Eddie Dunbar lost time on the toughest summit finish of this year’s Giro d’Italia, slipping back on the wall-like final two kilometres of stage 19 and dropping from fourth to fifth overall. The Irishman has had a stunning race thus far but weakened close to the top of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo climb, possibly due to altitude. The climb topped out at 2,307 metres above sea level, putting intense demands on the riders.
The stage was won by the Colombian Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious), who was part of the day’s big breakaway and who caught and dropped the Canadian Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) close to the line. Race leader Geraint Thomas put in a big attack inside the final kilometres, the Ineos Grenadiers leader opening a small gap over his main rival Primož Rogič. However the Jumbo-Visma rider unleashed a brilliant surge to pass him and cross the line fourth, three seconds ahead.
Dunbar was 13th, giving up one minute 17 seconds to Roglič.
“Obviously I lost time,” he said. “It was always going to be difficult. I went a bit too deep yesterday and paid for it today. But it is all learning.”
Sports director David McPartland applauded Dunbar’s performance on the stage and over the past three weeks. “He’s done the best ride he possibly could today without going over the limit. He’s managed it all the way to the line. We are proud of his effort, really. He came in here with the goal of going top 10, and look, now he is going to be top five or six in the Giro. Potentially fourth still.”
Thomas retains the pink jersey with Roglič now 26 seconds back heading into Saturday’s crucial time trial. Dunbar is now 4′53 back, 42 seconds off the fourth place he was in until the stage end. He is 17 seconds ahead of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), who moves up a place to sixth.
The 183-kilometre stage was arguably the toughest of the Giro. It crossed five climbs, including two first category ascent plus the beyond-categorisation summit finish of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. This was 7.1 kilometres in length, with the final two kilometres averaging between 14.5 and 13.6 per cent respectively, a daunting gradient which would exposé any weakness.
Dunbar is riding just the second Grand Tour of his career and this plus his disrupted preparation this spring due to a hand fracture may have affected his final effort. However his fifth place is far above his pre-race target of finishing inside the top 10, and remains a superb performance. He will go into Saturday’s mountain time trial fired up to ride strongly.
Meanwhile Ireland’s second participant Ben Healy missed out on the day’s break, thus losing out on his chance of taking back the King of the Mountains jersey he lost to Pinot on Thursday. The EF Education-EasyPost rider tried to bridge across to the day’s big move but was marked by Pinot. The rider who finished second on the stage, Gee, hoovered up points and bumped Healy down into third in that contest.
He can nevertheless by proud of the race thus far, his first Grand Tour. He won stage 8, was second on stage 15 and had a day in the King of the Mountains jersey. He is just 22 years of age and will cope better with the demands of a three week race having this one under his belt.
The Giro d’Italia will conclude on Sunday with what is almost certain to be a bunch sprint. Saturday’s individual time trial is the final decider in terms of the general classification. While Dunbar normally doesn’t relish such races against the clock, the second half of the 18.6 kilometre test is a difficult uphill climb averaging 11 per cent over its 7.8 kilometres. This will suit him better than the flatter time trials earlier in the race.
Getting his fourth place back will be difficult due to the time gap. Retaining his fifth overall may be his main target, not least because the next three riders are within one minute and one second of him. Whatever happens, though, he has shown in this race that he will be a force in future Grand Tours.