Cycling’s trend of ever younger winners is in rewind mode so far during this Giro d’Italia.
The 2022 corsa rosa is a throwback to cycling’s elder statesmen and old-school grinders who are keen to remind today’s rising young stars that experience and wile still count in grand tour racing.
From Richie Porte to Mark Cavendish, and Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde, the 2022 Giro is in many ways the last stand of cycling’s superstars against the sport’s inevitable tide of generational change.
“You know, Valverde got up there further than me, and Nibali,” Porte joked at the line at Blockhaus. “So I’ve not quite got the ‘Masters Cup’ yet.”
With Porte, Nibali, and Valverde all racing their final edition of the Giro, all three want to make it count.
And it’s that undercurrent of pride and professionalism that’s driving the Giro narrative so far.
At the Giro’s halfway point, the top-20 on GC is littered with names of the big winners from the past decade or more.
At 37, a proud Nibali is showing signs of life after a slow start, and hovers in 13th. Valverde, still staying with the best at 42, is 11th. Porte, riding in a support role in his final grand tour, is 20th overall and would be a lot higher if he wasn’t pulling off to save his 37-year-old legs.
It’s Pozzovivo, whose 39-year-old body is twisted and scarred from nearly two decades of crashes and physical abuse in the elite peloton in eighth overall, who is riding high in what’s a Giro of the veterani.
“For me, staying with the best Sunday at Blockhaus was like winning a stage,” said Pozzovivo, in eighth overall as the best Italian on GC. “It’s already like a win but for sure I will not stop there. I will try to demonstrate I can stay with them also in the next mountains.”
So what’s going on? Has “Generation Pogačar” lost its step?
Not quite. Many of today’s youngest and brightest stars are not even at this Giro, including Tadej Pogačar, Remco Evenepoel, or Jonas Vingegaard, who are camped out on top of volcanoes or other high-altitude camps preparing for the Tour de France and other goals.
And there are still plenty of young guns in this Giro making their collective presence felt.
Race leader Juanpe López is only 24, and Portuguese sensation João Almeida, tied on time with pre-race favorite Carapaz, is third overall at the ripe age of 23. And 22-year-old WorldTour rookie Biniam Girmay, though now out of the Giro with an eye injury, confirmed he will be a formidable presence in the bunch sprints for years to come.
And, in fact, many of the Giro’s field is racing in Italy this month precisely because the likes of Pogačar and Co. are not.
Last chance saloon for some of the peloton’s oldest gunslingers
Yet this Giro is proving to be an opportunity for longtime pros to regain some of their mojo and make one dramatic final statement.
Stuck in between the peloton’s aging warhorses like Nibali and Valverde and “Generation Pogačar” is the almost now-overlooked “Class of 1990.”
It was that generation of riders, all coincidentally born in 1990, that reshaped and dominated much of the previous decade. Two of those riders — Mikel Landa (born in December 1989) and Romain Bardet — are riding with fresh wings so far in this Giro.
“It would be a dream to win the Giro,” Landa said during a rest day press conference. “I’ve been for years dreaming of it, working on it, fighting for it, but I’ve always come up against rivals stronger than me, or traps along the way.”
Like Landa, Bardet seems reenergized by this Giro. On Sunday up the decisive Blockhaus summit, he emerged as one of the three horsemen of the Giro apocalypse to match Carapaz and Landa off the front.
After riding more than a decade with the pressure of the GC hanging on his slender shoulders, Bardet knows how to manage a grand tour and knows when to move.
“When you’re riding for GC, you’ve got to keep your focus every day,” Bardet said. “Sometimes when you do relax a little bit that’s when problems can happen, so my aim is just to remain focused. I won’t underestimate the second week.”
Great awareness and teamwork from the Grenadiers sees @RichardCarapazM earn three bonus seconds 👊
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) May 18, 2022
And even Ineos Grenadiers seems to be revived in this anti-aging Giro of yesteryear.
The British super-team is dominating the peloton once again in a replay of its glory days of “Fortress Froome,” when the Sky/Ineos train delivered seven yellow jerseys across eight years with four different riders from 2012 to 2019.
Also read: Ineos rolls out the Sky train on Blockhaus
Ineos Grenadiers has since seen its Tour de France domination challenged by the rise of Pogačar and the depth at Jumbo-Visma.
In the meantime, Ineos Grenadiers quietly turned its financial and performance-centric gaze to the Giro, and has won three of the past four pink jerseys.
“We’ve done well here at the Giro lately, we cannot complain. We enjoy the Giro, let’s hope it continues,” said team boss Rod Ellingworth. “The Giro is a big race, and it’s something everyone can focus on.
“The guys are ready for the big fight, which I think will come down a bit further down the road.”
Ineos Grenadiers used its experience to pounce during a mid-stage time bonus Wednesday to snatch back three seconds on GC for Carapaz, a wily move that snuck him into second overall and into pole position to take the pink jersey this weekend.
The Giro’s final week is where experience and wile shine through
There’s still a lot of racing left in this Giro, and the Giro’s brutal closing week in the Dolomites and the Alps is always where the pink jersey is ultimately decided.
Some of this Giro’s aging warhorses might fade, but it’s also where they could truly shine one last time.
Perhaps it’s the Giro’s legendary final week and its uncontrolled and sometimes chaotic style of racing that lends itself so well to the more experienced and tactically sharp older riders.
Unlike the tightly wound Tour de France, where pure numbers and watt output still carry the day, the Giro is the race where street smarts and hard-earned physical depth can really pay dividends.
Late-race tactics and final-week physical strain can turn the Giro upside down much more violently than what’s seen at the Tour. Nibali won the 2016 Giro using just that style of late-race aggressive tactics, and Chris Froome won the 2018 Giro with an old-school, long-distance attack in the Italian Alps.
Even Valverde, who still has the Vuelta a España on his goodbye tour this season, is enjoying the fray.
“We’ll take it day by day,” said Valverde, pulling out some of cycling’s greatest lines. “The GC isn’t really the goal in this Giro, but I won’t throw it away if I am still with the best. The real goal is to win a stage and enjoy the passion of racing in the Giro.”
It’s that final element that makes the Giro so unique and timeless. No race evokes such passion and fervor among both fans and riders alike, both young and old.