Blazin' Saddles: The moment Carapaz won – and other Giro talking points
With the sun still shining on the gentleman of Verona, Richard Carapaz, Felix Lowe looks back at the moment the Ecuadorian effectively won the Giro d'Italia 2019 – and picks out other key talking points from La Corsa Rosa.
The biggest mistake Vincenzo Nibali made in the Giro d'Italia 2019 was viewing Primoz Roglic as his main rival. As such, when Richard Carapaz danced up the road with Rafal Majka on the Colle del Nivolet in Stage 13 on the first proper summit finish of the race, instead of closing down the move, the two-time champion opted to stick with Roglic.
This cost the Italian his chance of a third Giro crown. It could well have also cost the 34-year-old his last chance to add to his tally of four Grand Tour wins.
While Nibali and Roglic cancelled each other out on the same road that Michael Caine grappled for gold bullion on the edge of a cliff, Carapaz, under the radar, rode to fourth place just behind his team-mate Mikel Landa, at that point still viewed as Movistar's main man.
Carapaz took 1'19" off Nibali and Roglic that day but still trailed both Roglic and Nibali in the general classification. Indeed, his deficit to the Slovenian was almost two minutes.
But Carapaz had gained (and was gaining) time on the supposed big favourites every time the road went uphill. And a day later, the underdog whose bark was still viewed as a mere yelp, took the maglia rosa after his second stage win of the race, this time at Courmayeur. Once again, he was allowed to ride up the road while the favourites slugged out behind, oblivious to the threat.
It was a day where the script had the race lead passing from one Slovenian (Jan Polanc) to another (Roglic). But yet again, Carapaz took advantage of the simmering rivalry between leader-elect Roglic and Nibali to attack on the Colle San Carlo with 28km remaining.
With his advantage that day 1'54", it was only thanks to the bonus seconds that Carapaz kept Roglic out of pink. Not that Roglic at that point fancied a return to the summit.
But that was all immaterial. Every day in the mountains resulted in not just bonus seconds but bonus minutes for the Ecuadorian. And it soon became very apparent that Roglic was a rider on the decline – one who was supposed to be in control of his own return to the top, but instead looked to have a battle on his hands merely to make the podium. Relying on a short time-trial to turn things round was fine for the latter task, not for the more important former challenge.
Having done his key work late in the second week, Carapaz had the luxury of simply doing what his rivals did and merely follow wheels in what was meant to be a decisive final phase of the race but fizzed out like flat Prosecco at a wedding where most of your friends are either not there or on terrible form – reminiscing about the past or overly eager to look to the future, but not enjoying the present.
Nibali opened up a gap on the Mortirolo in Stage 16 but on a savagely steep climb like that, trying to dance clear so far from the top is doomed to failure when you're coming up against someone as strong as Carapaz. Roglic lost more time, logically, but the pink jersey just kept his cool and reeled Nibali in.
With it all left to do in that time trial, Nibali made time gains on Carapaz in Verona, but still finished 1'05" behind. And although he won't ever admit it, he'll inwardly be ruing the moment he wrote off Carapaz as a threat and let him ride up the road towards Lake Serrù while he and Roglic continued their phoney war, which that day culminated in the Sicilian refusing to shake the Slovenian's hand at the finish, allegedly flicking him the finger instead.
"I don't have regrets even though many people are saying I should because we made a mistake in letting Richard get away," Nibali said, despite admitting his spat with Roglic was a "pointless polemic" largely fanned by the media.
" In the Courmayeur stage, in particular, he was very good. He went hard in a counter-attack and gained time. At first, we chased, but in the finale, everyone's legs were what they were and he found the space to take a gap that he consolidated to the end. I have no regrets because I tried to do a great race by interpreting it as best I could."
Sadly for him, Nibali's interpretation was flawed.
Rafal Majka and Richard Carapaz ride clear of Vincenzo Nibali and Primoz Roglic during stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia 2019Getty Images
Isolated Roglic's lessons learned
If Primoz Roglic ran out of steam in the third week it was partly because he had no team-mates capable of shovelling coal.
Entering the race as the form rider with three stage race wins from three, Roglic was so dominant in the opening time trial and subsequent stages that many had him down to emulate Gianni Bugno in 1991 and keep the pink jersey from start to finish.
But the moment Roglic decided to tactically concede the maglia rosa was the moment he lost the race. It was an indication neither he nor his Jumbo-Visma team were capable of holding things together over the three weeks – something which became glaringly apparent on that comedy-of-errors stage to Como.
Like Nibali, Roglic underestimated Carapaz. But unlike Nibali, Roglic probably knew that his own powers were on the wane.
That said, the notion that Nibali should never have seen Roglic as a genuine rival is made redundant by Carapaz's performance. After all, both the Slovenian and Ecuadorian entered the race with just three Grand Tours under their belt and no podium finishes (both riders finished fourth last year – Carapaz in the Giro, Roglic in the Tour).
The difference between the two was that Carapaz's star was on the ascendancy and he had a team behind him – a team who also had a rider of Landa's calibre pushing for a podium finish. Roglic on the other hand had a Jumbo-Visma team which made a mockery of his ambitions.
Sure, Robert Gesink's injury was a blow. But why Jumbo-Visma did not send Steven Kruijswijk or George Bennett to the Giro is anyone's guess. Perhaps they feel that the Dutchman and the New Zealander can collectively do better in France than their Slovenian did in Italy.
With a stronger team, Roglic could have continued riding in pole position instead of playing with some kind of tactical negative split. Because in conceding the pink jersey, Roglic also conceded time to a rider like Carapaz who was not even considered to be a threat.
Still, there are a lot of positives to be taken from this Giro – both to rider and team. Roglic's third place is his and Jumbo-Visma's highest in a Grand Tour.
Dumoulin's blushes saved?
Roglic's plight could well have been shared by Tom Dumoulin had the Dutchman not been forced out of the race following his nasty crash in Stage 4. It marked the start of a downward spiral for Sunweb which saw half their team go home early before Chad Haga arrested the slump by doing what they all hoped Dumoulin would do and win the final time trial.
That said, Dumoulin's approach to the Giro was always a little different: if Roglic arrived roaring on all cylinders, the 2017 champion entered a little undercooked with the intention of coming to the boil in week three. With that in mind, perhaps we would have witnessed a more alluring race had Dumoulin stayed, for the finale really lacked a rider on the ascendancy – like we saw with Nibali in 2016 and Froome last year.
Ignom-Ineos dawn for British team
It would be all too easy to write about how the mighty had fallen – and yet it's important to remember that, until Froome "did a Landis" last year, Team Sky have never quite cracked the Giro.
So it proved again this year, with an inexperienced team deprived of defending champion Froome and leader-elect Egan Bernal. On paper, a young team featuring four Grand Tour debutants looked exciting for the neutrals. But Team Ineos' race could perhaps best be summed up by the fact that their most conspicuous moment came when defending Pavel Sivakov's ninth place in Stage 17 to Antholz.
In that they succeeded: 22-year-old Sivakov finished ninth in his maiden Grand Tour – an achievement not to be baulked at. There were also moments of promise from Eddie Dunbar, who came close to winning Stage 12 in Pinerolo, and Tao Geoghegan Hart, who put in a solid opening TT before being derailed by crashes.
All in all, it was a positive three weeks for Ineos in terms of developing riders and looking to the future. If it was hardly the instant results that Sir Jim Ratcliffe may have envisioned, then things will no doubt be very different come July.
Besides, next year in the Giro they'll probably have the defending champion among the team's roster, with Carapaz having allegedly agreed a $1.5m per year deal to ride for Ineos – increasing his current salary tenfold.
But the biggest takeaway from Ineos's slightly underwhelming performance was this: it completely undermined the notion that pro-cycling would be a far more interesting place were it not for the suffocating presence of a juggernaut team like Sky/Ineos.
What next for Landa?
At Astana he was overshadowed by Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru; at Team Sky he was mere foil for Froome and Geraint Thomas; things were meant to be different at Movistar. And how typical that the Spaniard, once in a leadership role senza Señors Quintana and Valverde, should find himself upstaged by an Ecuadorian team-mate of supposed lesser pedigree.
Ask anyone a couple of years ago who would be a more likely Grand Tour winner between Landa and Carapaz, and most people's answer would be: Who's Carapaz?
Since joining Movistar, Landa has finished seventh in last year's Tour and fourth in this year's Giro: promise tinged with frustration. The latest development in the ongoing "Free Landa" debate has the Basque rider replacing Nibali at Bahrain-Merida (the Shark in turn heading on to Trek-Segafredo).
Unlucky Lopez can count his lucky stars
More frustrated than Landa, perhaps, over the three weeks, Colombia's Miguel Angel Lopez could easily blame a litany of misfortune – from mechanical incidents and untimely punctures to spectator spats – which saw him miss out on a podium spot for the first time in three Grand Tours.
But the 25-year-old could well have been watching the final time trial in Verona on TV on Sunday instead of standing up in the arena to be awarded the white jersey.
Yes, Lopez will, on balance, be nonplussed that the third South American to win a Grand Tour was Carapaz and not he, but he'll also know that, had the UCI's regulations been observed, he'd probably have a DQ against his name instead of a seventh place (his fourth consecutive top GT 10 finish).
While the spectator who knocked him off his bike on Saturday got what a lot of people thought was a long time coming, professional riders can't do what Lopez did. After all, Lopez did not simply swing an arm in frustration or lash out – he actively sought out his malefactor and slapped him about before delivering the killer ignominious blow: flicking off his cap.
Seeing such retaliation going unpunished sets a dangerous precedent.
Giro heroes: Ackermann, Ciccone, Cima...
Pascal Ackermann put Bora-Hansgrohe's sprinter selection debate to bed with two superb wins on his Grand Tour debut as well as the maglia ciclamino. With Marcel Kittel bowing out of the sport for an indefinite amount of time, and Andre Greipel on the wane, have Germany found their new sprint star?
The Italian wildcard teams did far more than make up the numbers with Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec featuring in countless breaks and the indefatigable Fausto Masnada picking up a deserved win, while Nippo-Vini Fantini pulled off the surprise of the race when Damiano Cima defied the rampaging peloton to win Stage 18.
Another Italian who impressed was Trek-Segafredo's Giulio Ciccone who made the battle for blue very much one-way traffic while taming the Mortirolo en route to a superb Stage 16 win. The host nation also enjoyed memorable breakaway wins for Bora's Cesare Benedetti in Pinerolo and Astana's Dario Cataldo at Como, who grasped glory for the gregari.
Spain's Pello Bilbao added a couple more wins for Astana, Ilnur Zakarin spared Katusha's blushed and rode back into the big time – albeit briefly – with a win at Ceresole Reale, while Sunweb's Chad Haga could finally tweet about himself in his excellent #GIROversimplified daily Twitter analysis.
Australia's Caleb Ewan picked up two wins for Lotto-Soudal to show that he's ready for a belated Tour de France debut, while the French had something to shout about in Nans Peters' unexpected win at Antholz and Arnaud Demare's victory in Modena (even if it subjected us to his monstrous two-tone ciclamino pairing for a few days).
Besides Benedetti, the most emotional win of the race came at San Martino di Castrozza when Estaban Chaves not only saved Mitchelton-Scott's race but drew a line under his injury worries in the infectious presence of his parents. And how can we forget the unexpected runs in pink for UAE Team Emirates pair Valerio Conti and Jan Polanc?
Of course, the biggest chapeau – or cappello – goes to the man desevedly donning maglia rosa at the end of the three weeks: Richard Carapa not only beat Caleb Ewan in an uphill sprint but also soloed to victory in Courmayeur en route to becoming the first Ecuadorian victor of a Grand Tour.
Giro zeroes: Yates, QuickStep, Dimension Data...
A quintuple stage winner in 2018, Elia Viviani failed to pick up a single win in the Italian champion's jersey and was very much on a downward spiral as soon as he was relegated after his dangerous sprint in Orbetello.
Fernando Gaviria was awarded the win that day after the jury's decision – although the UAE Team Emirates rider was soon out of the race after withdrawing with a sore knee. Undoubtedly fast on his day, the Colombian has not failed to finish two of his three Grand Tours.
Viviani's failures were matched across the board at Deceuninck-QuickStep, the team of the spring rendered impotent on the Italian roads. A top 10 finisher in his last two Giri, Bob Jungels pedalled squares en route to finishing 33rd. The Belgian team failed to win a single stage in a Grand Tour for the first time since 2015.
We have already touched on the frustrations felt by Ineos, Landa, Lopez, Nibali and Roglic, but we can add to that list Simon Yates, who entered the race boasting of his favourite status but failed to deliver anything which would have had his rivals needing to change their bibs.
After cracking so memorably in last year's nineteenth stage having ridden so aggressively for the best part of three weeks – winning three stages and taking the pink jersey in the process – Yates this year reined in his gung-ho approach to the point that he was largely ineffective, the slow-burning route reportedly to blame for his de-conditioning over the opening phase of the race.
Entering on cloud nine after his Hour Record success, Belgian Victor Campenaerts failed to win any of the time trials and was responsible for perhaps the worst bike change since Alexey Lutsenko in the 2018 Worlds. Still, when it comes to time trials, poor Hiroki Nishimura (Nippo-Vini Fantini) didn't even progress beyond day one after finishing outside the time limit in Bologna.
And, finally, to the teams who failed to set the world on fire. Israel Cycling Academy did little to warrant their inclusion as a wildcard team and it will be a surprise to see them return next year now that the deal which saw Israel granted the grande partenza last year has run out. CCC Team also struggled with their motley crew of riders – although they were at least present in the odd break.
But even ICA and CCC were not as redundant over the three weeks as Dimension Data, whose complete identity crisis and lack of penetration, ideas or ability was put under the magnifying glass at La Corsa Rosa as their sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo and GC rider Ben O'Connor both failed to turn up while the support cast struggled to make any meaningful impact besides helping to reel in a few breakaways (in which Dimension Data universally failed to feature).