The biggest mover in the top 10 of the overall classification at the Giro d’Italia after stage 20 was British climber Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), though the final mountain stage of the race didn't provide a shift in the direction he was hoping for.
Saturday’s stage, with three category-one climbs and over 4,000 metres of vertical ascent, provided plenty of promise to shake up the overall but the only movements in the top positions came at Carthy’s expense. Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) both overtook the 26-year-old, who slipped from fifth to seventh.
Shaping the stage was an attack by Bardet and two teammates on the descent of first climb, which was followed by second-placed Damiano Caruso and his Bahrain Victorious teammate Pello Bilbao, putting the pressure on Ineos Grenadiers to chase so as to diminish the threat to the maglia rosa, Egan Bernal. That in turn hurt Carthy as he fought to limit his losses after an impressive performance for most of the Giro.
"Ineos rode a nice controlled pace, didn’t panic so I used them, got to the final climb but in the end I didn’t have it to follow," said Carthy in an interview with Cycling Pro Net .
"I got halfway up the climb, and that was it, I couldn’t do any more."
The group of GC contenders in pursuit of Caruso and Bardet was becoming ever smaller as the final climb, the Alpe Motta, continued.
At five kilometres to go, Carthy was holding firm alongside Bernal, Martínez, Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) and João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep). However, as the four-kilometre mark approached, the strain was written across his face and the gap to the wheel in front started to open up.
Martínez drove the pace, and Carthy couldn’t keep it, ultimately dropping behind and finishing in eighth, 1:29 behind Caruso.
The two riders who had started the day just behind him on the overall, Bardet and Martínez, came over the line together nearly a minute ahead, in fourth and third. They both gained enough time to comfortably leapfrog Carthy with just one stage to go, a 30.3 kilometre time trial in Milan.
Carthy – who had been as high at third on the overall after he followed Bernal's attacked on the upper slopes of the Passo Giau on stage 16 – now faces a race against the clock with a battle on his hands to make it back into the top five.
To displace Martínez, in sixth, Carthy would have to make up a 26 second gap, while his deficit to Bardet, the weakest of the three in the time trial, is 34 seconds. He’ll also have to watch his back as Almeida sits just 28 seconds behind in eighth.
Not only does Almeida look to be carrying formidable form into the third week of the Giro d’Italia but he also came fourth in the opening race against the clock in Turin, finishing 21 seconds quicker than Carthy in the 8.6 kilometre time trial.
"It’s an important day," concluded Carthy.
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