Giro d’Italia 2020: How Covid-19, stray bidons and a revolt shaped the most dramatic of Grand Tours
Geraint Thomas’ Stage 3 crash, Mitchelton-Scott and Team Jumbo-Visma withdrawing due to coronavirus, EF Pro Cycling’s proposal to stop the race early, plus a riders’ revolt after wet weather and an exhausting ride on Stelvio Pass. It was a Giro d’Italia for the ages, and one which ended with Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart claiming an unexpected triumph.
Amid unprecedented and unforeseen circumstances, the Giro was one of many cycling events pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
From its original start date of May 9, the UCI agreed with organisers to start the second Grand Tour of the year on October 6 – after the Tour de France, with La Vuelta starting after but still overlapping with the race in Italy.
Going into the Giro, Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang and Steven Kruijswijk were listed as challengers to British duo Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates, with Joao Almeida and Tao Geoghegan Hart both named as outsiders to watch out for.
It was 2018 Tour de France winner Thomas who entered the Giro as favourite – he could even lead from start to finish, Bradley Wiggins suggested – but the Welshman’s bid for a second Grand Tour did not last long…
Thomas seriously struggled in Stage 3. “We spoke about how much of a favourite his for this race,” Wiggins said. “It just shows you how fragile the Giro d’Italia can be – it’s day three and he’s struggling quite a bit. He’s got something. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s broken a rib.”
Videos show crash which ended Geraint Thomas's Giro dream
Fan footage soon emerged showing the severity of Thomas’ crash, caused by a stray bidon, and he was forced to quit the Giro after just three stages having fractured his hip during the incident. He said afterwards:
It’s so frustrating. I’d put so much work in to this race. I did everything I could and feel like I was in just as good, if not better shape, than when I won the Tour. I was feeling really good. So for it just to end like this is gutting.
WATCH: Disaster for Thomas as his Giro goes up in smoke at base of Mount Etna
Race director Mauro Vegni: The impact Covid-19 has on Giro is impossible to control
“Of course I am worried because we don’t have any more stats about the pandemic right now in Italy,” Vegni said at the start of Stage 7.
French champion Arnaud Demare went on to pick up a sensational third stage win in four days, but there was drama a day later before the race even started.
Stage 8: Simon Yates tests positive for Covid-19
Before the start of Stage 8, Mitchelton-Scott announced that leader Simon Yates had withdrawn from the race after testing positive for coronavirus. He was heading into the stage in 21st place on GC, 3 mins 52 secs off pink jersey Almeida.
The team raced on after all other riders and staff members returned negative tests.
Matt White on Yates Covid-19 diagnosis: It doesn’t take much
“No-one knows how Simon contracted Covid-19,” team boss Matt White told Eurosport. “At the end of the day we are in a bubble but the bubble is very diverse due to changing hotels every day. We are doing our best to wear masks and pay big attention to hygiene.”
"It's tough times and it could get tougher," Smith said. "You know, will this race get to Milan? That's the big thing because a lot of major cities are going into lockdown now, so it's troubling times and I am just so thankful that we are seeing racing. That's a privilege. We are actually seeing racing."
Stage 10: Mitchelton-Scott and Team Jumbo-Visma withdraw
A few days later, two entire teams were forced to withdraw from the Giro, with both Mitchelton-Scott and Team Jumbo-Visma out after confirming positive Covid-19 results from rest-day testing.
All team members – both riders and staff – were tested over the course of October 11 and 12. Of the 571 tests performed, two riders – one each from Team Jumbo-Visma (Kruijswijk) and Team Sunweb (Matthews) – tested positive, while six staff members, four from Mitchelton-Scott and one each from Ineos Grenadiers and Team Ag2r-La Mondiale returned positive tests.
"I don’t think there's a big risk," he said. “There are a number of cases, but we’ve already done 1,500 tests for Covid-19. The result is there’s a team more concerned than others [Mitchelton-Scott] but for other teams we only really have good news. So I don’t think there’s a big risk.”
Highlights: Sagan solos to Stage 10 glory after ride for the ages
Stage 12: Bombshell letter - 'Stop the race early'
Eurosport broke the shock news that EF Pro Cycling had canvassed their fellow teams, race organisers RCS and the UCI to suggest the race was stopped at the second rest day.
The proposal was quickly dismissed by the UCI while EF Pro Cycling chief Jonathan Vaughters insisted to Eurosport that his team "were not threatening to leave the race" but that it ran the risk of "just sort of ending one day randomly".
I THINK EVERYONE IS GETTING TESTED AGAIN IN THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS AND IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE HOW MANY MORE COME BACK POSITIVE, BECAUSE THIS RACE IS IN REAL DANGER NOW. IF THERE ARE MORE POSITIVE TESTS IT’S F*****.
Vaughters exclusive: 'We’re not threatening to leave the race'
Stage 15: Tao’s maiden GT triumph
Again, the show went on, and after the positive news that there were ZERO positives in the latest Covid-19 testing, Ganna went on to make it a hat-trick when winning the Stage 14 time trial, while Almeida extended his GC lead and Geoghegan Hart moved up to 11th in the standings.
A day later, Geoghegan Hart surged clear of Sunweb's Wilco Kelderman and Jai Hindley in the final metres of a climbers’ day to secure Stage 15 and announce himself as a serious contender to win the Giro.
Stage 15 highlights as Tao Geoghegan Hart emerges as Giro contender
Geoghegan Hart dedicated his stage win to the team's late directeur sportif, Nico Portal.
"This one was for Nico Portal," he said. "We lost him this spring and it has been difficult for the team, not only that but this season we’ve had some great highs but some big lows in the Tour [de France] and for me personally, and also in this race.
WE HAVE TO SHOW THE GRENADIER SPIRIT THAT WE’RE TRYING TO FOSTER IN THIS TEAM AND KEEP BOUNCING BACK LIKE WE KNOW WE CAN.
He added: "I only had the stage win in mind, I lost some time in the prologue - the plan for the whole team was to support Geraint [Thomas] for the victory and I really believe he would’ve been on the podium if not better. Etna was a strange day for us we spent five or six minutes with Geraint on the floor in the neutral zone and I’ve only won a few races in my career so this is very incredible for me."
Stage 18: Almeida loses pink jersey
Almeida clung onto the maglia rosa despite his challengers closing the gap in Stage 15, but it was clear the Portuguese rider was facing an uphill battle to preserve his lead with further mountain stages coming.
He remained in pink until Stage 18, but on a thrilling day of cycling the youngster cracked under fierce examination on the mighty Stelvio, and was unable to hold a brutal tempo from first Team Sunweb, who were hoping to propel second-placed Wilco Kelderman into the lead, and then surprise climbing sensation Rohan Dennis of Ineos.
'A day we will never forget' – Hindley edges Geoghegan Hart in Stage 18 thriller
It was an unforgettable day as Jai Hindley won the stage ahead of Geoghegan Hart as both riders catapulted themselves into serious GC contention, while Kelderman claimed the pink jersey and Almeida dropped to seventh – almost five minutes off the pace.
“Stage shortened,” confirmed Eurosport’s Bernie Eisel on Twitter. “Riders jump on the bus now and start the stage near Milan. Riders talked to the organisers last night already to shorten the stage. Finally the riders said we won’t race and an agreement was found.”
'At least fight for something that's meaningful' - Wiggins slams Giro peloton
Wiggins was not impressed, saying: “They’ve made more of a stand today than they did for Kevin Reza and the stand against racism at the Tour de France.”
A rider who wished to remain anonymous, said to Eurosport:
6:30AM STARTS LAST FOUR DAYS, SEVEN HOUR STAGES, TRANSFERS. TO BE HONEST, THIS IS ONLY BECAUSE EVERYBODY IS ON THEIR KNEES. I'VE NEVER SEEN A TOUR WHERE PEOPLE ARE THIS BROKEN.
Remarkably, after 20 stages and more than 85 hours of racing, Hindley and Geoghegan Hart were tied at the top of the standings.
It meant heading into the final-day time trial, for the first time ever at a Grand Tour, two riders were level.
‘Geoghegan Hart is in pole position to win the Giro!’ – Watch dramatic Stage 20 finale
Stage 21: Tao triumphs
Geoghegan Hart kept his cool to win the Giro by 39 seconds ahead of Hindley to become the second British rider in three years to win La Corsa Rosa.
The 25-year-old Briton stuck to the script and put in a superior effort against the clock after a nerve-wracking eighteen minutes decided the 3,360km three-week race.
London-born Geoghegan Hart became the first rider in the Giro's 111-year history to stand atop the final podium without once wearing the famous maglia rosa during the race. He becomes the fifth Ineos Grenadiers rider in a decade to win one of cycling's Grand Tours after compatriots Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, and the Colombian Egan Bernal.
It was a stunning end to a Giro that was almost never completed, and now attention turns to Spain to see whether the Vuelta can follow with such drama.
Best of 2020 - Exclusive: Giro champion Tao Geoghegan Hart talks to Bradley Wiggins