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As the 2022 Giro d’Italia leaves its final rest day and into a brutally difficult final six days of racing, we have five riders concentrated in the top five places overall and a wide-open race for the overall win. If you haven’t been watching or following the race up until this point, you are in luck since the organizers have built an extremely back-loaded course and all the potential contenders appear to be on relatively equal fitness footing, which means we will likely see a highly tactical and interesting race to Verona.
GC Current Top Ten:
1) Richard Carapaz +0
2) Jai Hindley +7
3) João Almeida +30
4) Mikel Landa +59
5) Domenico Pozzovivo +1’01
6) Pello Bilbao +1’52
7) Emanuel Buchmann +1’58
8) Vincenzo Nibali +2’58
9) Juan Pedro López 4’40
10) Guillaume Martin +8’02
Where Time Has Been Won/Lost So Far
An exercise I find immensely helpful to figure out what we will see as we head into a more difficult section of a grand tour is to examine where each potential winner (the current top 5 plus Nibali) has taken or lost time relative to one another.
I’ve seen theories that nothing we’ve seen in the first 15 stages is comparable to what we will see in the last six, so therefore we can’t draw any concrete conclusions about who will end up as the winner of this race. While there is some merit to that idea, I would disagree in the sense that the all-out racing we saw on stages 9 and 14, along with the time trial efforts on stage 2, are transferable to the physical output required in the third week.
And what stands out to me the most from those three stages is that Jai Hindley has taken time on the two hardest (9 & 14) while Almeida and Nibali were superior in the time trial.
Where Time Was Won/Lost Relative to Carapaz
Outside of Nibali crumbling on the stage 4 finish at Etna, the time gaps produced from decisive stages so far are all relatively razor thin. But considering the average margin of victory over the last five editions is 64-seconds, this isn’t unusual and shows why leaking time via time bonuses and the sharp end of uphill finishes is so lethal to a GC campaign.
Offense vs Defense: How Will the Final Week Play Out?
There will be a lot of talk about long-range attacks and mountain raids as we enter the brutally difficult final week of this Giro, but with such a difficult course facing the peloton, I would caution against expecting fireworks. With so many favorites within 61-seconds of the lead (5), there will almost certainly be far more defensive riding, especially on climbs early in stages, than most expect.
Both Richard Carapaz and João Almeida would likely be okay attempting to carve out some time bonuses and heading into the final time trial with slightly reduced (or increased in Carapaz’s case) versions of their current deficits/leads. Mikel Landa and Jai Hindley certainly need more time to have a chance of winning the overall, but both would likely be happy with sitting and waiting to create slight final climb gaps and stacking them on top of the ten-second stage winning time bonuses over the next few days. Also, both riders would likely be happy with an overall podium and likely won’t risk one with an all-out long-range attack. And lastly, Pozzovivo is riding well and could attempt to follow a bold attack if he feels capable, but the 39-year-old has been fighting to follow on uphill finishes so far and shouldn’t be considered a candidate to lead a raid.
One thing that could change all of this is if the riders in 2nd-5th sense weakness from Carapaz and/or his Ineos team early in a difficult stage. While Carapaz doesn’t often have extremely bad days, I’m still not convinced he is the strongest climber at this race (see: Hindley reeling back nearly 20-seconds from him on a short climb at the end of stage 14), his Ineos team has left him exposed at nearly every difficult point of this race. If this continues, it could stoke aggression from Bora, who has two riders within two minutes of the race lead and proved themselves to be the strongest team in the race on stage 14.
The Favorites Would Be Wise to Beware of The Shark
The big wildcard here is Vincenzo Nibali. The 37-year-old already has two overall Giro d’Italia victories and won’t settle for anything less than another win. This means that as the race enters his favorite terrain, the Dolomites, he will almost certainly attempt to sneak into an early move or attack with multiple climbs remaining on a stage. The steep Italian climbs with extremely difficult descents suit his technical abilities and even better, the forecast calls for week-long cold weather with rain, which will make his attacks even more lethal. At three minutes out of the race lead, a comeback might sound unlikely, if not impossible, but remember that in 2016, he was almost five minutes down on GC before turning the tables on stage 19 and going on to win the race with another attack on stage 20.
It will obviously be difficult to replicate this, but Nibali is in better shape now than he was in 2016 and will need fewer things to fall his way to win again in 2022. A rainy week in the mountains with a plethora of stages featuring multiple rainy mountain passes, and the ensuing descents, could be just enough to allow him to work his dark magic.