In Naples, where seismic activity has defined the topography of the city, they know a thing or two about rising tension. The sinuous, urban circuit on stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia made for a day of gnawing, low-grade anxiety among the general classification contenders, but they all reached the finish on the seafront safely in the peloton. Nobody’s challenge saw Naples and died.
The tectonics of this Giro are slowly beginning to shift, however, and something has to give soon. The tense Neapolitan leg followed Friday’s arduous run through Basilicata mountain country, and fatigue is steadily diffusing through the gruppo. Romain Bardet (DSM) expects the first major jolt to the overall standings to come atop the Blockhaus on stage 9.
Bardet lies 11th overall, 2:06 behind maglia rosa Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) and 24 seconds down on Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), the best placed of the pre-race favourites. Yates’ advantage was established in the Budapest time trial last weekend and, since then, the GC men have broken even, despite the potential fault lines along the route.
“Friday’s stage created a lot of fatigue. It’s true that we thought there would be more attacks in the finale but when it’s not a summit finish, it’s difficult to make the difference, especially in the first week when the level is so even,” Bardet said in Naples. “You need the fatigue to build up before we see more attacks and more gaps.”
A year ago, Ineos Grenadiers set out to break the race apart in the opening week on behalf of eventual winner Egan Bernal, who began his onslaught at Ascoli on stage 6. The men in black have again been dictating terms here on behalf of Richard Carapaz. Even if their efforts have not created gaps in the here and now, they have elevated both the tension and the fatigue among the overall contenders.
“There was a bit more aggression in the opening days last year,” Bardet said. “Here we can see that Ineos are trying to control the race. They’re built around Carapaz, who will be very strong. They’re used to doing this; riding on the front and creating fatigue and stress for everybody.”
With the exception of Tom Dumoulin, whose podium challenge ended on Mount Etna, the principal pre-race favourites remain tightly packed in the overall standings, all within a minute or so of Yates. The only movement since came from Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), who leapt back up the standings thanks to his aggression in Naples. That could all change on stage 9, when the Giro tackles the Passo Lanciano and a demanding summit finish on the Blockhaus.
Bardet has never ridden up the Blockhaus, but he has studied the video of Nairo Quintana’s victory there on the corresponding stage five years ago, on a day that brought some early definition to the overall picture. The Frenchman anticipates a similar eruption on Sunday.
“I’ve watched the video from 2017. It’s going to be very hard, and there’s a very tough col before it too,” Bardet said. “Tomorrow you can’t hide.”
Support from Arensman
When Bardet first came south of the Alps with the French under-23 squad, he and his teammates jokingly called one another by Italianate versions of their own names. Bardetto’s fascination with racing on Italian roads began then, but once his professional career got underway with AG2R, he was effectively duty bound to line up at the Tour de France each season, placing on the podium in 2016 and 2017.
The move abroad to DSM last year allowed Bardet to divert his focus from July for the first time, and he placed 7th overall on a Giro debut where he seemed only to hit his best form in the third week of the race.
“It was not my decision to come so late to the Giro. I really like the race and I’m happy to be here,” said Bardet, who this time arrived at the Giro on the back of overall victory at the Tour of the Alps.
“I think I’m a more complete rider now, more experienced and more relaxed in the way I approach things. And I’m happy to have won a few races again. I’m a better version of myself.”
Bardet is joined towards the head of the overall standings by his young teammate Thymen Arensman (13th at 2:15), who will leave DSM next season for Ineos. The Dutchman underlined his progress with third place at the Tour of the Alps, where he played a key role in teeing up Bardet’s victory, but he downplayed the idea that he might target a high overall finish of his own here.
“My role is to help Romain, I really believe in him. I have a really good feeling about a good GC result for him,” said Arensman. “The white jersey is not a goal at all, I’m just here for Romain. If I lose time, it’s no problem at all.”
In a race without an overwhelming favourite, Bardet’s maglia rosa prospects cannot be discounted, even if he was circumspect about the idea in Naples on Saturday. “I’m not a big favourite,” he said. “It’s been a good start for me so far and I’m aiming for GC, but it’s hard to say now after just a week and when the hardest stages have yet to come.”
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Barry Ryan is European Editor 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, published by Gill Books.
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