Update: This story was published prior to the news of Remco Evenepoel’s departure from the Giro d’Italia due to a COVID-19 positive – but the sentiment it expresses is still true, and maybe even more so than it was before. As such, we’ve made only a few additional edits to account for the late-breaking news.
“Well, this race is over.”
—Anonymous, after stage 1 of the 2023 Giro d’Italia
Eight days ago, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) bossed the opening time trial of the 2023 Giro d’Italia, jumping out to a 43-second lead on chief rival Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and prompting many observers to wonder whether the race would offer much intrigue thereafter. With the world road champion already that far ahead, could anything other than a crash bring him back to earth?
As it turns out, following nine days of racing, Evenepoel was set to head into the first rest day with less than a minute’s advantage on each of the next three riders in the GC standings – all of them former Grand Tour winners – with some serious climbs looming. With that in mind, despite the initial concerns that Evenepoel might dominate, there was plenty of reason to be optimistic in the moments after stage 9 that the overall battle would keep us enthralled through to the 21st day of the race.
And now? Evenepoel is out of the Giro entirely, leaving new leader Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Roglič, and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) all within five seconds of each other in the general classification.
In other words: We really do have a race on our hands! With stages 1 and 9 now in the rearview mirror, the GC challenges at this race tip decidedly in the favor of the uphill-oriented. The one remaining TT, by the way, ascends up a ridiculously steep climb, meaning that a rider who was able to put time into his rivals against the clock on relatively flat courses won’t necessarily do the same on stage 20.
Indeed, there are molte montagne on the horizon in Italy, and the tiniest differences on those climbs could make all the difference for any of the riders near the top of the overall leaderboard. And who knows? Maybe João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Andreas Leknessund (DSM) will get in on the action too.
Really, this Giro could prove to be a shining example of exactly why time trials can make for good bike racing. Without a few kilometers against the clock, the best climber might simply dominate the mountain stages with little room for tactics or excitement in general. Instead, the TTs have set the early GC hierarchy, and now those a bit further down the standings will have to take it to their rivals on the steep stuff if they want to move up.
That sounds like it will make for some challenging days ahead for, well, everyone in the race. In the quest to secure the pink jersey for good, the top contenders will need to battle some very capable rivals in the Alps. No matter who wins those battles, we win as viewers.