Aggressive racing by Hugh Carthy and his EF Education-Nippo team on stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia was not enough to topple race leader Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) but nonetheless saw the British climber move up to third place overall.
Despite intermittent TV images that dried up completely on the upper slopes of the Passo Giau, the crunch climb of the shortened queen stage, viewers could see that EF Education-Nippo's pace-setting caused the favourites group to shrink to a bare half a dozen riders.
When Bernal attacked, following a final EF Education-Nippo turn from Simon Carr, Carthy was the only major challenger able to follow, but only briefly, before the Colombian went clear for the stage win and to strengthen his overall lead.
Carthy was then overhauled by a handful of other riders, most notably Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), who moved up from third to second. However, Carthy, fifth on the line at 1:19, is now third overall, 3:40 back on Bernal, and 1:16 behind Caruso.
Team sport director Charly Wegelius told Cyclingnews later that despite the altered route on stage 16 not being ideal for Carthy - essentially boiling down to time gaps being established on a single, very tough climb at end of the stage - they were satisfied with what they’d achieved.
"With the race panning out like that, and Ineos Grenadiers racing in defence, the route didn’t really suit Hugh’s characteristics - we saw that on the Zoncolan and today was a kind of version of that. We needed to try and make the race," Wegelius said.
"We made the pace a bit higher, and if you look at the result, we dropped [Simon] Yates [Team BikeExchange, previously second overall] and a couple of other GC favourites, so we moved up into third. It was a pretty reasonable operation."
Wegelius agreed that EF Education-Nippo's loss of Carthy’s teammate Ruben Guerreiro on Sunday to a crash had hamstrung their options on the climbs.
"That’s cycling and we did the best we could with what we’ve got, but losing Guerreiro was a big hole in the plan and we missed him," Wegelius said. "The original plan would have been great for him and we did what we could."
The British director played down any possible debate over whether the Giro d’Italia organisation had been right to remove two of the four first-category climbs on the stage because of the bad weather. Asked what he thought of the decision, Wegelius put it in perspective, saying: "there’s been a lot of progress made, there’s an [extreme weather] protocol in place now, maybe the protocol could be tweaked to be a little bit more precise.
"Everybody would have loved to see the full route ridden, the riders first and foremost, but the riders' health and safety is the most important thing, and despite everything, it was a great race. So it is what it is."
Even on a stage with fewer tough climbs, Bernal left little room for doubt, Wegelius said, that he was "dominating" the Giro.
"You can see he’s firing on all cylinders." But that will not stop EF Education-Nippo from trying to shake up the GC battle in the final week.
"You could see today that we’re in the game with the team, despite our lacking our two best [support] climbers," Wegelius said, referring to Guerreiro and Ecuadorian Jonathan Caicedo, who crashed out on stage 11.
"We’re going take every chance we can until the end of the race."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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