No alarms and no surprises. Cycling’s equivalent of a 0-0 draw played out among the general classification contenders on stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia, where a brisk headwind on Gran Sasso d’Italia effectively precluded any prospect of attacks from the men with overall victory in mind for Rome in two weeks’ time.
Outside the Ineos Grenadiers bus at the foot of the climb in Fonte Cerreto, team manager Rod Ellingworth summed up the day’s action succinctly while he waited for his riders to descend the mountain in a cable car. “Not a lot you can say about it, really,” he said almost apologetically.
His team’s leaders Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart both finished the day safely in the sizeable pink jersey group, 3:10 down on stage winner Davide Bais (Eolo-Kometa). In the overall standings, Thomas remains sixth at 1:26, with Geoghegan Hart four seconds further back in eighth.
The two-part haul over Calascio and up to Gran Sasso d’Italia is a slow-burning one at the best of times, but on the Giro’s previous visits, the steeper, snow-banked ramps near the summit had at least created some separation among the contenders. In 2018, for instance, Chris Froome lost a minute on this finale, but there was no such drama here.
“There was a super-strong headwind, and everyone was waiting,” Thomas said after placing seventh on the stage. “No one wanted to ride a pace because on the wheels it’d be a lot easier. I wanted to race a bit but there weren’t the conditions, it was a stalemate.”
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On the Giro’s previous foray into the Apennines at Lago Laceno on stage 4, Ineos had been prominent in forcing the pace on the final part of the Colle Molella, a show of force that led Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) to label them as “by far” the strongest team in the race.
Ineos had numbers in the GC group again here, but they were less inclined to carry the entire pace-making burden, not least due to the conditions. “Maybe people were waiting for us to make a move,” Ellingworth told Cyclingnews. “It is what it is.”
On Thursday in Naples, Thomas endured a fraught pursuit after unshipping his chain with 12km remaining, and the problem appeared to repeat itself here on the penultimate ascent of Calascio. The tempo was altogether gentler at that point, however, and the Welshman was able to re-join the peloton without undue stress.
By then, it already seemed likely that the headwind would create a détente among the podium contenders and so it proved. The truce was only really broken deep into the final kilometre, when Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-AlUla) opened his effort from distance. None of the overall contenders conceded ground, however, though Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) inched ahead of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in the sprint for fourth.
“At the finish I was up front to stay out of trouble,” Thomas said. “I saw Eddie Dunbar come past and so I followed him. I feel alright and I’m feeling better. We’ll see for sure when the race kicks off in the final week.”
There, is of course, a pivotal test coming this weekend in the shape of the Giro’s second individual time trial, a 35km test to Cesena.
“We saw Tao do a good ride in the first time trial last Saturday, and I think Geraint will be better than he was last week,” Ellingworth said. “That would be my expectation. I think the guys will be fine.”
The problem, of course, is Evenepoel. The Belgian’s resounding victory on the opening day in Ortona makes him the overwhelming favourite to reclaim the pink jersey and extend his buffer on Thomas, Geoghegan Hart et al ahead of the first rest day.
“Well, he’s going to gain more time, isn’t he?” Ellingworth said. “There were no surprises in the first time trial, you knew he was going to gain time there. And everybody is expecting it again. He’ll be comfortable on Monday.”
The key for Ineos – and for everybody else – will be finding ways to discommode Evenepoel thereafter. His relative isolation at Lago Laceno suggested his Soudal-QuickStep team was a weakness, but he had rather more support in the finale here.
“They looked OK today, so fair play to them,” Ellingworth said. “I thought it would tell us a bit more about his teammates and who had it and who didn’t, but they looked ok. They looked fairly strong today, but then they weren’t put under pressure.”