Richard Carapaz doesn’t give very much away in his press conferences on the Giro d’Italia. The maglia rosa grimaces slightly every time he absorbs a question and then breaks into a half smile as he calmly bats it away. Always courteous, rarely revealing.
At Santuario di Castelmonte on Friday, Carapaz was asked if he was satisfied with his current, slender advantage over Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) as the race enters its final weekend. His answer said nothing and everything at the same time. “I’m three seconds ahead,” Carapaz said. “It’s better to have them than not to have them.”
Carapaz conceded even less out on the road on stage 19, which brought the Giro on a detour into Slovenia and over the stiff climb of Kolovrat ahead of the testing final ascent to Santuario di Castelmonte above Cividale del Friuli.
The Ecuadorian peeled off an acceleration with 2km remaining that was immediately tracked by Hindley, and he responded just as efficiently when the Bora-Hansgrohe rider reciprocated shortly afterwards. The impasse endured all the way to the summit, where Carapaz won the sprint for 8th place, 3:56 behind stage winner Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma).
Like Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer in the 1966 World Cup final, Hindley and Carapaz have effectively cancelled one another out in the mountains of the Giro’s third week. They were so fixated with one another here that they barely seemed to notice when third-placed Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) ripped clear with purpose with a kilometre or so to go, though Carapaz stitched up the gap shortly afterwards. The trio, almost inevitably, reached the finish together.
“In the end, I’ve seen we’re on the same level, but I’m enjoying the competition,” Carapaz said when it was put to him that this deadlocked race, though rich in suspense, lacked the emotion of his 2019 Giro victory. “We have a strong team, but so does Hindley with Bora and Landa with Bahrain. It’s difficult to make a difference on individual stages, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m thinking about trying to win the Giro.”
Although the standings remained untouched at the finish, with Landa still 1:05 down in third, stage 19 left its mark on the Giro all the same. Carapaz’s best climbing lieutenant, Richie Porte, was forced to abandon due to illness, while Bora-Hansgrohe forced the pace early on the stage in a bid to create an opening for Hindley.
Bora’s pressure on the penultimate climb of Kolovrat threatened to leave Carapaz vulnerable in the finale, but they relented on the approach to Cividale del Friuli, and the maglia rosa could later rely on teammates Ben Tulett, Jonathan Castroviejo and Pavel Sivakov to pilot him most of the way to the finish.
“I think Bora’s forcing was partly due to the technical descent after the climb, and once the descent was over, we took it up again. But it was good to see that it’s not just Ineos making the race,” said Carapaz, who acknowledged that Porte would be missed during Saturday’s tappone over the San Pellegrino, Pordoi and Fedaia.
“He’s a very important loss. It’s one rider less for the mountains and he did great work for me on this Giro, especially the day before last. He was sick at the start of the stage, and he did everything he could to stay in. But the pace was very hard, and he couldn’t go on. We’ve lost a considerable rider, but we’ve still got a strong and motivated team.”
Through the final week of the Giro, Carapaz has been warming down before the podium ceremony aboard his time trial bike, mindful that this race seems increasingly likely to be decided by the 17.4km test in Verona on the final day. Carapaz would be favoured to win the Giro if he started that stage with his current, negligible buffer, but Saturday’s Dolomite stage offers one last chance to provide some separation between the top two riders.
The 168km stage up the Passo di Fedaia to the Marmolada will bring the Giro above 2,000m for the first time. “The finale will be like being at home,” joked Carapaz, who was born almost 3,000m above sea level in El Carmelo. Behind the smile, however, lay a serious message.
Though Hindley acquitted himself very well on the Stelvio two years ago, the rarefied air atop the Pordoi and on the Fedaia could turn out to be the small detail that finally tips the balance of this most even Giro in Carapaz’s favour.
“I think tomorrow should be a different scenario to today, because it’s a stage where there’s a finish at altitude, and it’s a hard final climb, so the last 5km will be decisive,” Carapaz said, though even he didn't seem entirely sure. “We’ve been at the same level so far...”
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