Eddie Dunbar making up for lost time with return to the Giro d'Italia

 Eddie Dunbar during the Itzulia Basque Country
Eddie Dunbar during the Itzulia Basque Country

A new season, a new start, and then a familiar, shuddering stop. When Eddie Dunbar crashed and broke his hand during his very first race in Jayco-Alula colours last February, the Corkman must have wondered if he was doomed never to return to a Grand Tour again.

During his four-year stint at Ineos, Dunbar's lone experience over three weeks came at the 2019 Giro d'Italia, where he placed 22nd overall after riding in support of Pavel Sivakov. A broken collarbone ruled him out of a return the following year, but in his last two seasons at Ineos, Dunbar found himself overlooked even when his form seemed to brook no argument.

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A transfer to Jayco-AlUla for 2023 offered liberation, not least because it came with the promise of a leadership role at the Giro d'Italia. That crash on the road to Altea on the opening day of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, however, immediately threatened to curtail Dunbar's newfound freedom.

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"There were times when I didn't think I'd be here at all," Dunbar told reporters in Pescara on Friday afternoon. "I thought I'd almost be tearing up the first half of the season and looking at what was left in the second part, because there was a period of six weeks where I couldn't race, and it was still a bit unknown about where my hand was at."


Dunbar eventually returned to competition at Itzulia Basque Country in early April. There are far gentler alternatives on the calendar for a man feeling his way back after injury, but with the Giro barely a month away, the Irishman felt he had little choice but to subject himself to the most bracing imaginable comeback.

"I got a good kicking there, but I needed that," Dunbar said. "There's only so much training you can do before you get into that racing environment, and I needed to get into that rhythm again, so that brought me up a level."

The Basque purge served its purpose. Come last week's Tour de Romandie, Dunbar was operating at something closer to full bore, climbing well on the stage to Thyon 2000 and placing 9th overall. "I felt good at Romandie, and hopefully I can continue on that trajectory over the next three weeks," said Dunbar, who sets out from Pescara with neither set targets nor fixed limits.

"I'll just go in with an open mind and try to stay out of trouble. There's still a bit of uncertainty there, as it's so long since I've done a Grand Tour, but it's exciting as well. I'm definitely starting out with the intention of riding GC and seeing how that looks after a week or two."


Waiting game

In the winter of 2019, as Ineos imagined a GC future beyond Chris Froome, Dunbar was bracketed alongside Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart as the most eligible internal candidates to develop into a three-week contender. In hindsight, the 2020 Giro might have provided an opportunity for Dunbar to test that hypothesis.

Instead, a broken collarbone at Tirreno-Adriatico forced him out of the race, and he watched on television as his contemporary Geoghegan Hart claimed a most surprising overall victory after stepping into the space vacated by the injured Geraint Thomas. Every career has its sliding doors moments.

In 2021, Dunbar's efforts on behalf of Richard Carapaz at the Tour de Suisse could have rubber stamped his passage to the Tour de France, but he was ultimately overlooked. More gallingly, victory at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali last year didn't suffice to get Dunbar in the Giro d'Italia line-up. As the corsa rosa unfolded, he found himself winning Off-Broadway at the Tour of Hungary. Within weeks, he had committed to Jayco-AlUla.


"It's been a long time. One Grand Tour in four years isn't a lot," Dunbar said. "Obviously, it was a bit frustrating not to have done more Grand Tours, but that's just the situation I was in and I'm happy to be here now.

"It would be better to have done a Grand Tour every year, that helps your condition, it brings you up a lot. But it was just circumstances over the last four years – sometimes it was illness or injury, and sometimes I was just overlooked for selection."

Dunbar will look to make up for lost time at this Giro on a Jayco-Alula squad that will interpret the race rather differently to his old team. On the 2019 Giro, for instance, Dunbar took third from the break in Pinerolo, but most of his time was spent in the service of Sivakov and the byword was control. Over the next three weeks, Jayco-Alula will also chase stage victories with riders like Michael Matthews and Alessandro De Marchi.

"I guess with Ineos, it was very controlled atmosphere in terms of the way everything was done. And they have massive experience in riding and winning Grand Tours," Dunbar said. "It's different coming here, in that we have a team where everyone's going to get opportunities. It's a very versatile team, which is exciting. It makes for more aggressive racing, which is suited to the way racing has gone in the last few years."


Across his time at Ineos, Dunbar regularly summoned up cameos that hinted at his prospects as a stage race rider. The 2021 Tour de Suisse was the most striking example, but every time he built up a head of steam, some circumstance or another would inevitably interrupt his progress. Now 26, Dunbar is looking to do something more than simply highlight his potential. He's making up for lost time.

"We can go out in training and produce good numbers, but it's completely different producing them in a racing environment," Dunbar said. "I've pretty much ticked all the boxes in training in preparation for this, so I can go in with an open mind and race my normal race and not worry too much about what the other guys are doing."