Mark Cavendish brought the curtain down on his final Giro d’Italia with a spectacular stage win in Rome, as Primoz Roglic sealed his first overall victory in the race.
Cavendish, who announced last week that he will retire at the end of this season, easily outsprinted his rivals to take his 17th stage win in the Giro.
“I’m super-happy,” Cavendish, of the Astana Qazaqstan team, said. “It was a long, hard slog to get here to the end of the Giro. We’ve come close a couple of times before. My boys did incredible, and my friends did incredible. I just had some great friends today, long-time friends. I’m pretty emotional, to be fair.”
The stage is now set for Cavendish to attempt to become the all-time record holder for Tour de France stage wins in July.
Among the old friends lending a hand on the Roman cobbles was Geraint Thomas. But the Welshman is unlikely to ever again visit the remote corner of north-eastern Italy, where on Saturday afternoon, Roglic wrenched the maglia rosa of Giro leadership from the weary shoulders of the Ineos Grenadiers leader.
Roglic’s devastating performance, in the mountain time trial to Monte Lussari, was the equal of Tadej Pogacar’s in the penultimate stage of the 2020 Tour de France on La Planche des Belles Filles, when he overhauled his compatriot to claim his first yellow jersey.
This time, though, it was Roglic, the Jumbo-Visma team leader, who dished out the pain with Thomas in the role of the shell-shocked and distraught victim.
This was a monumental finish to an otherwise unremarkable Giro, in keeping with the epic battle between Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond in the 1989 Tour de France and the Roglic-Pogacar duel in 2020’s pandemic Tour. It may not have been the closest finish in Grand Tour, or Giro history, but it was certainly one of the most dramatic.
“He smashed me,” Thomas, said of his 40-second defeat by Roglic on the horrendous climb to the summit finish.
What made the 33-year-old Roglic’s performance all the more remarkable was that he suffered a potentially catastrophic mechanical problem midway through the climb, instantly reviving memories of past traumas, that could have cost him everything.
As the Slovenian shipped his chain, the Welshman’s hopes were sinking. After a painfully slow bike and helmet change at the foot of the climb, the reality was that Thomas never again found his rhythm.
The 26sec lead, built up over three tortuous weeks of racing, evaporated in the thin mountain air, leaving Thomas drained and defeated as he slumped beyond the finish line.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses,” he said afterwards, “but I just didn’t feel like I had that real ‘grunt’.”
In fairness to Thomas, his own performance was of the highest calibre and secured second place on what was a brutal stage. But it still wasn’t enough. Yet Thomas was as generous as ever in defeat.
“Primoz deserves that,” the 37-year-old said. “I guess it’s nice to lose by that much, rather than a second or two, because that would be worse, I think.”
In contrast, Roglic, buoyed up the climb by thousands of Slovenian fans, was exultant. “When I knew the crowds that would be up here, on my turf, I had goosebumps,” he said. “To be a person that people come to support is special. I’m extremely proud to be that person. I’ll definitely remember this day for the rest of my life.”
Thomas has finished on the podium in four of the last five Grand Tours he had finished and despite this loss, is a model of consistency.
The Ineos Grenadiers sports director, Oli Cookson, said: “‘G’ has been in so many diverse environments and events, from the Olympics to the Tours, he’s had incredible success in his career and some near-misses as well, and this is one of those. He’s shown time and time again that he comes back for more. He’s an icon for the sport and a gentleman and does it with humility and grit and determination.”
There was compassion for the popular Thomas but equally a sense of redemption for Roglic, after the devastating defeat of three years ago. “It’s unfair to compare victories, [to] say which is more or less. But this says who I am,” Roglic said. “I always have hope and fight on. That’s the story of my Giro.”