Fortune didn’t quite favour the brave at Montecampione, but Philip Deignan’s solo effort on stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia was still a welcome sign of form ahead of the race’s exacting final week in the high mountains.
As the major contenders in the maglia rosa group watched one another on the lower slopes, the Irishman seized the initiative a little over nine kilometres from the summit by launching a crisp attack. His unzipped jersey flapping in the wind, Deignan made light work of closing the gap to earlier escapees Julian Arredondo and Andre Cardoso, and then continued on by them.
“I was just riding in the group, relatively easy, and then I saw there were a couple of guys a few seconds up the road, so I decided to jump across,” Deignan said at the summit, after wrapping up for the descent back to the Team Sky bus in the valley below.
“Today was the first day I’ve felt good, so that was already a bonus for me. There was no point in me trying to hang in there in the front group. I thought I’d use the fact that I was nowhere on GC so the leaders would give me a bit of leeway.”
In spite of the brisk tempo imposed by Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) behind, Deignan succeeded in stretching out his lead to 30 seconds by the time he reached the 5 kilometres to go mark. Still pedalling with considerable fluidity by that point, the prospect of a stage win began to open before Deignan, but accelerations from Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Fabio Duarte (Colombia) chipped away at his advantage.
“All I knew from my radio was just that the gap was 20-25 seconds and Rogers was riding, so I just kept riding tempo and then Rolland came across,” Deignan said. “I hung on to him, but when Duarte came across I didn’t have the acceleration to follow. I think I got a bit dehydrated towards the end, too, I probably didn’t drink enough but I’ve learned that for the next time I suppose.”
Deignan finished the stage in 14th place, alongside Cadel Evans and Domenico Pozzovivo in a group that came in 1:13 down on stage winner Fabio Aru (Astana). Signed by Sky to support Richie Porte at the Giro, Deignan’s brief changed when the Australian’s illness-hit spring saw him opt to skip the corsa rosa.
The Donegal man’s early-season, however, was not without its own travails. Deignan fractured his collarbone in a training crash in February and he lined up at the start in Belfast sustained by a limited diet of racing miles from the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and Giro del Trentino.
“I thought originally it was going to take a week to get going here but it’s taken two weeks,” Deignan said with a smile. “I’ve felt pretty average for the last two weeks, so it was nice to be able to show what I can do.”
At the 2009 Vuelta a España, of course, Deignan showed his ability to last the pace deep into the third week, claiming stage victory at Avila and reaching Madrid in 9th place overall. Without general classification aspirations at this Giro, Deignan’s brief on the stages to Val Martello, Rifugio Panarotta and Monte Zoncolan is clear.
“The idea is to try to get into the early breakaways. That’s what I’ll be trying for the next few days,” he said. “And hopefully, I can come onto the last climb with a little bit more of a gap.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.