Tadej Pogaćar, in the pink jersey of leader, chases down Mikkel Honoré on stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia. Behind, Geraint Thomas tries to respond as the pack is stunned by the move.

Tadej Pogačar, Prince of Why The Hell Not

These moments, when the script gets all torn up, are what the Giro is particularly good at.

Imagine that this Giro d’Italia was one of those movies, like the Deadpool franchise, where the actors break the fourth wall and speak to the camera. Around 2.2 kilometers to go in stage three, the director cues up a side shot of the leading trio. Everything’s a blur, such is the speed at the tail end of what should be a sprint stage, but the world’s been paused, except for Geraint Thomas. He dangles precariously on the wheel of a rampaging pink jersey, mouth agape, shoulders rolled forward, and turns to face the lens. “I bet you wonder how I got here,” he says.

The Giro loves throwing small wrenches into the workings of leadout trains. A nasty corner here, some random cobbles there, a small rise tantalizingly close to the finish dropped in just for fun. The little climb three kilometers from the finish of stage three, a stage marked clearly for the sprinters, falls neatly into this category. A team with no sprinter – EF Education-Easy Post, for example – would see just the faintest glimmer of hope in its tight corners and moderate slopes.

As Thymen Arensman sat on the front for Geraint Thomas, doing normal Ineos stuff, EF’s Mikkel Honoré blasted up the left-hand side. Tadej Pogačar, in pink and sat comfortably on Thomas’ wheel, surely heard the telltale woosh of carbon wheels approaching, or perhaps the clunk of Honoré grabbing an extra gear. He glanced to his left, made a split-second decision, and jumped on.

There’s a wonderful history of GC riders doing things GC riders shouldn’t do. Go back to the 2016 Tour de France, for example, where the tail end of an otherwise processional stage from Carcassonne to Montpelier saw the wind kick up. Echelons formed, collapsed, and formed again, and when things finally shook out it wasn’t a quartet of Classics bruisers off the front. It was Chris Froome in the yellow jersey, his elbows flapping in the breeze like any good adherent to the Jonathan Milan School of Aerodynamics. With him: a peak Peter Sagan, looking like it wasn’t even that hard, Sagan’s teammate Maciej Bodnar, who I think should have been gifted the victory (Froome prevented this), and Geraint Thomas, again wondering how on earth he got here.

Chris Froome, in the yellow jersey of Tour de France leader, is at the front of a quartet of riders in a late-race break. Geraint Thomas is on his wheel as the two GC contenders try to get time, while Peter Sagan sits behind with a mildly amused expression, and his teammate Maciej Bodnar split to the right.
Sagan, Thomas, Froome, and Bodnar left to right. The four made it to the line, Sagan won the sprint.

It was a lot of effort for what ended up being a six-second gap, a small part of the more than four minutes by which Froome eventually won the Tour. But it probably wasn’t all that much easier in the echelons behind; Romain Bardet, who finished second that year, and Nairo Quintana, third, didn’t look like they were having very much fun either. In conditions like that, offense can be defense.

Monday wasn’t quite like that. Monday was more like Pogačar going not because he should, but because he could. Because he wanted to and it looked like fun. Maybe he knows, somewhere in the back of his head, how much the tifosi of Fossana would love to see the maglia rosa charging off the front into their town. Or perhaps Honoré’s wheel went by at a speed that looked tantalizing, and Pogačar is, in the best possible way, often like a dog physically incapable of leaving passing cars alone.

“Jeepers, man, that was solid,” Thomas said after the stage. “He was kicking my head in.”

These moments, when the script gets all torn up, are what the Giro is particularly good at. They are also moments that the purest bike racers, the bike racer’s bike racers, capitalize on without thinking. Thomas is one of those too, very much to his credit. Like in 2016, he was there again on Monday, rolling turns with the race leader, off the front when he really didn’t need to be. Turning to face the camera, breaking the fourth wall with an exasperated sigh, calmly explaining that when the going gets Pogged, well, you “might as well go.”

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