Where the Giro Was Won & Ineos Struggles at the Dauphine Time Trial

Breaking down where the Giro's winning gaps came from & where Ineos' goes after their Dauphine struggles

Since a few days have passed since Egan Bernal’s win at the recent Giro d’Italia, I’ve had some time to look back through the race and examine where the race was actually won. On a surface level, this is, of course, an absurd exercise, since during a 21-stage race, the eventual winner wins the race throughout every one of the 21 stages. The race isn’t ‘lost’ or ‘won’ in a singular moment, but the compilation of the entire race.

However, if we take every stage where Bernal took or lost time on the other top GC contenders and then break down how much time was lost/taken on each stage type, we do get some interesting takeaways and lessons for how future grand tours should/could be raced.

Where The Top Three (plus Almeida) Won/Lost Time:

Stage 1 TT
Caruso: +0
Yates: +6
Bernal: +7

Stage 4 Uphill Finish
Bernal: +0
Caruso: +11
Yates: +11
Almeida: +4’01

Stage 6 Uphill Finish
Bernal: +0
Caruso: +13
Yates: +17
Almeida: +28

Stage 9 Uphill Finish
Bernal: +0
Caruso: +12
Yates: +12
Almeida: +12

Stage 11 Gravel Stage
Bernal: +0
Caruso: +26
Yates: +26
Almeida: +2’08 (waited for Remco)

Stage 14 High Mountain Summit Finish
Bernal: +0
Yates: +11
Caruso: +39
Almeida: +1’28 (waited for Remco)

Stage 16 High Mountain Stage
Bernal: +0
Caruso: +27
Almeida: +1’21
Yates: +2’37

Stage 17 Uphill Finish
Almeida: +0
Yates: +17
Caruso: +1’07
Bernal: +1’10

Stage 19 High Mountain Summit Finish
Yates: +0
Almeida: +11
Bernal: +28
Caruso: +32

Stage 20 High Mountain Summit Finish
Caruso: +0
Bernal: +24
Almeida: +41
Yates: +51

Stage 21 TT
Almeida: +0
Caruso: +56
Bernal: +1’26
Yates: +2’18

*To qualify for a ‘high mountain stage,’ the stage needed to cross over 2,000 meters or finish on a final climb that is above 1,500 meters high and over 7km-long.

The Race Was Won in the First Two Weeks

The first takeaway after looking at these totals is that Bernal and Ineos won the Giro in the first 14-stages with their aggressive racing on low-altitude uphill finishes and by taking time bonuses. After winning the shortened stage 16, he slotted in behind his teammate Dani Martinez and held on for dear life until he reached the finish line in Milan while Caruso slowly chipped into his lead.

Time Difference Bernal v Caruso By Week:
Stage 1-7: Bernal took 23s
Stages 8-14: Bernal took 1’28
Stages 15-21: Caruso took 23s

Bernal vs Caruso Totals:
Time Trials (2): 37-seconds Caruso
Uphill Finishes (4): 33-seconds Bernal
High-Mountain Stages (4): 46-seconds Bernal
Gravel Roads (1): 26-seconds Bernal
Time Bonuses (8): 21-seconds Bernal

If we take the total time taken over the number of stages that featured these types of stages, we can see the weighted importance of each stage type.

Time Difference per Stage Type:
Time Trials: 18.5-seconds
Uphill Finishes: 8.25-seconds
High-Mountain Stages: 11.25-seconds
Gravel Stages: 26-seconds
Time Bonuses: 2.6-seconds

Time Trials & Hilly Stages Matter More Than High Mountains

There are a few interesting things to take away from this. First is that while cycling journalists and media tend to always say that the gaps might be small now, but a certain climber will take minutes in the high mountains and these seconds will turn into minutes, this simply isn’t true.

If we break down the time differences that were taken between Bernal and Caruso, the off-terrain gravel stage 11 and the time trials on stages 1 & 2 proved to be where the most time per stage was taken. And while the high mountains still produced the biggest raw time difference, Bernal still only netted 46-seconds over Caruso in these four ‘high mountain’ stages. If he had waited for the mountains to attack, he very easily may have failed to produced enough of a time gap to hold off Caruso in the final time trial.

The big takeaway here should be that the key to winning grand tours is being aggressive on early, lower-altitude uphill finishes, off-terrain, and/or crosswinds stages, and that time bonuses really do matter. We saw this exact formula at the 2020 Tour de France, where the race’s biggest gaps were produced in the crosswinds on stage 7 and the time trial on stage 20. And if Jumbo wanted to beat Pogacar for the overall, they would have had to be much more aggressive in the early stages and attempt to drive open a gap before they got to the final week.

In short, we have long passed the era when contenders could simply sit and wait for the high mountains to make up minutes, which validates Ineos’ decision to be so aggressive early in this Giro instead of waiting until the mountains, where they would have struggled to take the necessary time. Grand tours are now won with chisels, not sledgehammers, and potential contenders need to come out swinging if they want a shot at overall victory.

Another interesting note is that Almeida lost 4’01 with his bad day on stage 4, and 3’36 waiting for Evenepoel. If we add this up, it comes out to 7’37, and Almeida finished 7’24 behind Bernal. These are massive assumptions, but if we assume that Almeida finishes with Bernal on stage 4, and isn’t forced to wait for Evenepoel, he would have won the Giro d’Italia by 13-seconds. Even if Almeida still lost the time on stage 4 and his DQS team allowed him to ride his own race, he would have finished 3’48 behind Bernal and finished in 3rd place overall. In my opinion, this shows massive mismanagement of the race from DQS and that their decision to throw everything behind Evenepoel’s overall chances was incredibly misguided.

The Dauphiné TT Exposes Flaw in Ineos’ Tour Plan

While Ineos was winning the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, they were also putting key pieces of their Tour squad through a dry-run across the alps at the Criterium du Dauphiné. Key pieces such as Richard Carapaz are doing next week’s Tour du Suisse, but Tao Geoghegan Hart, Geraint Thomas, both of which are stated Tour leaders for Ineos, and Richie Porte, are at the Dauphine to finish their Tour preparation.

Before the race started, I assumed that we would see yet another Ineos steamroll with Geraint Thomas just as we had at the Tour of Romandie.

However, the first big test of the race, today’s rolling 17km-long time trial threw a wrench in this theory and also offered a glimpse into a flaw in Ineos’ plan of heading to the Tour with Thomas as their protected leader.

Stage 4 TT Top-10

Instead of Thomas producing a dominant time trial and taking the race lead that his team could easily protect by sitting at a hard pace for the rest of the year, the stage produced a shocking winner, Alexey Lutsenko, with Ion Izagirre coming in a surprising second place. What’s worse is that they absolutely smoked the Ineos TT specialists, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas. Meanwhile, Tao Geoghegan Hart finished over a minute down in 34th position, which makes me wonder if the team has backtracked on their initial claim that he would be a leader at the Tour and he is already in full domestique ‘don’t try in the TTs mode.’

These performances make me wonder about Porte and Thomas’s fitness. Jonas Vingegaard on Jumbo-Visma, who finished two seconds behind Porte and six seconds in front of Thomas, is out of the GC, but isn’t a great time trialist historically and shouldn’t be stronger than either Porte or Thomas at this point in his career.

Even with good fitness, it will be really difficult for Thomas and Porte to come back from these deficits considering Izagirre’s main hurdle for the overall win here was the time trial. And this isn’t even taking the fact that Lutsenko has won a mountain stage at the Tour de France and won’t be a shoo-in to simply fall away over the weekend.

The good news for us is that a potentially formulaic and boring race has been blown wide open and Ineos will have to come out and race aggressively in an attempt to take this time back.

But regardless of what happens with the overall classification, Thomas’s performance in this time trial should cause alarm bells to start ringing at the Team Ineos HQ. Thomas is the team’s stated leader for the Tour, but outside of his win at the extremely soft Tour of Romandie, he hasn’t looked at the level to take on riders like Roglic and Pogacar.

The team doesn’t necessarily have to press the panic button since they seem to be planning on also bringing Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Richie Porte, and (maybe?) Adam Yates to the Tour. I assume that they will bring Adam Yates since the British rider has been the team’s best stage race performer outside of Egan Bernal this season.

But, with Geoghegan Hart’s really struggling in today’s TT, it is difficult to imagine him being a viable leader at the TT-heavy 2021 Tour against world-class time trialists like Roglic and Pogacar. This means the team’s only real options would be Porte and Yates due to Carapaz’s lack of time trialing ability (at this point we have to rule out the possibility of a Rohan Dennis emerging from the bench to lead the team even though that might actually be their best option).

And if we look at the performance profiles of Carapaz, Geoghegan Hart, Porte, and Yates from the past three seasons, it becomes very clear very quickly that Geraint Thomas, at least going by results, isn’t one of the team’s top options and would need to produce a highly impressive performance in the last half of this Dauphiné to get the freedom to ride for himself at the Tour.

It is difficult to imagine that Thomas could lose this Dauphine to a rider like Izagirre, Vingegaard, McNulty, or even Porte, and still being able to convince the team management that he should have the freedom to race for himself at the Tour. And just from a practical perspective, if Thomas struggled in today’s TT, it is hard to imagine him beating Porte or Yates in the first Tour TT, which comes is on stage 5 and is less than a month away.

I will be keeping an eye on the final four stages of the race to see if we can glean any more insights about the coming Tour, and with the Dauphine almost always serving up a completely crazy final weekend, we should have some very interesting talking points to dissect.