A week is a long time at the Giro d’Italia. As the race entered its third weekend, Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) was just 45 seconds off Egan Bernal’s maglia rosa in second place overall. Six days later, the Russian is in fourth place and some 6:03 down, no longer a threat for pink and almost three minutes off the podium.
In the scramble for seconds through the Giro’s opening two weeks, Vlasov was a model of consistency, catching the eye with strong performances at Sestola, Campo Felice and Montalcino. In the days since Astana forced the pace on stage 14 as a statement of intent ahead of the Zoncolan, however, his race has lost its previous effervescence.
Vlasov’s tangle with his jacket at the base of the Passo Giau triggered his struggles on the shortened but stinging Dolomite stage on Monday, but there was no mitigation at Sega di Ala on stage 17, when he was the first of the GC contenders to be dropped from the pink jersey group.
“I didn’t feel that good all day long. Overall, I was able to save things as much as possible but, of course, it was not the best one for me,” Vlasov said afterwards, and he wasn’t the only podium contender to ship time on the vicious ascent above the Lagarina Valley.
Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and the injured (and since abandoned) Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) all sustained losses as the Giro resumed after its second rest day. Astana-Premier Tech directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli maintains that the sheer lack of respite throughout this race caught up with his rider and others at Sega di Ala.
“I think that showed that we’ve done a very wearying Giro d’Italia. There’s been bad weather, high speeds all the time and, more than anything, there just hasn’t been an easy day,” Martinelli told Cyclingnews in Stradella. “Even today [stage 18], it looked straightforward, but it was still 231 kilometres and it’s not like it was an easy stage either. It’s a tough Giro and in modern cycling, you really get to the third week very tired.”
Although Vlasov lined up at this Giro as something of a Grand Tour novice, he was a dark horse for overall victory even before the race left Turin and he looked set to be Bernal's closest challenger when the dust settled after the gravel stage in Montalcino. A podium spot is at the upper limit of what he can now achieve.
“I like attacking cycling and I like trying to invent something, but you can also only play with the strength that you have left,” Martinelli said.
“But we’re not giving up. On Friday, we’ll try to improve our situation even if the energy is waning a bit, because I’ve seen that a lot of people are suffering. Vlasov’s not the only one who’s tired now, and that’s comforting.
“Of the riders fighting for the Giro, he’s the one who has the least experience in Grand Tours, because he did only the Vuelta last year. So if he manages to stay in the top five, that would already be a very good thing.”
The Giro concludes with summit finishes at Alpe di Mera on Friday and Alpe Motta on Saturday ahead of the final time trial in Milan. Vlasov might expect to recoup some ground on the men around him in that final test, but the GC picture might already be defined by what happens in the Alps beforehand.
“There’ll be attacks between the riders fighting for the podium at Alpe di Mera, but it’s not a climb where you can make big gaps,” said Martinelli. “But there’ll be a battle all the same, and then even more so the day after.”
Despite his vulnerability at Sega di Ala, Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) retains a commanding lead atop the standings, 2:21 ahead of Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) and 3:23 up on Simon Yates. Earlier this week, Martinelli suggested Bernal would need “not just one crisis, but two or three” to lose the Giro from here, and he believes he still remains above the fray.
“It wasn’t a crisis, it was just a bad day, which can happen to a lot of riders after a rest day,” Martinelli said. “I think on Friday we’ll see Bernal at 100% again.”
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