Nothing illustrated Team Sunweb’s intentions for stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia quite like Chad Haga’s placing on the previous day’s time trial to Valdobbiadene. The American won the final time trial of last year’s Giro, but on Saturday, he rode within himself to place 73rd. The reason? He had a job to do for Wilco Kelderman on the road to Piancavallo the following day.
He wasn’t the only one. In a Giro seemingly without a dominant team, Sunweb certainly did a passable impression of one on Sunday, with the men in white and black imposing their will on the final hour of racing. After Haga’s shift had finished in the valley ahead of Piancavallo, Chris Hamilton and then Jai Hindley took over on the final climb.
“We’d been holding back throughout the week, being a bit conservative to be ready for a big day today,” said directeur sportif Luke Roberts after a stage that saw Kelderman move to within 15 seconds of the maglia rosa, Deceuninck-QuickStep youngster João Almeida. The Dutchman has also put himself more than three minutes clear of men like Trek-Segafredo's Vincenzo Nibali and Bora-Hansgrohe's Rafał Majka.
On the last of the day’s four climbs, Hamilton’s pace-making had already divested the pink jersey group of some lofty names before Hindley took over and continued the winnowing process still further. With a little under 6km to race, only two men remained on his wheel, Kelderman and Ineos Grenadiers' Tao Geoghegan Hart.
So it remained all the way to the summit, where Geoghegan Hart sprinted to the stage win, while Kelderman and Hindley took second and third on the stage. They occupy the same places on general classification, with Hindley now 2:56 off Almeida.
“When we entered the final climb, everyone did their job and it was a super-fast pace,” Kelderman said. “Jai Hindley really did a perfect job, he was really super, super strong. It is a pity that we couldn’t win the stage and fell just short of the pink, but it was really great how we rode.”
Kelderman made his Grand Tour debut at the Giro in 2013, placing 17th overall, before returning to the race to take 7th a year later. After a brace of ill-starred tilts at the Tour de France, he returned to the Giro in 2017 in support of Tom Dumoulin, but he crashed out at the end of the first week. He bounced back later that year to take 4th overall at the Vuelta a España, his best Grand Tour finish to this point.
Now, six stages from the finish, Kelderman has put himself in position to emulate Dumoulin’s feat of three years ago. As at Etna and Roccaraso, the 29-year-old was the strongest of the more established general classification contenders on Sunday. “For me, he’s the red-hot favourite,” Hindley said. “We’ll keep trying and hopefully get him in the jersey and defend it.”
Through the opening fortnight of the Giro, Kelderman was measuring himself against veterans like Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang. In the final days of the race, his biggest rivals could yet prove to be from a younger generation, namely Almeida, so spirited in his defence of the pink jersey, and Geoghegan Hart, so assured on the haul to Piancavallo.
“You never know, it’s the Giro,” said Hindley. “Big kudos for João for riding the way he has for the past couple of weeks. There’s a reason why he’s wearing the pink jersey.”
Hindley has also put himself in contention for a podium finish in Milan, though it remains to be seen if his work for Kelderman will place a limit on his own ambitions. On Sunday, mind, his strength was such that he was able to shepherd Kelderman all the way to the finish line. “It’s pretty cool, I guess. I’m pretty stoked about it,” said Hindley. “It’s just nice to be up there in the final and riding with the big boys.”
Like at Roccaraso a week ago, however, Kelderman warned that the Giro would take on a different hue in the final week, where the sheer volume of climbing – assuming conditions allow, of course – will see the differences measured in minutes rather than in seconds.
“Next week will be difficult, with all the stages longer than 200km and with summit finishes,” said Kelderman.” So much is still going to happen.”
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