Giro d’Italia

May 24th - Stage 12/13 - Giro d’Italia

Stage 12:

  • Stage/Finish: Cuneo › Pinerolo

  • Distance: 158 kilometers (hills, flat finish)

Stage 13:

  • Stage/Finish: Pinerolo › Lago Serru

  • Distance: 196 kilometers (mountains)

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Images ©Kramon

Brent's Update:

Stages 12 and 13....... these two stages led us into the second half of the Giro and the massive mountain onslaught. Yesterday’s stage was mostly one very steep climb and a technical finish, which we got through ok and did well keeping our strong contingent of climbers around Simon. The cobbled climb in the city of Pinerolo, which we tackled twice, left me gasping for air but in awe of the environment and passion of Italian fans. The atmosphere in this race is just unmatched.

Today’s stage was on the other end of the spectrum. It was a long day out and just so, so much climbing. I trained my ass off in the mountains before coming here and today still had me wondering when it was going to stop.

Some uncategorized climbs at the start would rank as “mountains” back in Asheville and caused the bunch to split and come back together before a big group finally went on the first Cat 1 climb. We had Chris and Mikel in up. Some other GC dangermen kept the pace in the peloton behind very high and we really never had a chance to quiet down or even take a pee. I finally gave in about 15 kilometers before the next Cat 2 climb as my bladder was about to burst. This meant a costly effort on the legs to come back but a necessary human flaw. Not sure what the other hundred guys who never stopped did? Maybe functional dehydration?

The pace over the next Cat 2 was stiff, and the group was thinning quickly. I felt under pressure but buoyed as I watched the group shrink. I was optimistic I could go over the top and play a role in the next long valley. Astana had other plans as they smacked it hard and blew the group apart, leaving only 10-15 in the front and another 10-15 in the pink jersey group, which I was dangling behind. I dug for a couple of kilometers thinking maybe the pace in front would relent, but with GC guys spread all over the road, it never did.

Up ahead, we had Nieve going for the stage win. What a display of tenacity as they were within 30 seconds of being caught and he still managed to finish a close second. Depth and class!

Simon’s group sounded heinously hard and aggressive. Our young gun, Lucas, did a super ride to stay by his side and help him limit the losses. We will assess this evening and rally for another one.

Back to me, it was survival mode. I did my best to find a good group but it was still a very long grind to the line, and I was amazed to see how many dropped guys were still up for pushing the pace.

But first—a three-hour transfer from the finish to our next hotel. Up until now, the transfers have been tolerable but in classic Giro fashion; when the stages are long and hard, the transfers match.

May 22nd - Stage 11 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Carpi › Novi Ligure

  • Distance: 221 kilometers (flat)

 

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Brent's Update:

The first eight days of the Giro saw very little impact to the overall standings but were physically and mentally demanding with around 40 hours of racing. The past few days—from Sunday’s TT to the rest day and finally into today’s sprint stage--were a strange transition. These two sprint days have been about stocking up as much energy as possible and getting the body working again after a bit of shutdown following the end of last week.

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It’s worth noting that it is super rare in a Grand Tour that you can back off for more than 1 or 2 consecutive days. Aside from the guys who did a full gas effort on Sunday, the rest of us have been in somewhat of a holding pattern for four days now. While the sprinters have put out some effort and the GC teams are still alert and on the defensive, compared to how we started and what the next 10 days will bring, these past days have been low key.

You won’t hear me complaining during these “easier” transitional sprint days. I know that means we will only race the massive mountains even harder, but it’s a strange formula for a race that is usually peppered with excitement and decisive drama.

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Jamie and her cousin Kelly visited over the weekend, which was awesome. This was the first race she’s been to since I’ve raced for Mitchelton-SCOTT and it is great how welcoming the team has been to my family as they realize the energy this brings a rider. At the end of the day, we are more than just robots on the bike.

Over the past few days, I’ve tried to make my rounds to speak with the other Americans in the bunch as I know conversational riding is about to disappear until the race is over and I’m back in Girona. There’s been a lot of hype about the climbing heavy second half and I’m sure we will see some fireworks by Friday, if not already by tomorrow….

May 18th - Stage 8 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Tortoreto Lido › Pesaro

  • Distance: 239 kilometers (flat)

 

Images ©Getty

Brent's Update:


Describing Stage 8 as another long one is getting redundant, but at 240 kilometers and six hours, the distance was influential in how we raced and the day’s outcome. It’s not every day that the entire peloton echoes my mood, but after yesterday’s rock ‘em sock ‘em, it seemed everyone was on the same page to not spend all six hours smashing each other.

A break of three quickly rolled away and was soon down to two as fellow American Nate brown realized a three-up break with sprinter’s teams controlling behind was futile. We rolled along the coast with low effort and relatively high speed for a couple of hours thanks to a nice tailwind. Around 140 km, we turned off onto more undulating and narrow roads, and things began to heat up and continued to crescendo all the way to the line.

I was back on duty with Jack B to keep Simon out of the scrum with a focus of doing it as effortlessly as possible ahead of tomorrow’s TT. The course became physically and technically more demanding in the final hour and thanks to some intermittent rain, we had some slick roads. 

With a much-hyped downhill to the line, all the sprinter and GC teams were pushing for position and we spent a fair bit of time posted up on the left side next to whatever sprint teams were chasing. This cost a fair bit of energy but was the only way to ensure Simon was up front and not getting knocked around in the bunch. These Grand Tour fields require a huge amount of anticipation when it comes to positioning and today’s decisive point at 6-km to go where the downhill started would be about 40-50 km in the making in terms of positioning.

Once again, our team depth showed as we still had three good guys next to Simon as the downhill began and he safely crossed the line with the reduced bunch.  

I’ve had my fill of six-hour and 4000-5000 calorie rides this week, so I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow’s TT. I’ll still have to push a bit to stay safely in the time cut but will look to the day as a chance to hopefully let the body rebound from the past eight days.

May 17th - Stage 7 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Vasto › L’Aquila

  • Distance: 185 kilometers (hilly)

 

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Brent's Update:


Today’s stage to L’Aquila had me thinking back to one of my hardest days ever on a bike at the 2010 Giro that finished in the same city. Thankfully today’s stage was not 265 kilometers and we didn’t see any snow/hail/sleet as we did nine years ago. Still, I knew the roads would be similar—relentless, undulating, and twisting. A profile perfectly set for an aggressive and intense day as more breakaway guys would be dreaming of pink and a stage win.

It was extremely fast from the start and big groups were constantly going and reshuffling. We had one of our super climbers—Mikel--sneak into a very dangerous group that caused UAE and Bahrain to invest some big energy to bring them back. A series of 3, 4-5 uncategorized climbs and a relentless chase aided by those menacing camera motorbikes put the bunch in pieces. I felt like I was exploding as I sprinted over the top and then glanced back on the downhill to see a big gap to the group behind. Fortunately, Simon was up front and out of trouble through all of this.

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The next reshuffling came about 100 km in when Lucas powered into a good one that looked like it could finally go. After a demanding two hours, I was hoping for a little respite, but we went straight back into full gas chasing with Conti’s pink jersey in danger if the group ahead got too far out.

The last climb of the day brought back some PTSD from 2010 as I remember being totally alone between groups on this section of road, unsure if I was even still on course as the hail and rain pounded me. Today was much different with a big group and a very fast pace. Up ahead, Lucas was riding smart and looking for a stage win. Behind, we knew we had to deliver Simon in good position into the final technical kilometers. I linked up with Simon, so I could drop him off just under two km to go while up ahead grand tour debutant Lucas did an impressive ride to fourth place. Twenty-three years young, this won’t be the last time you see him contesting a win at a Grand Tour.

Tomorrow, we have the longest stage (in distance at least). Conveniently positioned at the end of an already very long week, we will rack up nearly 40 hours on the bike.

May 16th - Stage 6 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Cassino › San Giovanni Rotondo

  • Distance: 238 kilometers (hilly)

     

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Brent's Update:

Another big day out that finally saw a breakaway going to the line and a new race leader taking over. This was definitely predicted as a pre-race possibility because Stage 5 was most likely going to be too hard for any sprinters and the GC teams were unlikely to commit massive energy to keep things in check.

The roads were generally better. These were big momentum carrying type roads. That didn’t prevent a massive pileup from happening 30 kilometers into the stage as the breakaway riders were fighting to get away and the rest of the group was sneaking around in the group staying covered. I’m not sure what happened, but before I knew it, there was a wall of riders on the ground just in front of me and more piling up from behind. Thankfully my bike took the brunt of rider impact from behind. Durbo, Simon, and Esteban were all caught up. There was so much chaos and confusion that I actually had time to walk back to the stopped team car and grab a spare wheel as the mechanic tended to Simon and got him going.

Even though race leader Roglic crashed, up ahead, the race was still going full gas and it took a while for a temporary truce that helped us catch back on.

Once the break went away, there was a period when it looked like the stage may be in play, but no teams came forward to help Lotto, and they eventually let it roll out. I don’t blame them. It is a long way to Verona! We were content to sit back and not spend excessive energy while staying alert and switched on. There was a solid 15 km climb before the finish and the bunch was tensely waiting to see if any GC team would light it up to bring the gap down.

The Italian press will be happy with an Italian stage winner and an Italian in pink. It will be interesting to see how much effort is put into defending that pink jersey over the next two days as the stages are a similar long format that is likely too hard for pure sprinters and more suited to a breakaway.

May 15th - Stage 5 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Frascati › Terracini

  • Distance: 140 kilometers (flat)

  • Weather: Dumping Rain

 

Images ©Kramon

Brent's Update:

The guys who did the Giro last year kept telling me they didn’t have a day of rain. Today alone made up for a completely dry 2018 race. It dumped on us all day.

We were wet even before the start as race organizers required all the team busses to leave 30 minutes before the start. A couple hundred skinny guys in Lycra packed under a teeny tent with a few wet chairs wasn’t my idea of taking care of the “the world’s best cyclists.” We tried our best to laugh at the ridiculousness of it as umbrella-protected spectators waved for us to pose for pictures as a fence separated us. It felt like being animals in a zoo. 

We started with a couple tough climbs (for the Asheville folks, think Elk Mountain and Town Mountain) and I think I wasn’t the only one relieved when there wasn’t a massive battle for the early break. It was still very tense over those climbs and down the descents as the rain made visibility really challenging and the roads were littered with massive holes and cracks. We spent some energy to keep Simon up at the front and stayed out of the scrum in the middle of the bunch.

From there a long gradual downhill caused the rain and cold to really sink in, and I don’t think I was comfortable for the rest of the day. I changed both of the jackets I was wearing to fresh ones from the car but was still cold and wet.  The rain was relentless and the filthy water spraying up from the road was even worse.

We saw some nice consideration for our safety when the race officials when they decided to take GC time after the first crossing of the finish line, a definite perk of having a circuit finish format. Seeing the massive amounts of standing water on the circuit, I think this was a good call and the fans still were treated to an intense sprint battle that basically like water skiing or wakeboarding when I watched the replay.

Tomorrow things will get heavy as we do another 240 kilometers with a mountainous amount of climbing. It’s almost 700 km away, but I’m already setting my sights on that Stage 9 TT where I’ll enjoy a calm solo ride and try to bank a little recovery. It will be needed with these next three days.

May 14th - Stage 4 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Orbetello › Frascati

  • Distance: 223 kilometers (uphill finish)

 

Images ©Getty

Brent's Update:


Stage 4 was a good leg deadener and tank emptier as we aren’t even halfway through this first 9-day “week” of racing. One hundred and fifty miles and 6.5 hours is a big day, no matter how you slice it. When three guys from smaller Italian teams peeled off immediately after km 0, there was mumbling in the bunch of it being a long boring day, but in the end, I don’t think anyone arrived at the finish bored or with too much energy to spare.

It was super windy out there again, which kept the tension up in the bunch, especially when combined with poor road surfaces that had us dodging some massive holes. The sprint teams played around with each other and let the gap go out, brought it back, let it go out, and then repeated this cycle. Not efficient but seeing the demanding finish and also the sheer length, it was understandable teams were skeptical of investing such a huge commitment.

For us as a GC team, it was business as usual. Despite never truly riding pole position, we basically did the equivalent of riding the front for much of the day as we were positioned just off the hip or just behind whatever team was chasing. Once again, it was Jack and me who were up first with an especially long “work zone” from km 0 to km 210. Things started getting super tense and heated very far out from the finish. We spent a solid two hours pinballing through sketchy cities and down potholed roads, battling other teams as the GC hierarchy of respect or consideration was tossed out the window in the spirit of self-preservation. This was draining work.

In the end, it still wasn’t enough to keep Simon from getting swiped on the inside and taken out with around five km to go. Fortunately, he got up quickly, and the guys with him limited the damage, but it is still disappointing to lose some seconds and see your leader on the ground after a long day of working to prevent that from happening.

We will dust ourselves off and refocus for tomorrow. In theory, a sprint day, but a nasty start with two stout climbs in the first hour could shake things up and produce a strong breakaway group.

May 13th - Stage 3 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Vinci › Orbetello

  • Distance: 220 kilometers (flat)

 

Images ©Getty

Brent's Update:


Stage 3 was another one of those LONG “sprint” stages. Today’s stage was defined by some extremely strong but ultimately non-decisive wind and standard first week Grand Tour nervousness from the sprint and GC teams put things on the defensive for much is the stage.

That brave solo breakaway guy will be tired tonight. Some people probably watch and wonder why more guys don’t try to escape on a day like today.  The answer is different depending on the team, but most would agree that today was just too long, and we are still so early in the race. Combine that with a stacked sprint field where they know their chances are numbered and it was always likely to be a small group.  

Our efforts remained focused on keeping Simon safe and as effortlessly as possible. Once again it was Jack Bauer and me on deck for the first 180 or so kilometers. Some of this time was spent slotted in behind the chasing teams, but on a windy and nervous day like today, we also spent a lot of time with our noses in the wind and being aggressive with positioning. It’s my first race with Simon, but we are syncing up well. It is nice to ride for a guy who is a good bike handler and can stay glued to a wheel even when things heated.  

Tomorrow is another long one and in classic Giro fashion, they added 10 km of neutral to an already hefty 235-km stage. A bump in accumulated climbing and a demanding uphill section to the finish will surely see a bigger break and an especially heated finish.

May 12th - Stage 2 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Bologna › Fucecchio

  • Distance: 205 kilometers (flat)

  • Weather: Rain

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Brent's Update:

Out on the wet, open roads of Italy for Stage 2 and I was reminded that even the “sprint” days at the Giro are hilly or near mountainous. Having Simon sitting second overall adds some pressure to keep him up front and out of trouble. On days like today, that is also self-serving because it keeps us focused and generally up front on constantly twisting and technical roads. The downside to riding good position, upfront in a field of almost 200 riders is that a trip to the car takes a long time and a solid dose of energy getting back up.

Things eventually dried up, but a stiff tailwind kept us moving quickly and often splitting the bunch. It seemed the breakaway was happy to use their fresh legs in a show of power instead of going more tactical and timing their effort to a specific moment.

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My task today was to stay glued to Simon with the help from my roommate Jack Bauer and to keep Simon out of the wind, well positioned, clothed and fed for the first 150 or so kilometers before a new block came into that role for the final 50 km. We were happy to all finish safely after several riders hit the deck. It was a pretty big day out and tomorrow looks to be even longer, but hopefully less wet.




May 11th - Stage 1 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Bologna › San Luca

  • Distance: 8 kilometers - hilly time trial (ITT)

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Brent's Update:

It's a relief to finally have this Giro started. There is so much build-up, anticipation, prep and thought that goes into the last weeks and months that really intensifies in the final days heading into the race. Getting to kick it all off with an individual effort was a good way to open up the race .

The start of the Giro was a demanding eight kilometers, especially the final 2 km that was super steep and gave the impression that we were crawling and creeping up instead of smashing out a peak 5-minute effort.

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Within our team, there was a lot of excitement, especially surrounding Simon. This is energy directed at him from media, fans, competitors. As teammates, we feel it. It is a force from the outside but also within the team because we recognize our responsibility in carrying a legit GC contender. It takes a little extra attention from all the support staff within the team and a day like this is built around Simon—all for good reason as seconds are on the line and may prove to be very important.

For the rest of us, today was a balance of testing ourselves, putting in a good effort, but also keeping the big picture in mind and knowing that these 14 minutes are a very, very small percentage of our work and contribution to Simon’s GC hunt over the course of 21 stages. I've been a part of some good GC efforts over the years, but I have to say there was usually more individual ambition still at play, and it’s very clear here that it is all for one, one for all.

Simon did a super ride to confirm himself as a true contender, and as teammates, that is inspiring. Now, the real work will begin and we head into a series of long, hilly stages that will most likely be wet!