncolan 205km mountains [Uphill Finish: 14km @ 8.5%]
Stage 15: Grado – Gorizia 147km hills
Stage 16: Sacile – Cortina d’Ampezzo 212km mountains
Stage 17: Canazei – Sega di Ala 193km mountains [Uphill Finish: 11.5km @ 9.5%]
Stage 18: Rovereto – Stradella 231km flat
Stage 19: Abbiategrasso – Alpe di Mera 176km mountains [Uphill Finish: 9.4km @ 9.2%]
Stage 20: Verbania – Alpe Motta 164km mountains [Uphill Finish: 7.3km @ 7.7%]
Stage 21: Senago – Milan 30.3km ITT
With 9 out of the remaining 11 stages serving up a difficult test for the GC contenders, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to call the race for anyone at this point. This would be very different at the Tour de France, where we would have a pretty good idea of the final podium at this point. This isn’t uncommon for the Giro, since, in the last 21 editions, only six riders have gone on to win the race after leading the race by stage 9 and into the first rest day.
While we still have a LOT of racing left to do, what is clear is that Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel have been the two strongest riders in the race so far, with Aleksandr Vlasov just a step behind and lurking in third place.
Current GC Top-11
An important thing to keep in mind is that there is a looming, pancake-flat individual time trial waiting on the final stage. If we take each GC contender’s time loss/gain relative to each other from the 9km-long stage 1 TT and extrapolate it out over the 30kms waiting on stage 21, we get the following final standings.
TT Weighted Final GC Projections
Remco Evenepoel +0
Aleksandr Vlasov +23
Egan Bernal +52
Hugh Carthy +108
Simon Yates +119
Giulio Ciccone +166
These mock standings put into perspective how aggressive every rider who isn’t named Remco Evenepoel needs to be in the remaining 8 non-TT/sprint stages.
Ineos Has Appeared to Learn From Jumbo’s Mistakes
One thing that has really surprised me from the first 11 stages of the race is just how aggressive Ineos has raced. On stages 4, 6 & 9, Ineos has taken risks to get Bernal time on Vlasov and Evenepeol, which makes complete sense when we consider their need to gain as much time as possible before the stage 21 TT. And they have had success. Bernal has gained a net of 34-seconds on Evenepoel on three, mildly difficult mountain stages. And if we consider that the last three grand tours have been decided by less than a minute, these hard-fought seconds will be critical in the third week.
We all might look at the difficult parcours to come and assume minutes will be wedged between the contenders, but this assumption is actually mostly false. If we look at the last five editions of the Giro, four were decided by less than a minute with the largest margin being only 65-seconds.
Giro Winning Time Differences 2020-2016:
This is a great example of how the ‘sit and wait for the big mountains’ approach, even in a race with brutal mountain stages like the Giro, can be a road to failure. If Evenepoel, who weighs 60ks, can climb at 400 watts for an hour, there just isn’t that much of an opportunity for a rider like Bernal to take time on long, sustained climbs.
In modern grand tours, so many potential winners lose the overall win or a podium position by failing to seize opportunities to take time early in the race, with the most infamous example being Jumbo-Visma and Primoz Roglic at the 2020 Tour de France. The top riders today are all so fit and the differences between their form so slight, that even the toughest climbs tend to produce fairly small differences.
At the 2020 Tour, Roglic’s Jumbo team rode in a defensive formation and controlled the race from day 1, assuming the final time trial on stage 20 would give them a chance to extend their lead on any potential challengers. Of course, in hindsight, this was incredibly foolish, since Tadej Pogacar, who had beat Roglic earlier in the year at the 2020 Slovenian national TT championships, once again beat Roglic in the stage 20 TT and ripped the Yellow jersey off his back with only the ceremonial stage 21 in Paris remaining.
It is clearly easier said than done, but if Jumbo had raced less defensively at the Tour and attempted to use their strength and numbers to gain bits of time on Pogacar, or at least mark him more closely on stage 8, perhaps Roglic could have held off Pogacar in the final TT. Even the 34-seconds Bernal has gained on Evenepoel through time bonuses and slight gaps at the end of stages could have been enough to allow Roglic to hold off the Pogacar onslaught in the TT.
In short, I’ve been incredibly impressed how Ineos has appeared to watch these mistakes and allowed them to inform their own strategy so far at the Giro. Of course, this change isn’t due to some altruistic desire to inject excitement back in grand tour racing, but because they have to. They lack the raw strength that made them so feared and hated during their heyday in the mid-2010s and the absence of a TT-crushing leader means they have to ride much more intelligently and adapt their tactics from gaining time in the TTs and defending on every road stage to a more aggressive and interesting racing style.
Stage 11 Preview & Predictions
The Giro organizers have no mercy. As a way to welcome the peloton back after the first rest day, they have served up a 163km stage full of explosive climbs and 35kms of the Tuscan white gravel roads, which are most famously featured in the Strade-Bianche one day classic.
Egan Bernal rode to an incredibly impressive third place at Strade-Bianche earlier this season. This bodes very well for his chances to take time on tomorrow’s stage, which features many of the same roads.
Remco Evenepoel is a huge talent who can seemingly handle anything that is thrown at him. But watch out for how he handles the notoriously difficult day-after-the-rest day. Many strong riders have struggled the stage after rest days, and this will be Evenepoel’s first experience with one.
Ineos has a team built for stages like this and has a weapon of mass destruction in Filippo Ganna. The massive Italian powerhouse will be able to put the GC favorites under pressure on this stage and will provide the perfect workhouse for Bernal over the difficult stage. If the team wants to, they could use him to blow the race up with 40km-to-go.
They also have Gianni Moscon, who could win a stage like this in his own right but will most likely be dedicated to staying with Bernal at all times and could pull him to the finish after Ganna blows up the peloton.
Since Bernal both needs time on Evenepoel/Vlasov and has a team who has shown that they are willing to take risks to do so, I expect tomorrow’s stage to see some major GC action.
But the stage should also see some stage hunters like Peter Sagan mixing it up at the front, which could give us the thrilling sight of Sagan, Evenepoel, and Bernal all duking it out on the final climb. In this respect, it could be a very similar day to stage 5 of the 2014 Tour de France when powerhouse rider Lars Boom beat Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang on the cobblestones of Northern France.
Prediction: Ineos blows up the race in the final 30kms. Bernal wins the stage by a few seconds over Evenepoel after dropping him on the final climb before the descent into the finish. Vlasov is distanced on one of the gravel sections and has to be furiously paced to the finish by what is left of his Astana team. Peter Sagan performs a daredevil descent in an attempt to catch Bernal before the finish but can’t quite close the gap.
Where/When to Watch Stage 11:
Free: Tiz Cycling
Broadcast Time: 6:35 a.m. – 11:35 a.m. EST (estimate)