Sunday’s final stage of the 2022 Giro d’Italia, a time trial around Verona, looked set to be a battle for every second between Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) after 20 stages of close, tense and controlled racing. But everything changed dramatically in the final 3.5km of stage 20 to the summit of the Marmolada, and now the 17.4km time trial is set to be a coronation for Hindley.
In 2020 the Australian lost the Giro d’Italia to Tao Geogheghan Hart in the Milan time trial, the Briton pulling back 39 seconds in 15.7km. This time Hindley will still have to race hard and race carefully, but he leads Carapaz by a significant 1:25.
After the heartbreaking defeat in 2020, Hindley is logically cautious.
His head-to-head results against Carapaz are not good, the Ecuadorian winning 7-1. During their first encounter four years ago at the 2018 Vuelta a España, both raced in supporting roles, and neither rider had any particular motivation to push hard in what were essentially active rest days. Of altogether greater relevance are their time trials since Hindley emerged as a Grand Tour contender on the 2020 Giro. At the 2021 Volta a Catalunya, Carapaz put 31 seconds into Hindley in an 18.5km effort roughly equivalent to Sunday's time trial.
Depending on Carapaz’s state of mind and the strength left in his legs, he may try to spook Hindley by starting fast. Yet surely only a crash and a moment of total panic can stop Hindley from becoming the first Australian to win the Giro d’Italia.
“We’ll see how it goes. It’s always hard to say how a time trial is going to go on the last day of a three-week race, but I’ll die for the jersey tomorrow,” Hindley promised after pulling on his first maglia rosa and affectionately kissing the iconic leader’s jersey.
“It’s nice to have a bit more of a lead than two years ago, but it’s definitely not going to be an easy time trial. The race isn’t over.”
Carapaz is a concern for Hindley but he will also have to defend his second place overall from a final assault from Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious). The Spaniard is now only 26 seconds down and so possibly a threat.
“It still seems like a big gap between us, but if Carapaz is in a bad way, who knows? We’ll try. Until the last km, this is not finished,” Landa promised.
The Verona time trial will be the last chance for a stage victory for the time trial specialists like Eduardo Affini and Jos van Emden (Jumbo-Visma), Alex Dowsett (Israel-Premier Tech) and perhaps even Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). Italian time trial champion Matteo Sobrero (BikeExchange-Jayco) is another name to remember.
The Verona time trial course is very different to the Milan city centre time trials. It covers a testing 17.4km loop to the north of the city, with technical streets and corners early and late on, the gradual 4.5km Torricelle climb mid-stage and then a descent back to the city for the finish at the Roman arena. A similar circuit has been used for road race World Championships a number of times.
The times will be taken outside the arena, with riders rightly riding into the stone amphitheatre to be celebrated by a packed crowd.
Verona first hosted the final stage of the Giro in 1981, with a 42km time trial won by Knut Knudsen, while local hero Giovanni Battaglin won the maglia rosa. The now legendary 42km showdown between Laurent Figon and Francesco Moser was in 1984, with the Italian cancelling a 1:21 deficit to win by 1:03. Claims of help from the television helicopters have never been proven or strenuously denied.
In 2019, Chad Haga beat Victor Campenaerts and Thomas De Gendt for the stage win with a time of 22:07, while Richard Carapaz cemented the overall win and rode into the arena in triumph.
Affini and van Emden are leading favourites but the Torricelle climb will be a real test for the pure time trialers and so perhaps give Sobrero an advantage. Affini has also gone deep in recent days to help Koen Bouwman win the blue king of the mountains jersey.
Van der Poel has also gone deep, even going on the attack on stage 20, but seems to have energy left for one last dance before enjoying a pineapple pizza.
After taking the maglia rosa at the summit of the Marmolada, Hindley starts last from the Verona exhibition centre. He is expected to finish and surely be crowned the winner of the 2022 Giro d’Italia twenty or so minutes later.
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