“These are the danger days” is how veteran Ineos Grenadiers racer Ben Swift describes the Giro d’Italia’s second week as the British team continue their drive to win the Italian Grand Tour for a fourth time in five years.
So far, Ineos Grenadiers have been present in numbers on all the mountainous stages of the Giro, most notably on the Blockhaus where after a major collective effort, Richard Carapaz launched the biggest GC attack of the race so far with five kilometres to go.
But as the Giro moved into a new phase from stage 10 through to Saturday’s hilly trek round Turin, the reigning British champion says the race will offer different kinds of challenges at least until Friday.
“These are the danger days,” Swift told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 10. “Last week I was thinking this week would be easy, but looking at it a bit more in detail, we’ve got nearly 2,000 metres of climbing in 95 kilometres today. And the whole week is not easy at all. It’s also really hot, which is nice on the one hand, but its own challenge as well.
“But I’m definitely looking forward to keep on doing what we’ve been doing up to now. The first 10 days have gone near enough perfect for us, we've show we want to win this race, the only downside is we’d like to have won a stage.
"On the personal front, I’m happy with how I’m climbing at the moment, though it’s been a bit of a different year, doing the Classics and then coming into the Giro. But it’s working out fine.”
Swift’s pre-stage 10 words about the hidden risks of the second week proved more than prescient as Carapaz fell with about 80 kilometres to go. The Ecuadorian later told the team that he had not been injured and was satisfied with his day and the team's work to bring him into a position where he was able to sprint for fifth. But the grass stains on his jersey confirmed that it had been a narrow squeak all the same.
“Today had an easy first half and a much harder second part,” Carapaz said, echoing Swift’s pre-stage comments, “up-down, left-right and a lot of tension and I got caught up in a crash. I went off the road and skidded a bit, but nothing actually happened.
“Then the guys did an amazing job getting me back u p there because we knew it was a good finish for me to try and grab some seconds in a sprint.”
Carapaz didn't quite make it into the time bonuses, “But at the end I’m happy with the teamwork and to finish fourth with all the sprinters up there is great, too,” he concluded.
As for the road captain of Ineos Grenadiers in the Giro d’Italia - “that’s until it gets too hilly for me,” Swift joked with a grin - the defending British national champion has got lengthy experience of the Italian Grand Tour, stretching now to well over a decade and all fronts. The Giro was his first Grand Tour in 2009 when he rode a strong first week with Katusha and picked up a third place and and an eighth as their sprinter, then most recently Swift was part of the Ineos Grenadiers lineup in 2020, when the squad won with Tao Geoghegan Hart.
Fast forward another two years, and as he tackles his eighth Grand Tour, Swift tells Cyclingnews,“The atmosphere is super good in the team, we’re very diverse and have a lot of different personalities, but we’ve gelled together really well."
As for how the two Richards, Porte and Carapaz, are performing so far, Swift points out that, “for Richie Porte, this was the first Grand Tour he did back in 2010 and the last one he’s going to do, so it's all come full circle for him. And he’s loving it and he’s seeing what we’ve got here, too, in the team - a really good vibe.”
But getting that vibe to be good is not something that happens by chance and Swift’s work as team captain certainly goes beyond the time spent on the bike. For one thing he says he makes a point of spending time each evening with the two Ecuadorians, Carapaz and Jonathan Narvaez, chatting with them “and trying to integrate them a bit more so they can feel as relaxed as possible.” As for Carapaz as a rider, Swift recognises he’s working for a real fuoriclase: “his talent,” he says, “it’s above and beyond.”
Contrasting how Ineos Grenadiers raced the Giro in 2020 and now in 2022, Swift says, is very difficult, because the races are like chalk and cheese.
“The whole situation was very different. G [Geraint Thomas] crashed out early on, our dynamic really altered, and on top of that it was COVID, it was the end of the year - although we only did half a year - and there were two different Grand Tours [the Vuelta and the Giro - Ed.] going on at the same time, too," Swift said.
“This time it’s very different, obviously the Giro this year is a quality field and there’s nothing overlapping.”
With all that in mind, Ineos Grenadiers strategy in the Giro has been a much more classic approach of trying to squeeze their rivals out of the picture through ferocious teamwork before their leader Carapaz makes a move as he did first on Etna, and then much more at length and to much greater effect on the Blockhaus.
“But when we’ve been on the front it’s always been for a reason,” Swift points out, “for one thing we’ve shown as a team we’re willing to try and win this Giro. And so far, so good.”
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