Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) seized control of the Giro d’Italia on the penultimate day, snatching the pink jersey from Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and putting almost 90 seconds into the Ecuadorian on the upper slopes of the Passo Fedaia.
Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) won the stage solo as the breakaway survived for the fifth time in this final week, but his celebrations were overshadowed by the drama unfolding a little further down the mountain.
Separated by just three seconds at the start of the day, having matched each other for every pedal stroke so far, cracks finally emerged between Hindley and Carapaz on the steep upper reaches of the Fedaia, the last of a trio of high-mountain passes on the final road stage of the Giro.
With Mikel Landa, whose Bahrain Victorious team worked all day but inflicted no damage, already dropped, Hindley distanced Carapaz 3.5km from the top. His teammate Lennard Kamna had dropped from the break to deliver the final set-up and when Carapaz started to drop, Hindley sprang into action and rode away.
All the way to the top, he extended his advantage as Carapaz cracked and crumbled. The 2019 Giro winner strained to put any power through the pedals in the final 50 metres, dragging himself crestfallen across the line, the final damage reading 1:28.
Hindley now carries a lead of 1:25 into the 17.4km time trial in Verona, which, barring incident or accident, should be enough of a buffer for him to claim his first Grand Tour title.
“I knew this was going to be the crucial stage of the race, it was just a brutal finish - if you had the legs, you could make the difference here,” said Hindley.
“We stayed patient, we saved our matches until today and actually it was perfect. Lenny was up the road in the breakaway and couldn’t have timed it better to drop back and give me a boost. When I heard Carapaz was dropping the wheel, I just went all-out was an epic stage.”
The final road stage of the Giro had been hyped but looked to be falling flat as little happened until the steep section at the top of the Fedaia. Bahrain Victorious placed a rider in the breakaway and worked over the Passo San Pellegrino and Passo Pordoi, but long-range fireworks never materialised, and Landa would later reveal he was not feeling good.
Instead, the breakaway once again sailed clear for stage honours, with Covi part of a 14-rider move that went clear on a short early climb on the 168km route. The Italian attacked on the Pordoi and made use of disorganisation in the chase behind to take a lead of 2:20 onto the final climb. He was pursued by Bahrain Victorious’ Domen Novak on the upper reaches but held firm to win his first Grand Tour stage, with Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) taking the final spot on the podium.
Behind, however, the GC battle was suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly igniting. Ineos had taken over from Bahrain on the steep section in the final 5km and Carapaz soon moved clear with Hindley as a duo, with Landa immediately dropping. Hindley accelerated and then found Kamna from the break, with the German still pulling when Carapaz started to lose contact. That was Hindley’s cue and he never looked back, opening up what looks like an unassailable lead at the top of the standings.
“I don’t know,” he said cautiously. “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.”
How it unfolded
The 168km stage from Belluno to the top of the Marmolada/Fedaia started out with 17km of flat roads, before a short uncategorised climb and then a long false flat drag up towards the Passo San Pellegrino - the first of three high-mountain passes on the decisive stage of the 2022 Giro.
The flat section saw a number of breakaway attempts but nothing succeeded until the climb, where Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Mauri Vansevenant (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), and Edoardo Zardini (Drone Hopper-Androni) went clear. As the rain began to fall, more attacks came and a new group managed to bridge across. In there were: Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Domen Novak (Bahrain Victorious), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Thymen Arensman (Team DSM), Antonio Pedrero (Movistar), Gijs Leemreize (Jumbo-Visma), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto Soudal), Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates), and Davide Ballerini (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl).
As that group of 14 riders went clear, there was a brief period of chaos in the peloton, with Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) distanced in a split off the back of the bunch. However, with 135km to go, things calmed down, the leaders stopped for nature breaks and rain capes, and the breakaway was allowed to build an advantage.
When the peloton did get organised, it wasn’t Carapaz’s Ineos teammates doing the controlling, but Landa’s Bahrain Victorious, making their intentions clear. With Novak in the break, they had apparently placed a pawn to be used later on, and it was the job of sprinter Phil Bauhaus and ruler Jasha Sutterlin to do the work on the false flat towards the San Pellegrino.
The start of the climb was marked by an intermediate sprint at Cencenighe Agordino, where Davide Ballerini took maximum points as the breakaway passed through with a lead of six minutes and 104km to go.
Halfway up the climb, the breakaway briefly split in two as arguments began over cooperation, Kämna notably remonstrating with Novak. Ballerini largely set the pace for Vansevenant up front, while Sutterlin continued his effort to lead the peloton at a steady tempo behind. At the top of the Passo San Pellegrino, Formolo grabbed the maximum haul of mountains points ahead of Ciccone, even though Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) had already established an unassailable lead in the blue jersey standings. The peloton, still large and still led by Sutterlin, followed over the top six minutes later, with 80km left to run.
A short descent of 12km followed ahead of a 17km false flat drag up to the foot of the second climb of the day, the Passo Pordoi. The Pordio - 11.km at 6.8% - was designated the ‘Cima Coppi’ of the 2022 Giro, as the highest point of the whole race at 2239 metres of altitude. After another brief split on the approach, Ballerini led the breakaway onto the climb with 56km to go, their lead down to five minutes as Bahrain continued to work in the valley behind.
A kilometre or so in, the break began to fragment, with Vendrame and Van der Poel the first to be dropped. Zardini put in the first real attack, followed by Covi. Vansevenant then fell away, undoing all of Ballerini’s prior work. Covi moved clear and drove home his advantage, opening 45 seconds by the half-way point. That was partly due to more disorganisation behind, with Ciccone, Formolo, Kamna, Arensman, Novak, and Pedrero bickering in a sextet and allowing the Jumbo duo of Oomen and Leemreize to come back.
In the bunch behind, after a couple more kilometres of Sutterlin work, Poels took up the mantle for Bahrain. The change started to thin the peloton but the gap to the breakaway increased towards the six-minute mark.
At the top of the Pordoi, with 45km to go, Covi crested alone to pick up the Cima Coppi award, his lead over the remaining eight chasers all the way out at 90 seconds. There were still 40 riders in the peloton as Poels led it over the top.
A descent of 31km followed, interrupted by a 9km plateau in the middle. Covi gained throughout, moving 2:20 clear of the chase group, which expanded to nine riders when Ballerini made a remarkable return at the end of the descent. 6:20 in arrears was the peloton, where Bahrain, Ineos, and Bora all had four riders left.
Marmolada / Fedaia
The Passo Fedaia - aka the Marmolada - measured 14km but was a climb of two halves, the average gradient of 7.6% dampened by a relatively gentle opening half. The final 5.5km, however, was anything but, with the average into the double digits.
On the lower slopes, Covi maintained his advantage but there was a change behind as Poels swing off and Santiago Buitrago took up the reins for Bahrain. The bunch continued to thin but the pace was not lightning quick, and the gap to Covi barely came down.
By the end of the gentle section of the Fedaia, marked by an intermediate sprint, the chase group had split in two, with Arensman, Novak, Ciccone, and Pedrero pursuing Covi at 1:45. On the start of the steep slopes, Novak attacked - apparently bidding for the stage win rather than being part of a broader GC plan for Landa.
When the peloton reached the intermediate sprint and the turning point of the climb, there was a change as Ineos dispensed with Bahrain and took it up on the steeper slopes. Ben Tulett and Pavel Sivakov led the way for Ineos. They quickly dropped Emanuel Buchmann, leaving just Wilco Kelderman with Hindley, while Landa now had just Pello Bilbao for company. Fourth-placed Vincenzo Nibali was the next to go, and when Pavel Sivakov took it up the GC group was completely shredded. Only Carapaz, Hindley, Landa, Hirt, and Carthy could follow.
Up front, Novak continued to gain on Covi, closing to 35 seconds with 2.5km to go.
Sivakov finished his turn 3.5km from the summit and, after a brief acceleration from Carapaz, Hindley quickly jumped into action. The Pink jersey was straight on the wheel but Landa was immediately dropped, along with Carthy. Hindley soon found Kämna in front of him and the German set to work. Just beyond the 3km-to-go banner, the cracks emerged, with Carapaz losing the wheel. Sensing blood, Hindley thanked Kämna and accelerated away.
He quickly opened a lead of 20 seconds, and it rose to half a minute with 2km to go. Carapaz was visibly suffering and his slowing pace was clear when Carthy came back and moved out in front of him. Soon, even Landa was back out in front of him.
Covi celebrated, while Novak came home at 32 seconds, followed by Ciccone at 37 seconds. Pedrero and Arensman rounded out the top five before Hindley crossed the line. Carthy and Landa followed 49 seconds later, before Carapaz trudged home, his Giro surely ending in defeat.
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