SESTRIERE, Italy: Two riders tied — the Giro d’Italia is set for an unprecedented finish with Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart and Australia’s Jai Hindley on the same time going into Sunday’s closing time-trial in Milan.
Ineos rider Geoghegan Hart won Saturday’s (Sunday in Manila) 20th and penultimate stage, edging Hindley, who wears the overall leader’s pink jersey thanks to 86 hundredths of a second difference over his rival in the two time-trials already contested.
And for the first time in a Grand Tour, two riders will go head-to-head for the title in a 15.7km time-trial which finishes in front of Milan’s iconic Duomo Cathedral.
“It’s the stuff of dreams,” said Ineos’ manager Dave Brailsford whose team lost lead rider Geraint Thomas to a broken pelvis in the early days.
“I burst into tears basically.”
Although Hindley took the pink jersey from his Sunweb teammate Wilco Kelderman, all-rounder Geoghegan Hart, who gained precious bonus seconds by winning, will go into the final stage as the favourite.
Neither rider had been their team leader when the race got underway in Sicily three weeks ago. Ineos lost Geraint Thomas to a broken pelvis in stage four.
“This year’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. It was devastating for Geraint to crash out. What we know from this year and from bike racing is it’s never over,” said Brailsford.
Ineos had a disappointing Tour de France with defending champion Egan Bernal’s withdrawal, while Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz is not defending his Giro d’Italia title but competing in the Vuelta a Espana.
“We thought ‘you know what guys, let’s just get out there and race’,” Brailsford said on Eurosport.
“‘Tao you stay on duty and look after yourself, anybody gets in a break go in the break, anybody who doesn’t look after Tao’ and that’s what they’ve done and they’ve just smashed it.”
– ‘Die for pink jersey’ –
On Saturday (Sunday in Manila), pink jersey wearer Kelderman faltered on the second of three climbs in Sestriere, 30km from the finish of the 190km stage, allowing his teammate Hindley to move ahead.
In a carbon copy of the Stelvio stage on Thursday, Australian Rohan Dennis blew open the group and only his team leader Geoghegan Hart and Hindley stayed with him.
Kelderman, already struggling on the Stelvio, where he took the overall lead from Portugal’s Joao Almeida, limited the loss of time to around 40 seconds at the top.
But the gap widened by another minute at the foot of the third and final Alpine ascent, a 6.9km climb with a 7.2-percent gradient.
Hindley went on the attack several times in the last 2.3km, without managing to shake off Geoghegan Hart.
At the top, the 25-year-old won the sprint for his second stage success, six days after his first, and sixth for his team.
“Certainly before the Giro I wasn’t expecting this scenario with 15km left in the race,” said Geoghegan Hart.
“Although, this is a lot like last year, with unexpected and young contenders. What Rohan Dennis has done for me has been incredible. I owe him for the Stelvio stage and for today.”
Hindley, 24, wears the pink jersey for the first time in his career, with Kelderman falling to third place at 1min 32sec.
“I’ve been watching the Giro since I was a little boy and it’s been a dream of mine to lead a Grand Tour,” said Hindley, bidding to become the first Australian winner.
“Tao has already showed he can time trial well. All I know is I’ll die to keep this jersey. It’ll really be a ‘race of truth’.”
– ‘Couldn’t make it up’ –
Geoghegan Hart already got the better of Hindley in the 34.1km time-trial at Valdobbiadene. But Hindley was faster in the opening 15.1km time-trial in Palermo.
“That was a long time ago, a lot has happened since,” warned Geoghegan Hart, as he bids to become the second British rider to win after Chris Froome in 2018.
“When we first started the team Tao took a day off school,” recalled Brailsford.
“I say ‘took a day off school’ but bunked off school and came along to watch Brad (Wiggins) and the guys when they launched the team.
“He rode behind Brad, it’s a story he likes to tell. And all of a sudden he’s in the team and then all of a sudden he finds himself in this position. You couldn’t make it up really.”