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Ineos Grenadiers endured a day of contrasts at Tirreno-Adriatico on Thursday, with Tom Pidcock crashing before he had a chance to fight for the stage victory, Filippo Ganna losing the race lead to Leonard Kemna but with Tao Geoghegan Hart finishing fifth after looking good in the surge on the uphill finish to Tortoreto.
Pidcock had a lot of road rash and perhaps faced a painful night, but he finished stage 4 and quickly reassured everyone that he was not injured.
Ganna suffered on the four climbs up to Tortoreto but was only distanced with 2.3km to go as the final climb kicked in. He then rode in and so slipped to 55th overall, 4:48 on new race leader Leonard Kemna (Bora-Hansgrohe).
“I felt OK, but when Julian Alaphilippe attacked on the second time up the climb, I suffered. I had to carry a lot more weight up the climb than he and most others did,” Ganna said.
“We should have done the race for Tom, but then he crashed, so we switched to plan B. Now we’ll see what happens. Tao is going well, and Thymen Arensman, too, so we’ll try and help them in the remaining stages.”
Tirreno-Adriatico: Primoz Roglic wins stage 4 as Van Aert crashes
Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock come crashing down at Tirreno-Adriatico
Ganna survives Tirreno-Adriatico echelons but fears climb in Apennine mountains
Geoghegan Hart enjoyed a far more enjoyable day, riding up front on the final climb as the speed increased and everyone suffered.
He seemed primed to sprint for victory, but Primož Roglič had more power for the final kick to the line, leaving the 2020 Giro d’Italia winner frustrated about going so close to victory.
“I thought I had the legs to win, but it’s such fine margins on finishes like that one. I was up there but got little to show for it,” he told Cyclingnews.
Geoghegan Hart had two mistakes that perhaps cost him a shot at victory.
“When Hugh Carthy went in the final kilometre, he was super strong. Maybe I should have just kept going and then gone over the top of him. It was one of the finishes that are really hard to get right.”
Geoghegan Hart won on a similar finish at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in February but admitted he made a mistake as the best riders in Tirreno-Adriatico prepared to sprint to the line.
“I didn’t want to be first into the last corner, but if you let one guy pass, three go through the gap,” he explained.
“I started running at Enric Mas in the final straight, but I went on the barrier side and then had to brake, so other guys got past me. It’s small things like that make the difference on finishes like this one.”
Geoghegan Hart moved up to eighth overall, only 19 seconds down on Kemna, and so still in the fight for overall victory and the final podium.
Teammate Arensman lost 39 seconds and is now 19th overall at 45 seconds. Magnus Sheffield also slipped out of overall contention, leaving Geoghegan Hart as Ineos Grenadiers’ best hope for an overall result.
The Londoner won the 2020 Giro d’Italia with a show of consistency and climbing ability. He is hoping to show similar skills on Friday on the mountain finish to Sassotetto.
Snow could fall on the final climb, but race organiser RCS Sport has said the stage will go ahead.
As the high Apennines loom large on the horizon looking inland from the Adriatic coast, Geoghegan Hart seems ready to give his all for a good overall result.
“I think I’m going well,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I had some shoulder tendon problems in Ruta del Sol, but it’s gone. I was feeling super in Valencia when I won the stage and finished third overall. At Ruta, I was there too. I’ve had a good two weeks since then too.
Geoghegan Hart expected the best climbers and true overall contenders to emerge on Friday’s mountain finish and then again Saturday’s stage on the 20 or so steep ‘muri’ climbs.
“The rest of the race will be totally different now. Friday’s stage ends with a 13km climb to the finish, it’s gradual, but it’s so different. Today was a Liege-Bastogne-Liege finish, tomorrow is a mountain finish,” Geoghegan Hart said.
“We have a few options in the team, which is a good and familiar situation. The fatigue of the week is building. The climb up to Sassotetto is longer than the last mountain finish when raced up there. The gaps were big then, and I’m sure they’ll be bigger this time. I think Friday is the big day, more than Saturday, but they will be two big and two hard days of racing.”
Geoghegan Hart has endured two tough years since winning the Giro d’Italia, with injury stopping him from returning to his form of the Corsa Rosa. His contract with Ineos Grenadiers ends this year, and he faces lots of competition for leadership roles from a new younger generation of Ineos riders.
He is likely to return to the Giro d’Italia alongside Geraint Thomas in May after riding the Tour de France in 2021 and the Vuelta a España in 2022.
“I’m just building my form nicely and taking things as they come,” he said philosophically.
“After Tirreno-Adriatico, I’ve got a month without racing and a training camp. The Giro is looking likely, but I’m focused on the here and now. I’ve learnt it’s best not to focus too far ahead down the road.”