Pogačar Outclasses Rivals on Queen Stage to Lead Giro by Over 6 Minutes

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Was there really ever any doubt? In this Giro d’Italia there is Tadej Pogačar and then there are the others.

Only the willfully blind and the blindly biased refused to see that Pogačar had already sewn up victory in the race after one week, when his lead over the rider sitting second, Dani Martínez (BORA-hansgrohe), was 2:40. But now, at the end of week two, following a ride in Sunday’s queen stage that is already legend, no one can deny that the 26-year-old Slovenian will win the third Grand Tour of a career that is also already legendary.

At 222km, stage 15 was already the longest stage of this Giro. Add to that five categorized climbs, 5,600m of altitude gained and a summit finish at 2,387m, and you have one of the most difficult Grand Tour stages in recent memory.
In other words, tailor-made for Pogačar.

Given a perfect platform again by Rafal Majka, the UAE Team Emirates leader took off from a small group of GC contenders with 14km to go in the stage and about 8.5km remaining in the penultimate climb, the Passo di Foscagno (14.6km @ 6.3%), and made a shambles of the competition.

Ahead of Pogačar were the remnants of a breakaway that broke apart on the slopes of the Foscagno, with 2014 Giro winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in front with a lead of 3 minutes over the two-time Tour de France winner. That lead shrank with every pedal stroke as the Slovenian powered up the mountain.

He finally caught Quintana on the short but steep final climb, the Mottolino (4.6km @ 7.7%, with ramps of up to 19%!), 1.8km from the finish line, and rode alone the rest of the way, raising a single finger as he approached the finish. Yes, Tadej, you are number one.

The courageous Quintana, riding in his first Grand Tour in several years and returning from a suspension, finished 29 seconds behind, with the surprising 22-year-old Georg Steinhauser (EF Education-EasyPost) – who began an audacious solo move with 22km to race – finishing third, at 2:32.

Farther down the road were the GC pretenders, with Martínez finishing fifth and Geraint Thomas coming in sixth, both 2:50 adrift. Pogačar’s lead is now an astonishing 6:41 over Thomas, with Martínez sitting third, at 6:56.

Pogačar’s fourth Giro stage victory was all the more impressive in that it came a day after Saturday’s ITT, in which he finished second by only 29 seconds to the very fast Filippo Ganna (INEOS Grenadiers), going at full power for 31.2km.

“Today was one of the best days,” the winner told Eurosport. “I would not say that it was the best day of my career, but it was a really nice stage, really good route, nice climbs. The team did a super good job. We had this stage in mind since December.”
He went on to say, “I gave it my all in the [last] 10 or 15km. I’m super happy that I can win a queen stage in Livigno, one of my favorite places in Italy.” He also praised Majka, saying: “Rafa did a super good job after the switchback with a tailwind, so everyone suffered on the wheel. I just tried to keep continuing, and I hoped for the gap, and then I opened the gap and continued to the top.”

There are several tough mountain stages to come in the final week, but with his commanding lead, Pogačar can take it easy and watch the fight for the remaining podium places, while saving his energy for the Tour de France. But, given his fierce competitive spirit, he will probably want to win a fifth stage and finish with a lead that will be remembered for decades.

There were other excellent performances in week two, such as Jonathan Milan taking control of the points classification and a maiden pro victory for Valentin Paret-Peintre (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) on the mountainous stage 10.

But the most popular victory was no doubt that of Julian Alaphilippe, who responded to unreasonable and often strident criticism from his boss, Soudal–QuickStep head Patrick Lefevere, by reverting to his best swashbuckling form and winning stage 12.

The 31-year-old Frenchman broke away from the bunch with 32-year-old Mirco Maestri (Polti Kometa) with 126km left to race in the stage. The two stayed out front until the final climb, where Maestri was dropped, and Alaphilippe then rode unchallenged to the finish line.

Maestri, who finished ninth in the stage, said afterwards that it was the ride of a lifetime for him. “The significance of today is something incredible, that I wish all those kids who are starting to ride a bike can feel on their skin. Alaphilippe and [Peter] Sagan have always been my idols and to have done this feat as a duo… At the beginning we were taken for fools, but we knew that if we worked together we could achieve something extraordinary.

“Alaphilippe was cheering me on and I got goosebumps. We were cheering each other on. We looked like lifelong teammates. It seemed like he knew me and I knew him.”

Several days after that ride, Alaphilippe gifted his stage-winning jersey to Maestri, delivering it personally in a pizza box. [See that moment HERE.] “I really like to keep my jerseys after big victories, but I’m happy if you can keep this one. It’s for you,” Alaphilippe told Maestri.

Cycling, you just have to love it.