It’s unfashionable now to have lots of TT miles in your Grand Tour, but the lads at RCS decided to fly in the face of fashion and a throw a bunch in anyway. Three whole stages of TTing, what madness!
Regardless of whether you enjoy time trials as a spectacle, it was clear then, and it is even clearer now after the second of them, that the Giro’s three ‘chronos’ will define the narrative of the race overall.
Three other things became clearer today than they have been up until now:
Brandon McNulty can win this bike race; Nibali, Pozzovivo and Majka cannot wait until Milan to try and win this bike race; Geraint Thomas almost certainly would have won this bike race.
'Wine Trial' highlights as Ineos powerhouses dominate
McNulty announces himself
The American’s talent is no secret. Transferring onto the free-spending UAE Team Emirates at the same time as they brought in three other prodigiously talented young stars, his name may not have immediately leapt off the start sheet.
That said, McNulty was signed by UAE on the strength of his results while riding for US ProTeam Rally Cycling, where he won the Giro di Sicilia and placed 7th and 12th in consecutive years at the Amgen Tour of California. He is no overnight success.
Brandon McNulty surprised by form but happy to take advantage of a 'good day'
He has long shown that he has the ability to win stage races, but until today there were question marks over his ability to compete across three weeks. The Giro was to be a voyage into uncharted waters, but at the second weekend of the Giro, he shows no signs of weighing anchor.
Furthermore, after taking seven places on the GC today, that final TT in Milan will now be like a carrot at the end of race for McNulty, a reassuring heap of seconds he can count on clawing back after the mountains.
The old guard must take the offensive
Vincenzo Nibali, Domenico Pozzovivo, Rafal Majka and Jakob Fuglsang cannot wait until Milan to try and win this bike race. Today showed that they will always lose time to the likes of Almeida and McNulty in the TT, and with the final day in Milan still to come – they need to have seconds in the bank by the time the race reaches its finale.
Fuglsang was the day’s biggest loser, with Nibali holding firmly onto fifth and Pozzovivo slipping out of the top four. Majka did brilliantly to rise two GC places in a discipline that is far from his strongest, but all told, it was a dispiriting day for the group of riders formerly known as ‘the favourites’.
There are mountains tomorrow, then plenty more after the rest day – lots of terrain for Nibali to take time and – provided the Italian weather plays ball – he should have some opportunities to take back the two-and-a-half minutes he needs to draw level with Almeida. That being said, level is not enough, he needs a cushion of about 30 seconds to cancel out the expected margin by which he’ll lose to McNulty and Almeida in the time trial.
Thomas is badly missed
Seeing two of the top three places on the stage occupied by Ineos riders, it’s hard to avoid the thought that perhaps Geraint Thomas would also have done well on the course today.
Thomas came fourth in the TT at the Worlds in Imola, one place ahead of Dennis and behind Stefan Kung and Wout Van Aert, neither of whom are at the Giro. While bike racing is never as neat as this, it’s not impossible that – one stray bidon notwithstanding – we could’ve seen an Ineos 1-2-3 on the podium today.
Videos show crash which ended Geraint Thomas's Giro dream
And this feeds into a wider felling, that this rarest of things, an Autumn Giro, would’ve played brilliantly to the strengths of Thomas. Who better to lead a GC team through the miserable cold and driving rains of coastal Italy in October than a man who began his career in the Belgian classics? Thomas does well in attritional conditions and the Giro’s this year have been even more taxing than usual, with the snowbound slopes of the Stelvio (possibly) still to come.