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Rain, Covid and Redemption for Primož Roglič at the Giro

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

This story about the 2023 Giro d’Italia was going to be about the rain, the crashes and the Covid cases of the first two weeks. It was going to highlight the many withdrawals from the race because of injury or illness (51 in total, including pre-race favourite Remco Evenepoel and the in-form Ineos rider Tao Geoghan Hart) and the three crashes by Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick-Step), especially the one involving a little dog, and it was going to refer to the disappointing lack of excitement provided by the remaining GC contenders, even on the big mountain stages of the final week.

But all that was rendered superfluous in 44 minutes and 23 seconds, the time it took Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglič to ride the 18.6-kilometre time trial from Tarvisio to the top of the Monte Lussari in the penultimate stage 20 and turn a forgettable Grand Tour into a memorable one and, at the same time, banish a ghost from his past. I think even the most cynical cycling fan will long remember the 33-year-old Slovenian’s magnificent ride up Monte Lussari, 7.3 cruel km at 12.3%, with ramps up to 22%. That ride included a dropped chain that caused him to lose precious seconds on the climb and must have brought back dark memories of his stage 20 mountain time trial in the 2020 Tour de France when a slow bike change contributed to his losing the lead and the Tour to his compatriot Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

But this time, Roglič stayed cool, repaired the chain himself in seconds and continued taking time from race leader Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) as he powered up the mountain. When he crossed the finish line, he had turned a 26-second deficit into a 14-second Giro victory, his first maglia rosaand the fourth Grand Tour GC victory of his career. He said it had helped that the road up to the Monte Lussari summit was lined with fellow Slovenians cheering him on. “The people gave me extra watts,” he said. I think Roglič also had a winning plan. Teammate Sepp Kuss told Eurosport that the team had been confident because Roglič had been waiting all Giro long “for the right moment.” That suggests that he didn’t attack on the preceding mountain stages because he wanted to conserve his energy for the time trial.

Another bright moment of the Giro was the final one, which saw Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) win the last bunch sprint of the race, in Rome, in his final Giro appearance. That gives him 162 career wins, tied for second, with Rik van Looy, behind the 275 of Eddy Merckx. The 38-year-old Cavendish was, of course, delighted. “To win here in Rome, it’s beautiful,” he said. “That’s a bucket list win to get, outside the Colosseum. I’m so happy, so happy.”

The race had other noteworthy heroes, many of them unexpected, starting with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) who won the King of the Mountains jersey and thrilled his many fans with two second places in the mountains and an impressive fifth place in the ITT in what is probably his last WorldTour season. “What is it with the G’s in this race anyway? They are always second,” said Thomas who is nicknamed G. His reference was to the little-known 25-year-old Canadian Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) who lit up the race with his combativity and endurance and placed second in four stages. He also finished second in the race for the King of the Mountains jersey and second, behind another surprise, Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), in the points classification. This was Gee’s first appearance in a Grand Tour. I have a feeling that it won’t be his last.

The 23-year-old Thymen Arensman was invaluable in protecting Thomas’s maglia rosa in the mountain stages, taking the hard pulls and never seeming to tire. Like Sepp Kuss, who is still the premier mountain domestique in the world, Arensman is an excellent time trial rider and has been talked about as a potential Grand Tour GC rider. Despite working for his leader, he finished 6th in the Giro, 6 min 5 sec behind the winner. With Thomas reaching the end of his remarkable career – he turned 37 during the Giro – and Egan Bernal’s future still uncertain, Ineos may be tempted to tab Arensman as their GC hope.

João Almeida’s podium finish in the Giro was not a surprise and his brave climbing and excellent time trial riding – he finished third in stage 20, just 2 seconds behind Thomas – suggests that it’s just a matter of time before he stands on the top step of a Grand Tour podium.

The final takeaway from the Giro is the most obvious, so obvious we take it for granted until it hits us in the face: road racing is an outdoor sport and therefore susceptible to the vagaries of weather. Many Grand Tours have seen their share of bad weather, but the rain that plagued this year’s Giro was unique. It lashed the riders and caused them to shiver, fall ill and, much too often, crash. The race didn’t actually begin until it stopped raining, in the third week. We can be thankful for Roglič’s late heroics because it made us forget how much the rain diluted the spectacle. The storm was far more devastating to the host country. It killed at least 14 people and left more than 36,000 homeless – a reminder that there are more important matters in life than sports.