giro d'italia stage 20
a guest post by Pasquale Concilio
Memory and remembering are constant narratives of the Giro d’Italia.
The Italian broadcasting company RAI is generous with stories about the past of the places visited by the race, and the race organization itself seems to thrive in this sort of magnification of the past, with commemorative stages scattered throughout the race. From Dante’s 700th death anniversary remembrance last year to the commemoration of the deaths of Wouter Weylandt1 and Michele Scarponi2 this year, a handful of stages are chosen to be memorials of something lost.
Stage 20 was designated to be a memorial of a different kind before the race even started — it’s not only the memory of something lost, it’s a memorial for something that never happened. Passo Pordoi and Passo Fedaia were part of the infamous stage 16 of last year’s Giro which was abruptly shortened for bad weather and erased from the memory of fans because the TV footage was nonexistent. I remember looking at the satellite image for hours, in the hope of the smallest glimpse of signal while Egan Bernal was achieving one of the best climbing performances of his career.
Memorials imply some sort of celebration – that’s how the Giro patches up its past mistakes. For the people watching this year’s Giro (myself included) this stage (if we’re stretching the metaphor) stands to serve as a memorial to the lack of GC action in the previous stages. We’ve watched helplessly as stages go by without leaving any trace of change in the overall classification, consoling ourselves with the narratives of the true protagonists of the third week: the stage winners Jan Hirt, Santiago Buitrago, Dries De Bondt, and Koen Bouwman, as well as perennial breakaway aficionados Mathieu Van Der Poel, Gijs Leemreize, Thymen Arensman, Hugh Carthy, and Guillaume Martin.
Now, however, we need some closure.
At the beginning of this Giro, we were hoping for a handful of scenarios in the final stages that would charm any cycling nerd: who'll be the best up the hardest slopes? Will Bardet or Nibali attack on a descent? How will the climbers fare against time trial monster João Almeida? Can Tom Dumoulin still be in contention for the GC? And will Simon Yates be the version of himself that we almost dreaded on the Col D'Èze?
Now, as many of these questions remain unanswered, we must reckon that things rarely go the way one wishes in a grand tour. Yates, Bardet, and Almeida have left the race. The absence of the latter has created an unexpected void before the final time trial. All tactics are now free from the looming presence of the best time trialist in the GC, and the final victory is now in the hands of those who are arguably the three best climbers: Richard Carapaz, Jai Hindley, and Mikel Landa.
It is almost anachronistic to see a GC battle in which the time trial factor has such little impact. We’ve come to know how decisive the “race of truth” is in modern cycling. And yet, the best time trialist amongst the three is Carapaz, the leader, the one who has been able to cover any attack until now. Up until now, we were hoping for something unpredictable and crazy, something that would change the standings and the balance of power. Carapaz is smart; he's devilishly strong on every climb, and he races with a Gatsby-esque green light in the back of his eyes. His face is the one we have come to know at last year's Tour de France, a face portraying perhaps too much suffering for what he really feels.
Meanwhile, Jai Hindley has been looking at ease on every climb this Giro. He's been deft, ready, spinning a high cadence, supported by the only team that has tried to make something creative in this Giro via a group attack on what was the most beautiful stage so far, stage 14. And yet, that work of art remained incomplete. Second place does not get to wear the Maglia Rosa. The three seconds Hindley has over Carapaz is marginal — an attack is to be expected.
There are no fears of failure in his childish smile.
Finally, there’s Mikel Landa. He's shown some good form, some good luck, and some good reason, all of which is crucial in a Grand Tour. With a one-minute gap and Landa’s not-so-thrilling time trial performances, the Spaniard will have to attack more aggressively than anyone else. The Blockhaus tested the nerves and hearts of the most untarnished Landista, a label that I find fitting for myself despite the deception following his early abandon at last year’s Giro. Now I can finally see him getting a shot in the third week, Mikel and his worried looks, his hurried and frantic attempts to know the others' feelings and fatigue.
For all three contenders, this is their final opportunity to seize the Maglia Rosa. There’s no more room for delay. We as an audience have been trapped in a third week of waiting and exhaustion. There's always tomorrow, there’s always been a much bigger and much steeper climb on the course, and thus — and thus — we have waited. We have been hoping for a completely different race. But this, stage 20, is the day, it has to be. Yet the looming possibility of riding this stage as a Spanish unipuerto3 is threatening because Passo Fedaia is, as a climb, really difficult. Many say it’s too difficult, but we have in our mind Damiano Caruso’s impressive attack on stage 20 last year, and thus we keep hoping.
Let this be our memorial to hope.
The stage starts with the usual bagarre for the breakaway. The break includes again the marvelous Van der Poel and the young Dutch sensation Gijs Leemreize, the always exciting Lennard Kämna and yesterday’s sorely disappointed Andrea Vendrame among others. Stage 15 winner Giulio Ciccone is also present, and with him the UAE couple Davide Formolo and Alessandro Covi. Bahrain Victorious have placed Domen Novak in the breakaway while behind they take the lead and start pacing. For Landa, any signal is good enough to ignite hope.
Six minutes being given to the breakaway means that everything is possible, notably a GC fight for the overall win. We still don’t know what we’ll have to wait though. And surely we don’t know that the decisive attack of the day will start from Passo Pordoi. Actually, we were merely hoping for that — Passo Pordoi is the second climb, the highest in the entire Giro, the Cima Coppi. Winning the KOM here affords some sort of prestige. Prestige is the first thing that comes to mind seeing Alessandro Covi who’s not a climber (in his own words) attacking on the final slopes. However, Covi has shown some great form all season. He has established himself as one of the most promising young Italian riders. He is not one to be underestimated, yet his breakaway comrades don’t seem to be able to afford the risk of taking him too seriously either. Covi attacks with a brilliant cadence, is meticulously attentive with his gear shifts, is listening to his body, visibly confident he can do this. He attacks where the switchbacks are numbered. He looks more and more convincing with every pedal stroke. You can hear people screaming an emphatic Tieni duro, dai! The chasers lose time while the peloton doesn’t gain any.
Passo Fedaia — there’s nothing more until Passo Fedaia.
Covi continues on undisturbed; the chasers don’t have enough energy to catch him. Bahrain is still on the front behind. There’s an urgency — Landa and Hindley must attack now. It is too late for the win anyway: Covi is still six minutes ahead.
The first part of the climb is easy. The “real” Fedaia (also known as Marmolada) only starts at about six kilometers to go. The chances of a long climbing battle soon evaporate as the group approaches steadily but softly towards the hardest slopes. Like the calm before a storm, the pressure is getting lower and lower. It feels stagnant, like everyone’s gifting Carapaz the pink jersey. The only Bahrain rider that goes on the attack is a surprising Domen Novak from the chasing group. Novak quickly gets rid of the other chasers and the gap from Covi drops as fast as the chances for a change in the lead of this race.
Narratively, the whole thing almost gets on your nerves — how can a Giro be decided in such a short time? You’ll need something absolutely crazy (or perfectly planned) to trigger all the excitement that has been postponed for an entire week and even more. You’ll need a teammate like Lennard Kämna, who has abandoned the break with the best possible timing in order to be there exactly when you need him. Carapaz tries. Sivakov is done working for him and the INEOS leader wants to finish off the job. Landa is helpless, his eyes telling us that the strategy of his team was a defensive one. And yet, Hindley is still there. And he knows that Carapaz is on the limit. It’s Kämna who will prove himself as the man Hindley needs most. Kämna paces, Hindley follows, Carapaz struggles. It’s time: the Aussie is unleashed, and the Ecuadorian has to let him go. As the gap grows bigger and bigger, Kämna keeps doing his job by sticking to Carapaz’s wheel. He will not let him get away. To add insult to injury, he will even overcome him at a certain point.
Meanwhile at the front, Covi holds Novak at 30 seconds. He crosses the finish line, almost too slow to raise his arms albeit victorious. It’s a superb, career-defining long range attack.
Behind, though, it all unravels.
Jai Hindley is relentlessly speeding in front of an Ecuadorian flag sorrowfully claiming Fuerza Richard. Lennard Kämna keeps working for his leader, inexorably keeping Carapaz’s wheel, a haunting presence. In an even crueler twist, Hugh Carthy and Landa reach and then overcome Carapaz.
Never have I seen Richard Carapaz in this state of suffering. It’s painful — he just doesn’t manage to follow. Hindley is out of sight, his director Enrico Gasparotto quietly inciting him with a voice that is on the verge of betraying his tension, calling for a fight to the line. Every second matters. The fans are everywhere, there’s no way to avoid them. Their support is simultaneously the most effective source of power if you’re on the move, yet it’s also the most draining hindrance when you’re down.
It’s not just the legs, it’s mental — everything’s going bad for Carapaz. The collapse is almost unreal. Yet watching the scene, it feels natural to become absolutely ecstatic for Hindley. It was not Landa, it was not Carapaz, it was Jai Hindley who is the first Australian to potentially ever win the Giro d’Italia.
L’australiano abruzzese4 as Hindley is known here in Italy, crosses the line 6th, but he’s bringing with him such an aura of victory that it’s easy to forget about the sensational ride by Covi. Meanwhile, Mikel Landa will finally jump again onto the podium of the Giro d’Italia. Looking at him striving to get to the line, one can feel what really means to be a Landista: Landa’s never really winning, but he’s always slightly better than someone else.
Finally, Carapaz is there, with Formolo on his side. The clock, however says too much. They cross the line over a minute down. In consolation, Formolo pats the Grenadier’s back. As I‘ve said before, that look is new to me on Carapaz: I’ve seen him riding creatively, boldy, sometimes irritatingly, but his intelligence as a rider and his promptness have never been doubted. The look itself, however, is not unfamiliar: it’s the look of someone who has no answers as to why they have failed; someone who has just been beaten unexpectedly. The stories are clearly different, but I can’t deny having caught a glimpse of the look that Primož Roglič gave the cameras after that time trial. After all, it’s the look that triggered all my love for cycling. A story within a stare.
For the Giro, our memorial has been secured.
There’s no need for statues here: Hindley and Bora Hansgrohe have molded a monumental victory that rests on shrewd tactics and thorough preparation. We could say that it’s deserved: they have been the team that truly lit up the GC battle. They played their cards perfectly. It is also clear that Jai Hindley's capabilities have been badly understated. Italian commentators misinterpreted his performances as declining coming into this third week, while others were expecting Mikel Landa’s attacks to be the most fruitful. They complained about Kämna’s active presence in the breakaway, uncertain about what he could do all by himself.
We all witnessed what he did.
A soigneur at the end of the stage surrounded Hindley with his arms, looked intensely at him, as though conveying some sort of energy to his emptied body again. In the team car, DS Enrico Gasparotto was not even trying to hold back his tears. While being interviewed, someone threw Hindley a maglia rosa. The interviewer asked him about his confidence racing against an INEOS rider in the final time trial. Hindley said he would die for the jersey.
In the end, we have to believe that the big GC men really didn’t have anything left. We saw Carapaz gutted and unrecognizable. We also have to believe that all that waiting was unavoidable. Whether this is ascribable to the riders or the course remains debatable, yet the result is the same.
What we have now is likely the first Australian winner of the Giro d’Italia, a winner forged by the couple of breathtaking kilometers that shaped it.
Pasquale Concilio was born in Maddaloni, Italy, a small town sheltered by some northbound dried-up hills, not too far from Naples. His urge to begin writing about cycling began with the devastating finale of the 2020 Tour de France. He is a Fellow at the International Forum for U.S. Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he specializes in Vietnamese-American literature.
This post is a part of the derailleur emerging writers series, which aims to publish new and diverse voices applying their craft to professional cycling. If you enjoyed this piece, please leave a comment and consider subscribing!
On May 9 2011, Wouter Weylandt died after a fall on the descent of Passo del Bocco during stage 3 of the Giro. Since then, the number 108 (his racing number that day) has been withdrawn.
Michele Scarponi was a beloved Italian cyclist and former Giro winner, who died in an accident during training in 2017.
Typical Vuelta stage which contains only one big climb at the end of the course
In the early stages of his career, Hindley lived for some time in the Italian region of Abruzzo. Italian fans tend to care a lot about riders with a past in their country.