For stage sixteen, we got full-Giro.
There was a masochistic mountain, cruel weather, riders shedding time, Italians gaining it…it was a stage to be survived and a tale to tell.
The mountain, of course, was the mighty, monstrous, momentum-sapping Mortirolo. A steep – so steep – narrow road winding through forest. No respite. No let-up. A psychological and physical (even spiritual?) challenge.Embed from Getty Images
Primoz Roglic, whose great time gain back on stage nine may as well have been back in 1973, was a man who needed a good day. Momentum well and truly against him. He needed an authority-claiming statement of intent to show Nibali, Carapaz, and co. that he’s still the man to beat.
The Mortirolo had it’s own ideas; Roglic dropped, and in damage limitation, in the hardest place in the world. Nibali was pulling the strings, conducting the show, with Pink Jersey Carapaz happy to take his seat in the brass section and quietly get on with his job.
Brit Hugh Carthy was hanging on in EF pink, wrestling his bike like an Anglo-Saxon Aru. Bauke Mollema was there or thereabouts. Miguel Angel Lopez was yo-yoing dangerously. Mikel Landa grim faced and determined.
Simon Yates floundering slightly and sharing rod-space with Roglic.
And the weather – a feature on which the Giro can always rely – chose to male this hellish arena more so; thick fog blanketing summit and descent, heavy rain battering the riders. Some had donned rain capes, while others had missed out. All appeared cold. Mettle was being tested.
Up ahead and clear for the stage win were Giulio Ciccone and Jan Hirt, shaking limbs and thrashing arms in search of blood, and warmth, in readiness for a two-up pull to the finish and a sprint.
The Italian, Ciccone, for a second career Giro stage; for Hirt, a first.Embed from Getty Images
Offer either of them, ten kilometres from home, shivering on the bike and suffering like dogs, a straight swap – a hot shower, right now, in exchange for a stage win – and they’d have declined.
This was career defining stuff.
Ciccone, with a Mortirolo in his legs and the ultimate hardman anecdote for the taking, demolished Hirt for the win. Behind them Nibali and Carapaz couldn’t be separated. Roglic, meanwhile, was nearly a minute and a half further back; his overall GC lead over Nibali thus far swapped for a twenty-two second deficit.
All of which, for Nibali, is complicated by the small matter of Richard Carapaz and his near two-minute race lead. The Italian master craftsman has done a job on Roglic; now his attention turns to this inconvenient Ecuadorian.