We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. please note that some of the links below are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission when you use one of the links. The company pays us for referral link sharing, which helps us run this blog and give our in-depth content to our readers for free.
Eddie Dunbar is warming to this Grand Tour business. The Irishman has less experience at this kind of racing than anyone else in the upper reaches of the Giro d’Italia classification, but it wasn’t evident from his assured display on Monte Bondone on stage 16.
“It’s only my second Grand Tour, but I think I’m learning quickly,” Dunbar said when he wheeled to a halt past the finish line after placing fourth on the day and moving up to fifth overall, 3:03 behind maglia rosa Geraint Thomas. “We were prepared for what happened today.”
When the group of favourites splintered under pressure from UAE Team Emirates’ Jay Vine midway up Monte Bondone, Dunbar was among the elite few with the wherewithal to withstand the pace. Later, he would tailor his effort smartly on the steepest section of the climb, resisting the temptation to try to counter the attacks of João Almeida and Thomas.
Instead, Dunbar settled on following the steadier tempo of the Jumbo-Visma pairing of Sepp Kuss and Primoz Roglič. He would come home alongside Roglič, 25 seconds down on Almeida and Thomas, but more than 40 seconds ahead of the rest of the podium contenders, jumping three places in the overall standings in the process.
Giro d’Italia: Almeida outduels Thomas on stage 16 atop Monte Bondone
Giro d’Italia stage 16 GC standings: Geraint Thomas back in race lead
Geraint Thomas and Ineos dealt blow as Pavel Sivakov abandons Giro d’Italia
“It’s a three-week race, so you have to pace yourself,” Dunbar said. “I know my limits, so I had to back off a bit there. That was the moment where the race kind of went. But I battled my way back to Roglič and Kuss. I just sat on them and Kuss rode a really good tempo to limit the losses. Then Primoz brought the gap back a bit there at the finish.”
As well as adhering to his limits, Dunbar was perhaps also fighting his instincts on Monte Bondone. His natural inclination has always been towards aggressive racing, after all, as evidenced by one of his first appearances for Team Sky at the 2018 Giro della Toscana, where he was charged with setting the tempo for Gianni Moscon. When he accelerated sharply to snuff out an attack that afternoon, his radio earpiece crackled with a gentle reminder that his new team didn’t do things that way – all part of the education.
Dunbar’s time at Sky – later Ineos – would ultimately prove to be a longer apprenticeship than he might have liked, given that his only exposure to Grand Tour racing would come at the 2019 Giro. Still, he learned plenty of lessons along the way, not least en route to victory at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and Tour de Hongrie last year. The move to Jayco-Alula ahead of this season, meanwhile, gave him a chance to start applying them on a bigger stage.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted, just to have an opportunity in a race like this,” Dunbar said. “Thankfully, the team, Jayco-Alula, put belief in me. We’ve worked hard these last six months to get into shape for this race, and I can’t thank them enough for this opportunity, really.”
Dunbar showed confidence, too, on the haul to Monte Bondone. When Jayco teammate Filippo Zana, a member of the early break, was caught by the reduced group of favourites, Dunbar instructed him to set the pace on the front to ensure men like Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) didn’t get back on. “He told me to ride steady as a I could for as long as I could so we could get to the finish with as much of a gap as possible,” Zana explained when he crossed the line a few minutes later.
“It’s always an asset to have someone up the road,” Dunbar said. “He did a super job there and kind of pulled the gap out to the other guys.”
Four days from Rome, Dunbar has now climbed to fifth overall, and only one Irishman, 1987 winner Stephen Roche, has ever finished higher at the Giro. Dunbar’s calm, unfussed demeanour, however, is more reminiscent of another member of Irish cycling’s golden generation.
Much like Martin Earley, himself a Giro stage winner at Sauze d’Oulx in 1986, neither highs nor lows ever seem to faze Dunbar. Before descending to the Jayco-Alula bus a mile or so down the mountain, he quietly put the day’s performance into perspective.
“It’s not a victory or anything, it’s fourth place,” Dunbar said. “You have to take that into account as well. I’m still off the top guys, Geraint and Almeida, but it’s a positive day.”