The Giro d’Italia delivers surprises when you least expect them.
Just look at Tuesday’s 239km stage 10 from Penne to Gualdo Tadino. Other than being the Giro’s longest stage, nothing else particularly stood out about the profile. Many were expecting a familiar script of an early breakaway packed with stage-hunters, followed by an otherwise long but uneventful day in the saddle.
Things rarely go to script in the Giro. And Tuesday’s stage ended up being an episode full of mini-dramas.
“Today was a lot harder than everyone expected,” said BMC Racing’s Rohan Dennis. “There was more climbing today than the last stage we did [Sunday] and that was a climbing stage.”
The stages after rest days are notoriously unpredictable. Some of the best drama in recent grand tour history has come in a similar scenario. Tuesday wasn’t quite up to the level of Fuente Dé — the famous stage in the 2012 Vuelta a España that opened the door for Alberto Contador’s comeback — but it still packed some fireworks.
Esteban Chaves, the smiling Colombian who started the day second overall, ceded more than 25 minutes. When his Mitchelton-Scott teammate Simon Yates was on the podium to accept the pink jersey, Chaves was still 10km from the finish line.
“It’s a hard blow to the morale,” said Chaves, who won at Mount Etna last week. “That’s the Giro. It’s tough love here in Italy.”
Following back-to-back 200km-plus stages over the weekend, race organizers front-loaded the Giro’s longest stage with a sharp second-category climb in the opening 20km.
As expected, a large gang of stage-hunters snuck into the break. Also as expected, riders such as sprinter Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) were struggling off the back. The surprise came when race radio crackled with news that Chaves was struggling to keep pace. Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) snuck into the early breakaway but knew the day’s script was changing when he heard Chaves was in trouble.
“I think it was one of the hardest days of racing,” Pantano said. “When we heard that Chaves had been dropped, we knew it would be difficult for the break to succeed.”
No rider wants to be on the receiving end when the peloton smells blood. With Chaves popped out the back door, up to five GC teams powered at the front to distance the Colombian contender.
Chaves dug deep and kept the gap at around three minutes. Unfortunately, there were not enough teams interested in the chase. Mitchelton-Scott sent back some heavy hitters, including Roman Kreuziger, Sam Bewley, Svein Tuft, and Christopher Juul-Jensen in a vain bid to rescue their co-captain.
At a critical point near the day’s feed zone, the Chaves group clawed back within about one minute of regaining contact. The road tilted upward once again and the GC teams piled it on one more time. The elastic was broken, and Chaves was all but eliminated.
It was futile to keep fighting, and it didn’t really matter if Chaves lost 10 minutes or 25 minutes. It was better for the rest of the team to save their legs for another day’s battle.
“Straight after a rest day, you don’t know how the body responds,” Yates said. “I am very disappointed for him because he’s worked so hard for this Giro.”
The suffering was far from over. In the final hour of racing, the speed ramped up as the attacks began. Movistar’s Richard Carapaz punctured and needed to swap bikes with a teammate. He rode at least 10km on a bike that was too big for him before the white jersey and stage-winner could swap back to his spare bike.
“The stage was very long and very hard,” Carapaz said. “You have to be attentive in every moment in this Giro because something can happen at any moment.”
There was another scare involving Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), who flicked off the side of the road and was forced to change bikes with about 18km to go. The defending Giro champion coolly regained contact over wet roads in the finale with the help of teammate Sam Oomen to save the day.
“The first rider over-estimated that corner and we all came in too fast. Everyone braked, and I was too late and crashed,” said Dumoulin, who appeared to avoid serious injury. “I was surprised that Chaves was dropped and that made the stage incredibly difficult.”
Then there was the fight for the stage. Several riders attacked late over wet and treacherous roads. Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) was about the only one smiling on what was the most grueling stage so far in this Giro.
“It was a hard day in the saddle,” said Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett, who was third to lead in the bunch. “The result may not show, but the guys rode their skins out.”
Riders crossed the line in dribs and drabs, happy that the Giro’s hardest stage so far was over.
“One of those stages we will talk about for a while,” LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett posted on Twitter. “Can’t wait for bedtime.”
Making it through the day relatively unscathed was Chris Froome (Sky). After a rough and tumble start to the Giro, Froome quietly slipped back into the top-10. Every stage has a 100 stories.