Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb) or Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) will win the 2020 Giro d’Italia and the result will be decided by a 15.7km time trial in Milan on Sunday afternoon. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.
After 3,345.2 kilometres of racing from Palermo to the Alps, through sun, wind, rain, cold and repeated COVID-19 coronavirus tests, Hindley and Geoghegan Hart are still locked on the same time. The final week of this Giro featured almost 40 per cent of the race’s total climbing, but neither Madonna di Campiglio nor the Stelvio nor Sestriere could separate the pair.
For all the emphasis on the high mountains as the Giro’s great arbiter, the race – or at least, Geoghegan Hart and Hindley’s head-to-head contest – will ultimately be decided by 10 flat miles through the streets of Milan. It’s the equivalent of a penalty shoot-out at the end of a 3-3 draw.
Hindley: I'm going to do the best time trial of my life tomorrow
Giro d'Italia: Geoghegan Hart wins stage 20 on Sestriere
Kelderman: The two best climbers were in front at the Giro d’Italia
Giro d'Italia stage 21 start times
The corsa rosa has proved almost unreadable since it began in Monreale three weeks ago, and it feels foolhardy to hazard predictions now. Their respective pedigrees against the watch suggest that Geoghegan Hart should prevail and divest Hindley of the maglia rosa at the last, but a time trial at the end of a Grand Tour isn’t about what you’ve done before but what you have left.
Only three days ago, when he was still officially riding in the service of Sunweb teammate Wilco Kelderman, Hindley was keen to downplay his time trialling ability, insisting that it was still a work in process. After assuming Kelderman’s pink jersey atop Sestriere on Saturday, however, the Australian struck a different note.
“It’s the last day of a three-week race and you never know what's going to happen,” Hindley said. “You never know how your legs are going to feel when you wake up tomorrow morning. That’s the beauty of the Giro d’Italia, it’s such a hard race.”
While Hindley cut a relaxed figure during his first press conference in the maglia rosa – “cool question,” he exclaimed at one point – Geoghegan Hart, stage winner at Sestriere, was more business-like. His Ineos Grenadiers team persuaded the organisation to translate all of his answers at the end of the conference, which meant Geoghegan Hart was in and out of the video truck after barely four minutes.
“I think I showed my TT legs in the last TT,” said Geoghegan Hart, who picked up 2.2 seconds per kilometre on Hindley in the rolling time trial to Valdobbiadene a week ago. “We'll see what happens tomorrow, we'll give everything and what will be will be.”
With Filippo Ganna and Rohan Dennis on board, Ineos Grenadiers are in line to land their seventh stage win of the Giro (a third of the event total) in Sunday’s 15.7km test, but the squad’s main focus will be Geoghegan Hart’s starting slot of 4:09pm local time. Hindley will roll down the start ramp three minutes later, and the lone official intermediate time check comes after 10.7km, just as riders approach central Milan ahead of the final run to Piazza del Duomo.
Three weeks ago in Palermo, Hindley was 49 seconds quicker than Geoghegan Hart in the largely downhill 15.1km opening time trial, though the Briton started later, and seemingly, in less favourable wind conditions. The weather will be the same for both men in Milan. They will both be wearing skinsuits provided by the organisation rather than their teams - Geoghegan Hart sets out in the white jersey while Hindley wears pink. The nature of the course, meanwhile, will surely remind Geoghegan Hart of a familiar British staple – the 10-mile time trial.
“You could lose two or three seconds per kilometre to a specialist on a course like this,” Race Director Mauro Vegni warned before the Giro – though in this case, of course, the eventual champion needs only to pick up one second over almost 16 kilometres.
The margins couldn’t be tighter. Indeed, they never have been before. Never in Giro history have the top two riders entered the final day on the same time. There have, of course, been plenty of dramatic final time trials in the race’s history: Moser and Fignon in 1984, Menchov and Di Luca in 2009, Hesjedal and Rodriguez in 2012, as well as Dumoulin, Nibali and Quintana three years ago.
The tightest final gap in Giro history was Fiorenzo Magni’s 11-second margin over Ezio Cecchi in 1948, though in a situation such as Sunday’s one thinks of Laurent Fignon’s eight-second defeat to Greg LeMond in the 1989 Tour de France. Or perhaps Tadej Pogačar’s upset of Primož Roglič at last month’s Tour.
On Sunday, Hindley carries the pink jersey and Geoghegan Hart bears the expectation, but neither man can afford to feel the weight of that burden. The chance of a lifetime has presented itself.
Head to head
Since turning professional in 2017, Hindley and Geoghegan Hart have faced each other in nine time trials, two of them coming at this Giro. Although there are so many variables at play, the record books make for worrying reading for Hindley fans.
Geoghegan Hart has come out on top seven times, and will argue that one of those two defeats, on the opening stage here, was because he started as a domestique for Geraint Thomas and didn't give his all.
Hindley has managed to limit the damage on the hillier terrain but the Briton has largely been able to overpower him on the flat, which is what we have for the full 15.7km in Milan. However, he'll take heart from the recent Tirreno-Adriatico TT and hope the maglia rosa can take him to new heights.
Tour of California 2018 – stage 4
34.7km, largely flat
1. Geoghegan Hart: 3rd place, 41:19
2. Hindley: 48th place, 44:04 (+2:45)
Itzulia Basque Country 2018 – stage 4
1. Geoghegan Hart: 36th, 23:43
2: Hindley: 9th, 24:57 (+1:14)
Vuelta a España 2018 – stage 1
8km, flat with small climb
1. Geoghegan Hart: 18th, 10:03
2. Hindley: 102nd, 10:31 (+0:31)
Vuelta a Espana 2018 – stage 16
32km, rolling hills
1. Hindley: 76th, 42:26
2. Geoghegan Hart: 87th, 42:43 (+17 seconds)
Giro d’Italia 2019 – stage 1
8km, flat with steep final climb
1. Geoghegan Hart: 7th, 13:29
2. Hindley: 74th, 14:25 (+56 seconds)
Giro d’Italia 2019 – stage 9
34.8km, flat start with last 12km mostly uphill
1. Geoghegan Hart: 25th, 54:41
2. Hindley: 52nd, 56:14 (+1:33)
Tirreno-Adriatico 2020 – stage 8
1. Geoghegan Hart: 31st, 11:42
2. Hindley: 41st, 11:48 (+0:06)
Giro d’Italia 2020 – stage 1
15.1km, short climb, fast descent, flat finish
1. Hindley: 46th, 16:39
2. Geoghegan Hart: 126th, 17:28 (+0:49)
Giro d’Italia 2020 – stage 13
1. Geoghegan Hart: 13th, 45:04
2. Hindley: 34th, 46:19 (+1:15)