Geraint Thomas takes big step towards Giro d'Italia victory with finish line in sight
Geraint Thomas stands on the brink of Giro d’Italia glory with only Saturday’s 18.6km time trial now lying between the Welshman and another famous chapter in British cycling history.
Thomas, who turned 37 on Thursday but has rolled back the years at the first grand tour of the season, produced a wonderfully gutsy ride in Friday’s queen stage, going toe-to-toe with nearest rival Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) on the final climb to Tre Cime di Lavaredo to retain the race leader’s pink jersey.
But with Roglic managing to eke out three seconds after coming around Thomas right at the death, closing to within 26 seconds of the Ineos Grenadiers rider, the race is still very much on a knife-edge.
Saturday’s time trial may be short in distance at 18.6km, but it is savage in terms of gradient, with slopes of up to 22 per cent on the road from Tarvisio to Monte Lussari right in the northeast of Italy on the border with Italy and Slovenia.
Thirty seconds could be lost in an instant if anyone blows up, or gets their gearing wrong.
Roglic, of course, did just that at the 2020 Tour de France when he was beaten to the yellow jersey by compatriot Tadej Pogacar after exploding on the penultimate day time trial on La Planche des Belles Filles, a similarly punishing climb.
This time Roglic hopes to be better prepared. The Slovenian, who is known to prefer a high cadence, even tested out the bike he will use in Saturday’s time trial during Friday’s stage, swapping to a machine equipped with a 44-tooth rear sprocket and a single front ring for the final climb.
Roglic also has experience of winning in Tarvisio, albeit that was in March 2007 in the FIS Junior World Ski-Jumping Championships.
Thomas, though, will be hopeful of completing the job and becoming Britain's third winner of the Giro after Chris Froome and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
The 2018 Tour de France champion and double Olympic champion has not put a foot wrong in this race, and once again responded to everything thrown at him in Friday’s queen stage. Thomas refused to panic when Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), who lies third on GC, attacked with 2km remaining.
He stayed with Roglic and then stuck to the Slovenian when he attacked and passed Almeida. Thomas even went on the attack himself in the final 500 metres, briefly distancing Roglic before running out of steam, allowing his rival to sprint back past him for three precious seconds. Roglic and Thomas were fourth and fifth over the line respectively behind stage winner Santiago Buitrago Sanchez (Bahrain - Victorious), with Almeida sixth, 20 seconds behind Thomas and now 59 seconds behind on GC.
"It was OK when I went at 400 metres,” Thomas said afterwards of his sprint. “But I realised after 100 metres that 400 is a long way at this altitude. I just tried to pace it. I lost a couple of seconds on the line but it was nice to gain some time on João.”
Thomas added of Saturday’s effort against the clock. “It's going to be super close. I think it's going to be exciting to watch, horrible to do.”