Carapaz survives GC battle in the mountains to all-but secure Giro title as Bilbao wins Stage 20
Richard Carapaz (Movistar Team) survived a punishing day in the mountains to protect his general classification lead ahead of the closing time trial of the 2019 Giro d’Italia.
Protected by team mate, Mikel Landa, Carapaz out-rode his rivals in the penultimate stage and only a crash or unprecedented capitulation would loosen his grip on the trophy in Sunday’s finale.
Pello Bilbao (Astana Team) won the stage to make it two in the race for the Basque rider and put a positive spin on a day that had looked to have turned sour for his team when Miguel Angel Lopez was knocked off his bike by a fan and was involved in a physical altercation after the incident.
It was a queen stage that promised fireworks, but truthfully delivered only in fits and sparks.
The breakaway was established on the day’s first classified climb, with no hostilities in the peloton.
The general classification contest started to simmer on the Passo Manghen, with Miguel Angel Lopez putting in an excoriating attack to shake loose all but Landa and Carapaz. This followed on from a brutal period of pace setting by ‘Superman’s’ Astana team mates.
Immediately in trouble was Simon Yates (Mitchelton Scott), with Vincenzo Nibali (Team Bahrain Merida) and Roglic also slipping off the wheel under the sustained acceleration of the Colombian climber. Pavel Sivakov (Team INEOS), who has been one of the revelations of the Giro this year, was also dropped initially, but eventually managed to catch Nibali & Roglic, pass them, and cross the king of the mountain ahead of the two much more experienced stage racers.
Fausto Masnada attacked the break to take the Cima Coppi, the prize awarded each year for being first to cross Giro’s highest summit. This attack effectively spelled the end of the first break of the day.
Truce in the valley
After the Manghen came a descent, a valley and the comparatively benign Passo di Rolle. The riders in the GC battle seemed unwilling to strike any serious blows, choosing instead to reorganise their respective teams. This allowed dropped riders back into the peloton, including Yates, Nibali and Roglic. The attacks over the Manghen did, however, lead to the first break of the day being caught and a new group of leaders to be formed - with Bilbao, Ghebreigzabhier, Kangert, Dunbar, Capecchi and Nieve from the original breakaway joined by Valentin Madouas (Groupama FDJ) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo).
This octet of riders worked well together, negotiating the descent to the start of the day's final pair of climbs safely and hitting the lower slopes of the Croce d'Aune with a healthy lead of about three minutes.
Chaos on the Croce
With two final climbs joined by a short descent, the stage was always going to come down to the one-two punch of the Croce d'Aune and the Monte Avena. It was here that the breakaway began to disintegrate, with attacks from the GC riders biting into the advantage.
As Nieve, Ciccone and Bilbao traded blows up front, Miguel Angel Lopez was once again the first rider to fire a shot across the bows of his rivals. The Colombian attacked right from the foot of the climb and immediately shed a lot of riders who had been just about hanging on.
The incident effectively ended Lopez' participation in the finale of the stage - he eventually rolled over the line 1'49" down after eventually climbing back onto his bike. There were even suggestions he may be disqualified from the Giro d'Italia, but at time of writing the Colombian remains in the race.
This wasn't the only moment of fan-related controversy. Primoz Roglic, already struggling in the early part of the stage, was assisted by two fans on the side of the road who pushed him along to keep him in contact with the GC favourites on the Croce. The jury has penalised the rider 10 seconds for not making sufficient effort to discourage the spectators. Despite the assist, Roglic lost touch with the leaders and battled hard to limit his time losses.
With attacks from Nibali and the Movistar duo quickly closing the gap to the break, they eventually joined together in one leading group. Carapaz, Nibali and Landa - incentivised by Roglic losing ground, pushed on to maximise the damage.
It was Carapaz who rode on the front for the final few hundred metres, with the aim of leading out Landa for a stage win and 10 bonus second on Roglic. Instead though, it was another Basque, Bilbao, who bagged the big result. Landa settled for second with Ciccone closing out the top three.
The race of truth
With just a 17km time trial route tomorrow, the time gap between Nibali and Carapaz is almost insurmountable. Likewise the gap from Landa to Nibali. Roglic, however, with the time lost today and his penalty deduction, is just 23 seconds down on third placed Landa. If Roglic recovers enough to perform as he can (and should) in his specialist discipline, it looks likely the Slovenian will once again step onto the podium.
Words by Tom Owen