The 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia brought with it iconic climbs, enthralling racing and tributes to some of the Corsa Rosa’s greatest champions at every turn. While the battle for the maglia rosa naturally dominated the limelight, the chance to make a mark in a historic edition of the Italian Grand saw battles unfolding all over the road. RoadCyclingUK’s Lorena Jones experienced stages 18 and 19 from the heart of the race – watching the former from an official race car and the latter from the skies.
Channeling his way through the storm drains, refusing to let go of Mikel Landa’s wheel, Tejay van Garderen jumps from behind his rival and times his attack to perfection with seconds to spare; a quick glance back before the American sits up to take the win. Not just any win but his first ever Grand Tour stage win, on the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia.
“A stage win would be nice,” van Garderen told me just hours earlier ahead of the start of stage 18 of the race, when I asked him if he was aiming for the maglia azzurra, the Giro’s blue mountains classification jersey. The 28-year-old’s palmares already included three team time trial stage wins at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana – but, despite two top five overall finishes at the Tour, van Garderen was yet to cross the line arms aloft at a Grand Tour.
Sat in the front passenger’s seat inside the official race car, now a few kilometres ahead of the start line, the unexpected serenity inside the vehicle is quickly replaced by a buzz of excitement as we attempt to catch a first glimpse of the riders through the rear window. The driver steps on the accelerator as news of what is happening behind us begins to crackle over the race radio.
Thirty seconds, 40 seconds… the distance between the early breakaway and the peloton quickly increases. It’s a familiar format in almost any bike race, with a group of valiant riders attacking in hope of glory – this time on one of the Giro’s most important stages through the Dolomites. The intensity with which the start of the race unfurls is both surprising and leg-sapping, and while van Garderen isn’t in the initial break, he’s part of a later escape which goes on to contest the win.