Primoz Roglic looks the biggest threat to Geraint Thomas’ dream of winning the Giro d’Italia after an improved performance on Stage 18, but The Breakaway team remain unconvinced he can topple the Welshman.
“I didn’t think Roglic would be strong enough, but he is still in the fight. He is a bit less explosive, but he proved me wrong and is still in the game,” said Voigt.
“If Geraint has any mishap, dropping the chain, puncture in a bad moment or just not feeling 100%, 30 seconds can be quick to lose. So it’s far from over but at the moment it all looks very good for Geraint Thomas.”
Jumbo-Visma took the initiative on the Cat. 2 ascent of Coi, the day’s penultimate climb, when Sepp Kuss came to the front and blew the 21-strong pink jersey group apart to tee up a Roglic attack.
Only Thomas and Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-AlUla) could follow as Almeida was left fighting to limit his losses alongside UAE team-mate Jay Vine. Soon it was just Roglic and Thomas on the road, although Kuss bridged across briefly, as the Slovenian emerged as the main rival in the race for the maglia rosa.
Giro d’Italia Stage 18 highlights – Zana zooms to glory ahead of Pinot
Speaking at the finish in Val di Zoldo, Adam Blythe said: “For me, Primoz looks back in form. If he carries on like this Geraint Thomas is his only real challenger.
“But Geraint doesn’t really have off days, he’s just a solid bike rider. So Primoz will have to isolate Geraint early on to get rid of him which is going to be very difficult because he isolates himself then.
“So he’s looking good, but what can he do? I’m not too sure up against a very strong Geraint.”
“Yes he got away from Almeida and has obviously improved, but the ease with which Geraint Thomas followed the wheel when Roglic went [was startling]… then after that Sepp Kuss rode back to the group of Roglic and Thomas with ease,” said McEwen.
“That’s a sign that Roglic is not quite where we’re used to seeing him. So although he was on the front and he was trying to attack, it wasn’t happening. Thomas was comfortable, Kuss came back, so it’s not yet where he needs to be.”
With Sunday’s pan-flat stage in Rome practically guaranteed to be a day for the sprinters, Roglic and Almeida have two stages to unseat Thomas from the pink jersey.
What’s in store on… Friday?
It’s an absolute doozy in the Dolomites on Stage 19 with the queen stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
“Tomorrow is a very, very big stage. It’s a brutal stage and anything can happen,” says seven-time Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador. It is hard to disagree.
Roughly 5400 of elevation and three peaks above 2000m promise to push Thomas, Roglic, Almeida and company to the limit. At 2236m, the Passo Giau also has Cima Coppi status as the race’s highest point (after the previous Cima Coppi on Stage 13 was axed due to snow).
“The air is thin up there [on the Passo Giau],” said McEwen. “And there is so much climbing on this stage, nearly 5500m of elevation gain.
“They go over the Giau in the final part of the stage, then it’s onto Tre Cime di Lavaredo, one of the mythical finish places in the Giro d’Italia and the slopes are steep again, up to 18% gradient.”
‘It’s brutal!’ – McEwen and Lloyd on Friday’s queen stage
Thomas may have a nice buffer of 29 seconds over Roglic, but Dan Lloyd is predicting huge time gaps if any of the GC hopefuls fall off a cliff on Friday.
“I think the last 3km are well over 12%. At the end of a day like tomorrow, at the end of three weeks of racing, if there are any signs of weakness, they are going to be magnified on those final 3km,” said Lloyd.
“Because if you run out of energy there, it’s not going to be a case of seconds, it’s going to be a case of minutes.”
What’s in store on… Saturday?
With Stage 21 basically a procession around Rome, the winner will be known at the summit of Monte Lussari as the final GC order is decided with a 18.6km individual time trial. The climb is a beast too, with 7.3km on the menu with an average gradient of 12.3%.
Roglic needs no reminding what happened the last time he rolled out for an ITT on the penultimate stage of a Grand Tour with a summit finish.
In 2020, Tadej Pogacar wrestled the yellow jersey from his shoulders at the Tour de France in stunning fashion after a sensational climb of La Planche des Belles Filles. In 2023, depending on what happens on Friday’s Stage 20, Roglic may look to pull the same trick on Thomas at the Giro.
“We keep talking about that time trial from the Tour de France in 2020, when it looked almost guaranteed that Primoz Roglic would take the victory and Tadej Pogacar then got the yellow jersey on that day,” said Lloyd.
“So we keep saying Roglic has that in the back of his mind. But he also knows full well how much something can change on that penultimate time trial because of what happened to him in the past.
“So I’m sure he’ll want to try and get time back on Geraint Thomas tomorrow if he can – but he certainly won’t give up in that final time trial. He knows that if he’s on a really good day, and Geraint Thomas has a slightly off day, the pink jersey before Rome is still well within reach.”
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