Image: Wikimedia Commons/Ray Rogers
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Ray Rogers

Five talking points from the Giro d’Italia World Final

After a fantastic Giro d’Italia series, with Jai Hindley emerging victorious after three weeks of racing, here are my five key talking points from the spectacle:

Carapaz capitulates…
Reigning Olympic champion, victor in 2019, and the bookies favourite. Richard Carapaz entered the Giro as the standout choice, with the clear goal of securing Ineos Grenadiers’ third Giro title in a row. And for the first 19 days of the three-week race, he seemed on course to do exactly that. His lead was never convincing, topping out at just seven seconds over eventual winner Jai Hindley, but until the penultimate stage, he never looked under pressure; animating many of the big mountain stages with his characteristic doggedness.

With better time trial ability than Hindley, Carapaz simply had to cling onto the Antipodean’s wheel for the final 105-mile road stage, to be crowned champion. For 102 of those miles, he did so ably, but when Hindley’s inevitable attack came, Carapaz simply could not hang on, going deep into the red and losing a minute and a half in a race previously separated by seconds.

…As Hindley reaffirms his talent
Jai Hindley’s quality had been questioned in the lead up to the Giro d’Italia. The runner up in the Covid-impacted 2020 edition had never really recaptured the form that had led him to his first Grand Tour podium, 18 months ago. Did he simply get lucky, with the rearranged, late autumn race throwing off his competitors’ rhythm and form? Was the withdrawal of the likes of Simon Yates and Geraint Thomas for Covid and crashes respectively the chief reason he starred? The lack of any notable results since seemed to suggest so.

But as the race progressed, and rivals, such as two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali and Brit Simon Yates, fell by the wayside, Hindley remained quietly in contention. A stage win atop the Blockhaus climb thrust him back to the fore of spectators’ thoughts, and he remained in contention right until the end. He only needed one attack, quickly distancing Carapaz up the ‘Marmolada’ climb, to enter the race lead. An assured time trial the following day in Verona, and victory was his.

Cycling has a new superstar
Eritrean Biniam Girmay has exploded onto the scene this year. Making history in the ‘spring classics’ by becoming the first Black African to win a cobbled race. Considering this success, cycling fans the world over wondered what he could do in the first Grand Tour of his career. And wow did he delight. Going toe-to-toe with Mathieu van der Poel on the first stage showed Girmay was here not just to gain experience, but to win. His crowning moment would come on stage 10, with a powerful sprint, launching far earlier than many would deem sensible, to hold off Mathieu van der Poel, taking his maiden Grand Tour stage win in the process.

A second stage win on a brutal lapped circuit around Torino showed that on his day, he was unbeatable – But his ‘day’ seems to go as quickly as it arrives

Cycling, however, tends not to follow the fairytale script. In the traditional podium ceremony for the winner of that day’s stage, Girmay, displaying his inexperience at such a tender age, uncorked the champagne in just the wrong way so that the cork flew and hit him in the eye. He reported mild discomfort, and after a quick trip to hospital he was seen with a bandage over the affected eye. He would not start stage 11, his vision needing time to recover.

Arnaud Démare is back to his best
After a dominant sprinting performance in the 2020 Giro, all eyes were on Arnaud Demare for the 2021 Tour de France. A best result of fourth and finishing outside the time limit after just nine stages brought an end to any hopes of the first French green jersey winner since Laurent Jalabert in 1995. A poor Vuelta a Espana a month later had pundits wondering if he still had what was required to be competitive at the very top.

Démare answered these questions with aplomb this Giro, besting the likes of Mark Cavendish and Caleb Ewan on his way to three stage wins and the sprinters jersey. Démare isn’t on the start list for the Tour de France, but with form like that, his team managers may just have to reconsider.

Simon Yates had a topsy-turvy Giro
Simon Yates has a strange relationship with the Giro d’Italia. On the one hand, it provided the launchpad for his ambition to be a Grand Tour contender. His dominant display for the first two and a half weeks of the 2018 edition showed he had the ability to win the biggest races on the calendar. On the other, his subsequent cracking, and loss of over 30 minutes in just one stage, showed he still had far to go. Big wins have been and gone since, most notably that of the Vuelta a Espana later in the same year; but he still hadn’t cracked this race.

So a win in stage two’s time trial, following a bullish display along Budapest’s boulevards, suggested he was finally on course to make amends for his collapse in 2018. A bad day up Blockhaus wrote this off almost as quickly as Yates had cascaded around the nine-kilometre course in Hungary’s capital. The dream was over for another year. A second stage win on a brutal lapped circuit around Torino, ahead of the eventual winner, Hindley, showed that on his day, he was unbeatable. But his ‘day’ seems to go as quickly as it arrives; he would abandon three days later.

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