GIRO D'ITALIA

Procycling - - Contents - Wri ter: Bar ry Ryan

We look at the con­tro­versy and the in­cred­i­ble story of the 2018 Giro

From its Grande Partenza in Jerusalem to its win­ner Chris Froome, con­tro­versy fol­lowed the 2018 Giro d’Italia from start to fin­ish. Pro­cy­cling was there to wit­ness one of the race’s most re­mark­able edi­tions

The 2018 Giro d’Italia ended as it had be­gun, in a haze of con­tra­dic­tion. Al­most 10 min­utes af­ter Sam Ben­nett sprinted to vic­tory on the fi­nal stage, over­all win­ner Chris Froome fi­nally am­bled onto the fin­ish­ing straight on Via dei Fori Im­pe­ri­ali, ped­alling un­hur­riedly be­side his Team Sky team-mates as though al­ready on a lap of hon­our. As shad­ows length­ened over Rome, the first had be­come the last.

With the over­all stand­ings long since neu­tralised due to con­cerns over the safety of the cir­cuit in the his­toric cen­tre of the Eter­nal City, the maglia rosa’s race had ef­fec­tively ended a cou­ple of hours pre­vi­ously. Froome rode the fi­nal miles of his Giro with no thought to the clock, drift­ing to­wards the rear of the splin­tered pelo­ton to chat ami­ably with sec­ond­placed Tom Du­moulin, both men happy to lay down arms while those with de­signs on stage vic­tory pressed on ahead and raced. At the fin­ish, Froome paused to em­brace his com­pan­ions, while Sky man­ager Dave Brails­ford sat stony-faced in the pas­sen­ger seat of the car that fol­lowed them over the line. Of Sky’s grand tour vic­to­ries, this had been the most dra­matic, yet also the most joy­less. Froome’s most flam­boy­ant win was his most con­tentious, a tri­umph for the ages that might not en­dure.

A SUB­DUED START

In a ball­room of the Wal­dorf As­to­ria in Jerusalem, Mauro Vegni, paus­ing at the end of each sen­tence to al­lows his words to be in­ter­preted into English, was adamant. The Giro di­rec­tor’s pre-race press con­fer­ence was be­ing dom­i­nated by the thorny is­sue of Froome’s pres­ence fol­low­ing his pos­i­tive test for salbu­ta­mol at the 2017 Vuelta a Es­paña. With the case still to be re­solved, there seemed a real risk of a re­peat of the 2011 Giro, when Al­berto Con­ta­dor was stripped of his vic­tory af­ter he was later sanc­tioned for his 2010 clen­buterol pos­i­tive.

Not so, in­sisted Vegni, who claimed that UCI pres­i­dent David Lap­par­tient had as­sured him that Froome’s Giro re­sult would stand no mat­ter what the out­come of the salbu­ta­mol case. “We’re con­fi­dent that the re­sult in Rome is the re­sult that will stand for this Giro,” Vegni told a be­mused sala stampa. As Vegni must have been aware, as­sur­ances on the sanc­tions meted out by the os­ten­si­bly in­de­pen­dent anti-dop­ing tri­bunal are not in the gift of the UCI pres­i­dent. The UCI is­sued a state­ment clar­i­fy­ing as much that evening. Not a pedal had turned, and the Giro was al­ready mired in con­tra­dic­tion and con­fu­sion.

The Froome ques­tion lin­gered over the Grande Partenza and ul­ti­mately served as a dis­trac­tion from the de­bate over whether Is­rael was a suit­able venue for the event at all. The riders them­selves seemed well-briefed on how to avoid the topic of ‘sports-wash­ing’ al­to­gether. Asked by a local reporter to de­scribe his feel­ings at rac­ing close to the holy sites of Jerusalem, for in­stance, Thibaut Pinot didn’t flinch: “I have noth­ing to say about them.”

Syl­van Adams, backer of the Is­rael Cy­cling Academy team and pres­i­dent of the local or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, re­peat­edly stressed how the Grande Partenza was de­signed to show­case the ‘nor­mal Is­rael’. Per­haps with that in mind, the se­cu­rity

around the race seemed de­lib­er­ately light in touch – save for the con­sis­tent mil­i­tary pres­ence on the lone­some road south through the Negev Desert on stage 3 – and it was clear that a par­tic­u­lar ef­fort had been made to stream­line the race car­a­van’s pas­sage through the se­cu­rity area at Ben Gu­rion Air­port.

Even so, the Is­raeli start could hardly be de­scribed as nor­mal. The 176 par­tic­i­pants were pro­hib­ited from rid­ing within Jerusalem it­self in the days be­fore the start, and were in­stead in­structed to stick rig­or­ously to three rec­om­mended train­ing routes far out­side the city. When the Giro got un­der­way, it was be­fore rel­a­tively mod­est crowds, and in a city largely in­dif­fer­ent to its pres­ence, at least in com­par­i­son to the bois­ter­ous wel­comes laid out for the corsa rosa in the Nether­lands, North­ern Ire­land, Ire­land and Den­mark in re­cent years.

The rac­ing it­self was largely non­de­script, save for a tail­wind-as­sisted fi­nale in Ei­lat so fraught that Du­moulin was moved to de­scribe it as the most stress­ful sprint stage he had ever rid­den. For some 20 min­utes af­ter the fin­ish, the Dutch­man could be seen soft-ped­alling through the back­streets of the Red Sea re­sort, as though still try­ing to wrap his head around what he had seen.

As the Giro read­ied it­self for the long trans­fer to Si­cily, Vegni du­ti­fully hailed the suc­cess of the ven­ture. “This is a bet we’ve won,” he said that night in Ei­lat. A lit­tle over a week later, dur­ing demon­stra­tions against the open­ing of the US em­bassy in Jerusalem, Is­raeli troops killed at least 55 Pales­tinian pro­tes­tors on the Gaza bor­der. By then, the Giro’s rolling ci­tadel was 4,000 kilo­me­tres away. Out of sight, out of mind.

A TALE OF TWO BRITS

On reach­ing the top of Gran Sasso d’Italia, the or­deal still wasn’t over. Af­ter chang­ing near the fin­ish of stage 9, Froome had to inch his bike through merry throngs of tifosi as he made his way to­wards the ca­ble car that was fer­ry­ing riders to their team buses, which were parked in Assergi at the base of the climb. ‘Guarda, c’é Froome,’ cried one of their num­ber.

In­stead of clear­ing a path, they pressed closer to him. As if Froome hadn’t al­ready re­alised dur­ing the open­ing days in Is­rael and Italy’s deep south, the Giro is not the Tour de France.

A crash while re­con­noitring the Jerusalem time trial had ham­pered Froome through the open­ing week, and a sec­ond spill on the road to Mon­tev­ergine di Mercogliano the pre­vi­ous af­ter­noon had hardly im­proved morale. Three kilo­me­tres from the sum­mit of Gran Sasso d’Italia, he was dropped from the pink jersey group, and ev­ery pass­ing me­tre of the snow­banked ap­proach to the fin­ish seemed

When the Giro got un­der­way, it was be­fore rel­a­tively mod­est crowds, and in a city largely in­dif­fer­ent to its pres­ence

In the me­dieval heart of Osimo, Du­moulin could hide no longer. He grimly stalked Yates all the way to the in­ish line

only to lay bare an in­alien­able truth: he did not have the con­di­tion to win the Giro.

In the fin­ish­ing straight, Froome’s ca­dence slowed al­most to a stand­still and he was un­able even to match the re­duced pace of his team-mate, Wout Poels. He crossed the fin­ish line over a minute down, his deficit now two and a half min­utes. Two weeks from Rome, the sit­u­a­tion was al­ready be­gin­ning to look ir­re­triev­able. “It was bru­tal,” Froome said softly af­ter emerg­ing from the ca­ble car at the bot­tom. “If you have a bad day, that’s what hap­pens at the Giro.”

Froome’s leaden ped­alling that af­ter­noon con­trasted with the ef­fer­ves­cence of his fel­low coun­try­man, Si­mon Yates, who tight­ened his grip on the maglia rosa by sprint­ing to a stage vic­tory at the sum­mit. It was sim­ply a con­fir­ma­tion of what had tran­spired on Mount Etna three days ear­lier, when Yates surged clear of the favourites to bridge across to his Mitch­e­lon-Scott team­mate Este­ban Chaves in the fi­nal kilo­me­tre.

Yates granted the stage vic­tory to Chaves on that oc­ca­sion, while he coolly pulled on the first of 13 pink jer­seys. For two weeks, the Bri­ton would make the hurt busi­ness of the Giro seem re­mark­ably easy, and he dealt with his daily press con­fer­ences in a sim­i­larly un­com­pli­cated fash­ion.

“Si­mon, what is your am­bi­tion on this Giro?” a local reporter asked. “To win, of course,” Yates said. “The over­all?” he was asked. “Yes, of course,” Yates shrugged. Why else would he be here?

Yates’ non­cha­lance on and off the bike de­fined the race for the bones of two weeks. His ped­alling be­trayed no weak­ness, his ex­pres­sion dis­played no suf­fer­ing. He seemed to have the means to drop his ri­vals ev­ery time the road climbed. Noth­ing ap­peared to be a dis­trac­tion to the 26-year-old, not even his 2019 con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions.

In a Giro of ex­tremes – long trans­fers, high speeds, change­able weather, tough fin­ishes –Yates seemed sin­gu­larly in­ured to hard­ship. He held firm when Chaves in­ex­pli­ca­bly lost 25 min­utes on stage 10 af­ter be­ing dropped on the climb of Fonte della Creta. Chaves, a reg­u­lar in the grup­petto there­after, made lit­tle con­tri­bu­tion to Yates’ de­fence of pink, but Mitchel­ton-Scott’s climb­ing strength was such that the Colom­bian was scarcely missed by them.

Jack Haig’s prodi­gious dis­plays of pace­mak­ing caught the eye, most strik­ingly on the ap­proach the hill­top town of Osimo on stage 11, where he shut down the late break and laid the foun­da­tions for Yates’ stagewin­ning ac­cel­er­a­tion on the wickedly steep as­cent of Via Olimpia. In keep­ing with the tenor of his Giro, Froome shipped yet more time, but by now his floun­der­ing felt a mere foot­note to what seemed to be the prin­ci­pal nar­ra­tive of the race, the im­pend­ing duel be­tween Yates and Tom Du­moulin.

Since win­ning the open­ing time trial in Jerusalem and then quickly rid­ding him­self of pink, Du­moulin had been con­tent to wait in the wings, but in the me­dieval heart of Osimo, he could hide no longer. He grimly stalked Yates all the way to the fin­ish line, con­ced­ing just two sec­onds to a man who ac­knowl­edged that he needed to gain “min­utes” ahead of the stage 16 time trial if he was to win the Giro.

With that ren­dezvous serv­ing as a back­drop, the Fri­u­lan dou­ble-header on the third week­end was all about mo­men­tum, lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive. On the ver­tig­i­nous Zon­colan, the task was bru­tally sim­ple – to main­tain for­ward progress – but while Yates re­mained in the as­cen­dancy there, Du­moulin found the go­ing rather harder, ced­ing 31 sec­onds to the maglia rosa. Froome’s vic­tory atop the Zon­colan was his first sem­blance of form in the en­tire Giro, but rather than pick­ing up a head of steam, it ap­peared as though he had blown a gas­ket on its 22 per cent slopes. On the road to Sap­pada a day later, he con­ceded more time and dropped to sev­enth over­all.

Yates, by con­trast, main­tained his im­pe­tus, al­most ca­su­ally jump­ing clear on the as­cent of Costalis­soio and solo­ing 18 kilo­me­tres to his third stage vic­tory of the race. Du­moulin, mean­while, lost even more of his mo­men­tum on the run-in, and some of his cool, too, as he de­cried the lack of con­ti­nu­ity in the chas­ing group. The

Sun­web leader was sting­ing in his cri­tique of Domenico Poz­zo­vivo, Richard Cara­paz and Miguel Án­gel López’s ef­forts at the fin­ish, but as he sat with a foot rest­ing on his han­dle­bars af­ter com­plet­ing his warm down, the Dutch­man smiled re­signedly when re­minded that his deficit to the maglia rosa now stood at 2:11. “Si­mon Yates is just too strong for me at the mo­ment,” Du­moulin said, with­out ran­cour but as a sim­ple state­ment of fact.

THE COME­BACK KID

How­ever it comes to be recorded in the an­nals, the 2018 Giro will be re­mem­bered for stage 19 over the Colle delle Finestre to Bar­donec­chia. “Stranger things have hap­pened,” Froome said on the fi­nal rest day in Trento, when asked if he could still win the pink jersey. But surely not even he could have imag­ined it would play out quite like this.

Cer­tainly, the Rovereto time trial seemed only to con­firm the im­pres­sion that Yates was, by some dis­tance, the best rider in the race, as the Bri­ton suc­cess­fully main­tained his maglia rosa with a buf­fer of 56 sec­onds over Du­moulin. Even when Yates ex­hib­ited his first signs of fa­tigue on the haul to Prato Nevoso two days later, the man primed to benefit was the con­sis­tent Du­moulin, not the hith­erto un­even Froome. And then came the Finestre, where the logic of this Giro seemed to col­lapse upon it­self. Al­most ev­ery­thing we thought we knew was false.

For two and a half weeks, Yates had verged on the in­vul­ner­a­ble, but in a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres at the base of the Finestre, his race un­rav­elled. Dis­tanced even be­fore the front group reached the dirt road mid­way up the climb, Yates was al­ready defini­tively out of the podium shake-up by the sum­mit. He would reach the fin­ish more than 38 min­utes down, the once ra­di­ant pink jersey dulled by the dust of the Finestre, his face grey with fa­tigue. In de­feat, Yates was as mat­ter-of-fact as he had been in vic­tory. No ex­cuses of­fered, no sym­pa­thy sought. “I’m just re­ally ex­hausted,” he said. “That’s how it is.” Most seemed to ride them­selves to a stand­still on the Giro’s tap­pone, save for Froome, who found his wings just as the wax on those of Yates was melt­ing. On the up­per reaches of the Finestre, with 80 kilo­me­tres re­main­ing, a seated Froome launched a sting­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion, his legs now spin­ning with star­tling ease, as though they had been fet­tered by un­seen bonds to that point. He rode on alone; the race stum­bling on in his wake. Du­moulin

at­tempted to match Froome’s pace but he would not see the Sky rider again un­til the fin­ish atop the Jaf­ferau al­most three hours later.

On the Finestre and Sestriere, and in the val­ley that led to the fi­nal climb, Froome held off a pur­suit led by Du­moulin and Pinot to win the stage by three min­utes and move into the pink jersey. He had started the day 3:22 down in fourth over­all, and he had looked a beaten man on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions in the pre­vi­ous two weeks, but then this was a Giro that seemed to con­tra­dict it­self at ev­ery turn.

The race speaker de­scribed Froome’s raid as be­ing “from an­other era,” though re­ac­tion to it was an­chored firmly in the present. Amid com­par­isons with Floyd Lan­dis in 2006 and Marco Pan­tani in 1998, the feat was met with as much unease as ac­claim. “I can un­der­stand the par­al­lels or com­par­isons be­ing drawn by some,” Froome said the fol­low­ing day, be­fore care­fully claim­ing that the bulk of his buf­fer had been cre­ated by the risks he took on de­scents.

On the fi­nal moun­tain stage to Cervinia, an ill Thibaut Pinot dropped off the podium af­ter he was cast adrift on the Colle di Saint-Pan­taléon. Wrung out from his ef­forts over the three weeks, the French­man reached the fin­ish 45 min­utes down, un­able even to speak to his team­mates, far less ad­dress those re­porters await­ing his ar­rival. He draped him­self over his han­dle­bars, his ex­pres­sion hol­low. Pinot’s race fin­ished a day short of Rome, in a hospi­tal bed in Aosta, where he was treated for pneu­mo­nia. The sec­ond-fastest Giro in his­tory ex­acted a heavy toll.

A THE­ATRI­CAL END­ING

By wear­ing pink into Rome, Froome be­came only the sev­enth rider to win all three grand tours, and just the third to hold the three ti­tles at once, but his place in his­tory is a pre­car­i­ous one. De­pend­ing on how the salbu­ta­mol case plays out, he risks los­ing both Vuelta and Giro crowns. The mud­dled pic­ture was no clearer even as the dust set­tled. “The toxic cloud that lin­gered over the start is even darker and more dense,” com­plained Tut­to­bici’s Cris­tiano Gatti of.

Whether by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, RCS Sport’s podium cer­e­mony in Rome served only to high­light the un­cer­tainty over Froome’s achieve­ment by in­volv­ing Al­berto Con­ta­dor, the last rider to be stripped of Giro vic­tory. With the Colos­seum as the his­toric back­drop, the Spa­niard seized his old ri­val Froome’s hand in con­grat­u­la­tions, while Vegni smiled broadly. For bet­ter or for worse, his Giro was news­wor­thy. It had been, as Froome never tired of point­ing out, a “bru­tal race”, and he was ef­fec­tively the last man stand­ing.

Were we not en­ter­tained? Per­haps, but at what cost? From the out­set, it was never en­tirely clear what we were watch­ing

The pelo­ton snakes a long and lonely path through the Negev Desert on stage 3

Yates makes his mark with the !irst of three stage wins, on Gran Sasso d’Italia

Froome takes a look at an in­com­ing Yates, as he just holds him o" f to win on the Zon­colan

In the "irst two weeks Yates at­tacked Du­moulin re­peat­edly to gain an ad­van­tage

Yates’ Giro hopes spec­tac­u­larly com­busted on the slopes of the Finestre Muddy snow lines the steep slopes of the Finestre as Froome rides his way to pink

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