The 2018 Giro d’Italia featured one of the most dramatic comebacks, and meltdowns, in modern cycling history. After a slow-burn GC picture over the first two weeks, the race exploded on the 19th stage, with Chris Froome attacking solo from 80 kilometers out to win the stage and take the race lead after being all but written off as a potential winner. This historic comeback (we won’t get into the believability of the performance or the ethics of Froome’s participation at this time) capped off an already thrilling race that leaves me with a few burning questions.
I’m sure I was the only person thinking “what the hell happened to EF Education First-Drapac’s lineup of supposed up and coming climbers” during the most thrilling GC comeback in the modern history of the sport. But seriously, what happened? The “American” team came into the race touting a collection of potential stage (and even possibly overall) winners with Joe Dombrowski, Hugh Carthy, and Michael Woods, only to go home empty-handed on all fronts.
Dombrowski signed with Team Sky in 2013 and was hailed as the next great American climber. He turned in a few promising climbing performances at the 2016 Giro d’Italia but has failed to show the same form since. He is often cited as a young rider and given quite a bit of leeway for his sub-par performances, but he is 27, which is two years older than Simon Yates and the same age as 2017 Giro winner Tom Dumoulin. With an incredibly narrow set up skills, time is running out for Drombrowski to show himself a viable grand tour stage winner.
Carthy is still a legitimate young rider at the age of 23. While he got into a few long-range breakaways on mountains stages, these moves seemed oddly timed and slightly desperate. A pure-bred climber like himself should be tucked in the group when the GC contenders are certainly going to pull the early breakaway back and race all-out for the stage win. Carthy also has a concerning trend of coming into races below an optimal performance weight. He would most likely be better off putting on a few kilograms to produce a little bit more power and strengthen his immune system.
Woods came into the Giro touted as an outside contender for the overall win and probable stage winner. He came close to a stage win on stage 4, but that proved to be the high water mark of his race. His EF team displayed odd tactics by burning significant energy to launch him 70km from the finish line (Sky must have been taking notes). That move obviously didn’t work and Woods was dropped soon after he was caught 30km later and the team was left with nothing to show for their huge energy expenditure. I can’t help but feel there was a better use of Woods’ talents than using the entire team to launch a doomed-to-fail desperation move. A high GC finish seemed to be in the cards early on, but an illness in the final week tanked his overall standing. Woods came into the Giro looking extremely skinny, which paid off on the steep uphill finishes, but likely contributed to his late-race illness.
Speaking of long-range attacks, what was Tom Dumoulin thinking when Froome attacked from 80km out? He certainly thought it would be impossible for a single rider to stay away for the rest of the stage, but he picked the absolute worst composition of riders to attempt to chase back to Froome with.
Froome attacked with 80km left in the stage and quickly established a large, but manageable gap.
By the time he crested the summit of the Finestre 7km later, he had a lead of 37 seconds over a group of chasers that included Dumoulin, Thibaut Pinot, Miguel Angel Lopez and Richard Carapaz.
When Froome hit the bottom of the descent 20km later, his lead was at 1:23. Pulling out close to a minute on Dumoulin during this descent would prove to be the difference that would eventually allow him to win the overall.
How did Dumoulin, a rider with immense descending skills, let Froome get so much? His first grave mistake was sitting up to wait for Pinot when he was suffered a mechanical on the Finestre. Distancing Pinot over the top of the climb would have incentivized Lopez and Carapaz to work with Dumoulin in an attempt to push Pinot off the podium. His second mistake was waiting for Pinot’s teammate, Sebastien Reichenbach on the descent. Reichenbach added valuable horsepower to the group, but the time it cost to wait for him on the descent likely cost Dumoulin a second Giro title.
Simon Yates rode an incredible 18 stages, only to stumble and lose the race in fantastic fashion on the 19th stage. He exhibited a stunning meltdown on the race’s penultimate mountain stage and ended up losing 38 minutes by the end of the stage. The Briton wasn’t able to recover the following day and was relegated to the groupetto the following day. His collapsed mirrored that of his teammate, Esteban Chaves, who lost 25 minutes on stage 10, a transition stage that only featured mild climbs. Both of these stunning meltdowns were written off the Mitchelton-Scott team as “bad days,” but neither Chaves or Yates was able to recover and couldn’t hold pace on the climbs for the rest of the race. These weren’t mere stumbles, but extremely concerning trends that raise questions about their abilities to compete for wins in three-week races in the future.
Dumoulin cracked on stage 20 of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana, and fell out of the overall lead with one day left to race. He was able to recover from the late-race collapse by going on to win the 2017 Giro d’Italia. However, there are major differences between Dumoulin’s bumble and Yates’ epic loss. Dumoulin only lost 3:52 to eventual winner Fabio Aru and went on to finish 6th place overall. This stands in stark difference to the historical fumble that befell Yates. His Mitchelton-Scott team is saying all the rights things to the press, but it will be interesting to see how much they hedge their chances during the Briton’s GC campaigns going forward. Another big talent, Richie Porte, suffered from the same type of inconsistency in grand tours and was never able to string together a successful campaign. With the new reduced team sizes, teams won’t have the luxury of taking chances on unproven entities year after year, which raises the stakes for the mid-race bobbles.