Richard Carapaz and Ineos Grenadiers left no doubt regarding their intentions in the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, as the British squad laid down a devastating pace on the lower slopes of the Blockhaus and Carapaz launched the biggest attack to date of any of the GC rivals on the climb itself.
The 2019 winner could not shed Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) or Romain Bardet (DSM), by the summit the leading group had once again swelled to half a dozen riders, and on the sprint for the finish, Carapaz had to settle for third.
But in by far the biggest overall battle to date, it was Carapaz and Ineos Grenadiers who shook the Giro’s GC tree the hardest, and the Ecuadorian and his team will remain the key reference point in the two weeks to come.
"I missed a little luck in the sprint, but the sensations are good," said Carapaz, now fourth overall at just 15 seconds on race leader Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) told a sea of reporters at the finish. "We’ve got through the first week of the Giro and that’s very important and we are still in the fight."
Ineos Grenadiers have hardly kept a low profile in the Giro’s first week with the first warning shot of their collective strength coming as early as the Hungary time trial on stage 2, where they placed four riders in the top 20. Curiously, Carapaz was placed the worst of the Ineos four, losing nearly 30 seconds to stage winner Simon Yates (Bike Exchange-Jayco).
Then in the Etna stage, where Carapaz tried a late acceleration, and again on the mountains of the Basilicata on Friday, Ineos Grenadiers were the only team of the major GC squads to try to really force the pace. But on the Blockhaus more was to come, with much more devastating effect...
Even with their usual powerhouse of Jonathan Castroviejo injured since Friday, as early as the Lanciano climb Ineos Grenadiers were in the pointy end of the peloton as they concentrated on shredding their rivals.
Salvatore Puccio, Ben Tulett and Pavel Sivakov kept the pace high as the race roared onto the Blockhaus, but a huge percentage of the damage on the steepest middle section of the climb was done almost single-handedly by Richie Porte.
Despite strong headwinds at various points as the road looped relentlessly upwards, Porte maintained a ferociously powerful pace at the front of a peloton that had shrunk to less than a dozen units by the time he swung off the head of the line.
Perhaps unsurprisingly after Porte's hard work, Carapaz’s devastating acceleration immediately afterwards managed to floor all bar Bardet and Landa. Even though Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) showed a remarkable ability to maintain a steady pace behind and eventually drag the chase group back up to Carapaz and co., by that point it was clear who was making the running of the stage.
"The team wanted to control the stage and we did it," Carapaz said before quickly wheeling away. "We will keep fighting. I am delighted with how the day went and now we will look ahead to the second half of the Giro."
Carapaz's next major test will come in exactly a week’s time when the race hits the northwestern Alps at Cogne. But both collectively and individually, massive statements of intent like Carapaz and Ineos Grenadiers made on the Blockhaus tend to be very hard to forget. It goes without saying that as the race reaches its second rest day, his chances of taking the team's fourth Giro in five editions remain more than intact.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.